Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t wait for summer vacation to start? Now that you’re an adult, vacations often mean standing in line, sitting in traffic, and dealing with economic stress. Instead of letting stress get you down, remember that it’s not the situation that causes stress but how you interpret the situation.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey told about being on a crowded subway with a man whose children were out of control. Covey was getting irritated, until he learned that they were returning from the hospital where the man’s wife had just died. Covey’s attitude instantly shifted from stress to sympathy.

Avoiding stress can be as simple as changing your beliefs. Suppose someone steals your cell phone while you’re on a trip. You could rant about the inconvenience, or you could choose to believe that your phone was taken by a struggling waiter with five starving kids. When you don’t know the real story, why not choose one that makes you feel good? Wouldn’t you rather think your phone helped to feed five hungry children?

In Be Nice (Or Else!) I wrote about circles of influence. You have an influence on everyone you come in contact with. You can be waiting in line with perfect strangers, and your attitude and behavior can make or ruin their day. I also talked about your circle of nice, which is a slightly different concept. This circle includes everyone you’ve decided to treat nicely. In a “be nice” world, the ultimate ambition for each of us is to include in our circle of nice the same exact individuals as those in our circle of influence-both people we know and many we don’t know.

To expand your circle of nice, take out four pieces of paper and create the following lists:

  1. Your current circle of influence. This will be a lengthy list of anyone and everyone you come in contact with on a daily basis, even if you don’t know their names or actually speak to them.
  2. Your current circle of nice. These are the individuals to whom you’ve already made a conscious decision to be nice. Next to each of these names, list the specific actions you take to care for that person. How do you let them know they’re included in your circle of nice?
  3. Your immediate goals. These are the people you want to add to your circle of nice right now and they would be easy to add. Make a conscious decision to take actions toward including them in your circle of nice.
  4. Your long-range goals: These are the people who are not in your circle of nice and you aren’t quite sure how or even if you want to add them yet. Choose one person from this list to begin moving into your circle of nice.

Can you imagine how different our society would be if everyone made the commitment to expand their circle of nice? Instead of televised shouting matches, town hall meetings would become courteous exchanges of opinions and ideas. Road rage would be a thing of the past. Travel would be pleasant and enjoyable again. There’s just no telling what might happen in our homes, our relationships, our workplaces, and our health if we all agreed to expand our circle of nice!

About the Author:

Winn Claybaugh is the author of Be Nice (Or Else!) and “one of the best motivational speakers in the country,” according to CNN’s Larry King. A business owner for over 25 years with over 8,000 people in his organization, Winn is the co-owner of hair care giant Paul Mitchell’s school division. Winn has helped thousands of businesses build their brands and create successful working cultures. His clients include Southwest Airlines, the Irvine Company, Vidal Sassoon, Entertainment Tonight, Mattel, For Rent magazine, Structure/Limited/Express, and others. Winn is a frequent guest on national radio and a regular contributor to online publications. Visit to sign up for his free monthly Be Nice (Or Else!) newsletter.