Last week’s blog post on our need to be nice strummed a nerve in many of you. I spent the week reading messages about all the ways N.I.C.E. and F.I.N.E. stifled what writes chose to write about, how they portrayed certain characters, or whether them gave themselves time to write at all.
Some wrote about how these four-letter words had weakened relationships or affected how they saw themselves.
A few of you shared that just hearing my definition for N.I.C.E. (Not In Charge of my Experience) emboldened you to live and write more freely. Others thanked me, but said you don’t know how to change these long-held patterns.
Reading the emails I was sent gave me the courage to be stronger, better, and braver. By Friday, I had the urge to climb to my roof and yell, “Fuck You, N.I.C.E.!” at the top of my lungs.
This week, I hoped to report that I’d conquered my need to be N.I.C.E.
But it’s not always that easy.
If you’ve been indoctrinated by family or society to believe that N.I.C.E. is necessary, or you’re one of the millions of people who use N.I.C.E. to escape the fire alarm in your brain that’s constantly ringing about how dangerous the world is, N.I.C.E. can feel nearly impossible to escape.
As a trauma survivor who grew up with an alcoholic parent, this is a constant struggle. Even while imagining my rooftop yell, I found myself slipping into old patterns, occasionally being N.I.C.E. when I didn’t want to.
If that happened to you, too, I have some good news.
Slipping back into your N.I.C.E. ways doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of people pleasing. But it does mean that taking charge of your experience (a.k.a. being Not N.I.C.E.) will require you to follow a few steps.
Step One: Notice What Is
The first step is to simply notice when you’re being N.I.C.E. What does it look like? What does it feel like in your body? Are there patterns as to when this happens? For example, are you more likely to be N.I.C.E. with certain people or certain genders?
When you notice this happening, simply say to yourself, “Oh, there it is. I’m being N.I.C.E. again.” Then engage in one of Kristin Neff’s self-compassion practices.
Spending time on this step will help you understand what’s fueling your N.I.C.E. behavior.
Step Two: Develop a Vision of Not N.I.C.E.
Ask yourself what Not N.I.C.E. looks like. How will you behave? What emotions and qualities will you need to cultivate? What might you need to let go of?
Once you’ve worked on this for a little while, ask yourself the following question: What will it take to feel safe being Not N.I.C.E.?
In some cases, the answer will involve something external, like changing a relationship pattern, getting extra help with the kids, or learning to speak up even when it’s uncomfortable. Often what’s need is internal. We must believe our needs are worthy, rewrite damaging messages that hold us back, and learn how to feel safe in the face of another person’s disappointment.
The last one can be incredibly hard for writers. Most of us want others to appreciate our work and see us as talented and good. It’s easy to move up the ladder on some of these qualities early in your writing career, but once you leap into a bigger, more authentic life, the following things are bound to happen:
You will fail to meet someone else’s expectations.
You will miss a deadline or break a promise.
You will disappoint a fan.
You will say something that someone disagrees with.
You will royally screw up without realizing it.
And if you really want that bigger life, you’ll get back up and try again.
You’ll realize that failures are just opportunities to grow, that the only person you can please is yourself, and that you are a human being who’s allowed to screw up, acknowledge it, and then work to make things right.
A brain rewired by trauma can make failure and disappointment feel so life threatening the only safe space is a deep dark hole. When that happens, N.I.C.E. becomes the default.
If that’s your experience, you’re not alone.
I’ve spent the past two months working diligently on an amygdala retraining program designed to rewire my nervous system. It requires a whole host of things I’d rather not do, like specific meditations, kooky self-talk routines, and slowing down. But I put on my big girl pants and do it anyway. When my exercises are over, I imagine the upcoming rooftop moment when I will declare my N.I.C.E. days are truly over.
Step Three: Experiment with Being Not N.I.C.E.
When you’re ready, choose one situation and experiment with being Not N.I.C.E. Note what goes well and what you might want to tweak. Once you’ve nailed that situation, choose another and another. Don’t worry about how quickly you go or whether you get it right. Just take one step toward the life you’re looking for.
The more you do, the better your writing will be—because it will come from the real you.
What does Not N.I.C.E. look like for you? What’s one quality you’ll cultivate to take charge of this one big, beautiful life in front of you?