Leah really doesn't like it when people call her "nice." She and Ofosu unpack the hidden cost of being agreeable and discuss ways to support their mental health with more honesty and authenticity.
And, as you may know, Leah and Ofosu are also the meditation coaches on Balance, a top-rated meditation and sleep app. In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, the Balance team is giving away two lifetime memberships to the award-winning app. Follow @balance on Instagram for more details, which will be posted on Tuesday, May 3.
[Theme up and fade under]
OFOSU: Hi, I'm Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
LEAH: And I'm Leah Santa Cruz. We're the meditation coaches on Balance.
OFOSU: And this is our weekly show -- Well Balanced.
So it's our first episode in May. Which means it's our first episode in Mental Health Awareness month. This is a month that encourages us to come together to reduce the stigma around mental health and spread the word about all the resources that are out there that can help support our mental health.
This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I've talked a little bit about my own journey around mental health. So I love that we are diving into this topic. This month to celebrate we're going to be dedicating all of our episodes in may to deepening our awareness of mental health and the tools that can support it.
Leah! I'm going to go game show here, tell them what we've got planned!
LEAH: So we're going to kick things off today with a conversation I know that you and I have been meaning to have - how does our behavior, our own behavior affect how we feel about ourselves. Yeah. And then next week, we're going to build on that by talking to a friend of the show, Todd Cashton on how to build relationships that support our mental health, because you know, sometimes it takes a village.
[OFOSU: It really does.] And then we're going to follow that up with discussions about body image and money and how they can impact our mental health. And how we can start to reframe how we approach our bodies and how we approach our wallets with more wellness in mind.
OFOSU: Well, I am super excited for this and our friends out there, if you weren't already hyped the whole team behind Balance, our meditation app is celebrating Mental Health Awareness month by giving away drum roll….Two liifetime memberships to Balance, and the giveaway will take place on Balance’s Instagram, which is @balance. So be sure to follow them for details. All of the information on how to enter will be posted on Tuesday, May 3rd.
LEAH: You know, Ofosu, I think you have a future as a game show host.
OFOSU: I want that long skinny microphone and that you just kind of hold casually and yeah. I’m with it.
LEAH: Now that we're excited, let's get into our show today.
OFOSU: Alright. So I want to talk about something that came up in a conversation we were having last week, somebody called us a word and that word was nice.
And you had an immediate response. So walk me through that moment and just how you feel about that word, the word nice and it being applied to you.
LEAH: So recently I've been working with a coach, which has been a great process for me, because I think we all get to this place where we can't really see our blind spots.
And one of my blind spots that was pointed out to me recently and then I've had like, kind of an awakening about is how much I've identified with being a nice person and how this has been a good intention of mine. But it's also hurt me to some degree and it's affected my mental health to some degree.
So what is the definition of nice actually mean? And I've been dissecting this with my coach and it has been a very interesting investigation because when you really break down what it means to be nice, I think what comes to the first thing in your head when you think of the word? Nice.
OFOSU: Um, the first thing that comes into my mind is something more visual.
Like I see a smiling face and then when I think of nice it's somebody who's generally agreeable and who only has nice things to say. They might be dressed nice. [both laughing]
LEAH: Yeah. So we can have like our own interpretations and filters you put on it. Right? Like, but I think the first thing you said, like agreeable has nice things to say
OFOSU: Pleasant - someone who is like, just generally going out of their way to be pleasant and not confrontational or disruptive.
LEAH: Great. So now we're like really thinking critically about what nice means. And for me, I think that also is very similar to my perspective. Some people might say, oh, that means you're kind and you're compassionate. And I think that those are one facet of it.
But you really hit the nail on the head - is agreeable has nice things to say non-confrontational and I think that's what really stands apart from being a kind person, a compassionate person to being a nice person. And it's more like a mood that we adapt. That's kind of like coming from this place of, if I, if I'm not perceived friendly, then things aren't gonna work out well for me.
And. Um, things are gonna fall apart in my life. So I need to be perceived as friendly and agreeable and not stir the pot, so to speak. And that might serve as well at some points in our life, but it will certainly come to the detriment of other areas of our life, especially as adults, you know, when we're not children anymore.
And we enter into a world where, you know, we have to stand up for ourselves, we have to stick up for ourselves. We have to set boundaries. We, we need to be authentic to what we're really feeling and needing. So this whole idea of being nice, being this kind of mood that I know personally I adopted when I was a kid.
Yeah. And we were taught to turn the other cheek when someone is mean to us. And that seems like a really nice thing to do.
However, I got into a high school and I was bullied by girls, huge groups of girls. I mean, I was, I was like pushed into my locker. [OFOSU: I'm sorry.] Yeah, no, I appreciate that. But it's, it was interesting because I had adopted this whole idea that like, I'm just going to be nice. I'm going to kill them with kindness.
I'm going to, I'm going to turn the other cheek and you know what, that did not work. I just gotta say, uh, that made the bullying worse. To the point where I became so depressed that my parents realized I hadn't smiled in like six months and I had to switch schools. And so it really came to the detriment of my own self-esteem and I here I was trying to just be nice to everybody.
Why are they being so mean? And yet I had fallen into this sort of like victim state where I could not stick up for myself. I couldn't set boundaries and I couldn't be authentic because I felt like I needed to be liked and I needed to be agreeable. So that, you know, that little programming there has sort of lasted with me throughout my adult years.
And it sneaks up at times when I don't realize.
OFOSU: Where do you find it showing up for you now?
LEAH: Like when I get a job offer and I really want to value myself as one thing, but I'm afraid that I'll be perceived as asking for too much. So I fail to negotiate what I really feel my value is at times.
OFOSU: I'm right there with you.
I mean, I have so many thoughts about this topic. I literally did this today. Somebody asked me what my rate was for something. I told them what it was, but then I told them that it was okay if they wanted to low ball me. Cause you know. [both laughing].
LEAH: It comes up, it shows up as playing small. It shows up as like making myself like, uh, devaluing myself.
It also shows up as me staying in abusive situations in the past longer than I needed to be. Um, you know, I thought that I was kind of being some sort of heroic, uh, persona and keeping things together. You know,I stayed in a marriage too long. Um, and I had a divorce, but like I put up with a lot of abuse before that happened.
I think a lot of people have in some way, experienced this and their lives, where we, um, tolerate things that don't feel good to us for the sake of being agreeable, give whether it's in the workplace and our teams with our bosses, with our partners, with our peers, it can show up in a lot of ways like playing safe, playing small in our lives.
I want to reframe it as not being mean as the idea of like, I'm not a nice quote person. It doesn't mean, I am a mean and cruel person where I go out and like vindictively, you know, kick people when they're down and say nasty things. Yeah. I'm not doing that. But what I am stepping away from at this point in my life is playing small, is adopting some sort of mood of like, of caring so much about what people think of.
That it comes to the sake of my own dignity.
OFOSU: Yes. That's huge. I love sharing the idea that you are the only person that you have to be with 24 hours a day like that the only relationship that you have that is constant and just completely unceasing it, the relationship that you have with yourself. So all of those minor indignities that.
Suffer from this posture of niceness. They're like a thousand little paper cuts that we eventually start bleeding out from. And, um, I mean, I'll be honest with you. I'm thinking about so two things from my kids. For instance, my eight year old came home today and is talking about a friend of hers that she doesn't really want to be friends with anymore, but the entire friend group has abandoned this person, um, because of their behavior. And she feels like it wouldn't be nice to just leave this person high and dry, but then she went and recounted all the ways that this other person hasn't been a good friend and that doesn't want to stay in this relationship. And so the advice that I gave her was like, well, you need to be a friend to yourself first. And to be kind to yourself, you don't need to solve this right now. So I see it already kind of happening in her. On the flip side, you know, one of my teenagers could be exhibited better behavior - could be doing the dishes more regularly when I'm asking her to et cetera. And I find that because I've had the reputation of being the more stern parent and I don't really particularly want to be associated with that, I want to be more of the nice parent, but I'm like letting stuff slide and I'm not bringing stuff up.
And you know, it has a ripple effect. This different niceness has an impact just right here in my own family dynamic. So it's something to think about and to be the nice parent. Yeah. I mean, who doesn't? I thought that I was the nice parent and then I kept getting these reports, like, you know, you're like the half scary one.
LEAH: I've had teachers and role models in the past that have actually been pretty stern. It they've really held me up to a high expectation. And when I look back, those are the people that I respect and appreciate because they really taught me something. I also think like being nice shows up, um, you know, you ever like ask somebody like, oh, how are you doing today? And they're like, oh good. I'm good. And you're like, no, you're no, you're not.
I can tell you you're not good. This is just an automatic answer. People give like, oh, I'm good. It's so automatic that we have become as a society very good about hiding and being an authentic about our own moods. I have to put out this like nice, shiny persona so that like, I'll be accepted in this conversation.
And sometimes it's just not the case. Like I'm not doing good right now. And actually there's some things going on that I'm dissatisfied about and you know, that doesn't make me a bad quote person, not a nice person to chat about it. Vulnerabilities a power.
OFOSU: Exactly. I think we've talked about this and I think, I don't know where we got into this space exactly.
As a society where we are deferring to this inauthentic niceness as the face. For me as a first-generation American child of immigrant parents being nice has a lot to do with surviving in America. Now also being a black man, and then being a large black man I'm six foot three, 200 plus pounds, you know, being nice is also a way to deflect the way in which society perceives black people, black men, big black men. And to like diffuse that - so check this out. My name is maybe a little bit more syllables than the average American is used to, um, saying. However, wanting to be agreeable, it was already a weird name for people to say I was already getting bullied for it already being made fun of.
And so people mis said my name and called me, oh-foo-sue and gave me to use, instead of just the one you at the end, it sounds subtle, but that's not my name. My name is Ofosu. However, I let people call me that or Fujitsu from second grade to 12th for the entire time I was in grade school and high school. I just allow people to just call me because they had gotten used to doing that.
But just imagine to not be called your proper name the whole time. Um, there are times where you know, I might get pulled over for not doing anything and having to be nice in that situation as a life-saving mechanism and it robs you of your dignity. Going back to what you have been saying - I mean, I'm curious if there's parallels for you as a woman, from what I've heard from other women, what I've just seen and then my own fears for my growing daughters.
I know there's sometimes being nice is how you get out of unpleasant situations also.
LEAH: You know, I have like a partnership with a colleague where we were working on a project together recently. And I just noticed that I felt I was having to do a much greater portion of the work because they had a lot going on in their lives. And so I was, I just didn't want to like push them too hard and be like, hey, listen, I need you to show up more for this, or I need you to prioritize this more. But I was secretly inside becoming resentful.
It was creating a bitter resentment within me because I felt like I was being taken advantage of, but it wasn't really the other person necessarily thinking they were doing that. It was me not stepping up and being emotionally authentic and honest and saying how, what I need, what my needs were and what my boundaries were.
I was afraid that it would come at the detriment of our relationship, but suddenly they would be like, geez, why are you pushing me? Don't you realize I have all this stuff? And they would blow up. That was my worst case scenario in my head, but you know what? I came to them and I said, listen, I am a little bit scared about telling you this because I'm afraid of how you might respond because, um, uh, things that have happened in my past, whenever I'm honest about my feelings, but I got to say, I need you to prioritize this more because I feel like I'm doing a lot of work and, I need more support.
And I just feel like this hasn't been a priority for you and I. You know what, there was some silence on the other end for a moment. And then, what came out of that was a sincere apology and a recommitment to the work. And I think a deeper friendship. So, now I feel like there's more respect and understanding between us and I can speak up for myself more.
And that was like a huge step for me because, you know, when we are just nice and we kind of swallow that hard pill and we just keep it on and keep it out, or we just start to store all this like resentment inside of us. And then we ended up gossiping about them to other people and complaining about it to other people and it just eats us away.
And it's because we don't have the courage to step up and say the hard thing to say - the difficult thing to ask for what we really want. We're so scared of it sometimes because we think we're going to ruin a friendship or relationship. We might actually be surprised to find that we get more respect.
OFOSU: More value.
Yeah. So, I mean, I think it's clear that we've been, that many of us, at least you and I have, uh, suffered under the trance of niceness. I wonder what are things that we might be able to share with our friends out there that could help them? There is such a terror around it. Honestly, there is such like an existential dread, but I love how you entered that by saying exactly how you felt about what you were about to do saying that like, hey, this is actually very uncomfortable for me to say, and, and it comes from a place that doesn't even have anything to do with this exact moment.
However, this is how I'm feeling, and it's not easy for me to say this, but I want you to know this. I have a similar kind of situation going on with, uh, a close friend and a colleague who has just like perpetually missed mportant deadlines for me. And I'm wondering how to actually, how to broach the topic, but the way that you've shared this moment gives me some ideas.
So I appreciate having this conversation. I feel like we both share similar relationships with this concept of being nice. And it seems like we're both ready to be done with it. I know you're ready to be done with it.
LEAH: Yeah. It's a process though. I mean, it doesn't happen overnight. We develop these patterns for, you know, our whole life.
OFOSU: Um, it's a constant learning. It's not just a constant learning. It's a constant on learning. I mean, all of this, I feel like is in support of our mental health ultimately, and how to just find ourselves in a more genuine, authentic space and in, so doing, giving ourselves the space to be mentally healthy.
LEAH: Yeah. Cause if we find ourselves in the situation where our mental health, is completely controlled by the external world. What happens outside of us, what other people do or don't do. And we're at the whims of that. I mean, that's like, that is true imprisonment to not have control over our own wellbeing.
And so I think what not being nice is doing. In my mind, at least is taking the power back to say, I can be more honest with myself about my needs and my desires and value myself as worthy. To care a little bit less about what other people think about me. And when we do that, we're empowering ourselves. And we're helping us get on track to feeling healthy and happy mentally, emotionally, physically.
OFOSU: Couldn't have said it better. Well, this was a wonderful conversation, Leah.
LEAH: Yeah. I've really enjoyed this conversation, too. And you know, and I got to say, as your friend, anybody listen to this, do not call Ofosu, Oh-foo-sue.
OFOSU: Thank you, Leah. You are officially my nomenclature bodyguard.
[Theme up and under]
OFOSU: All right. So next week in our mental health awareness series, we're going to be talking to our good friend, Todd Castin. And I am super excited for that after this conversation that we just had, because he's got a lot to say about how we can build friendships that support our mental health and I feel like that feels relevant here because stopping this whole being nice or being too nice thing requires us to have supportive people around us.
LEAH: I completely agree. So subscribe or follow on whatever podcast app you use to get notified when that goes live, because you won't want to miss that conversation and be sure to follow the Instagram page it's @balance. You'll get updates on the lifetime membership giveaway that we're having for the Balance app until then have a beautiful week.
OFOSU: And don't forget to be kind to yourself.
All right. Take care. Peace.
[Theme up and out]