Sick of the Vicious Cycles? Start a Virtuous One

Didn’t they used to say that bad news came in 3’s? Today if feels like it’s coming in 3,000’s. Jeez, I can’t remember the last good news that I’ve heard about my portfolio, the economy, the workplace, world events, etc. Ouch!

Which reminds me of a classmate’s question during my old MBA days. We were in our Organizational Development class and he asked, “What’s the opposite of a vicious cycle?”

His question was greeted with blank stares. After a pause the professor went back to his lecture, that wasn’t burdened by any actual insight, on high performing teams.

I was chatting with another classmate at the break in our class. He blurted out, “A virtuous cycle.” I asked him what he was talking about and he continued, “A virtuous cycle is the opposite of a vicious one.”

Virtue. What a concept. But how do we actually bring it to work?

This isn’t rocket science. It just involves being more empathetic and awake.

As I looked around, I started to notice that there are lots of people who are who are being virtuous daily.

Take Jill at the gym. She is a personal trainer at the local 24-Hour Fitness. I’ve never worked out with her, but I have watched her work with many clients. Unlike most other trainers, whose sessions resemble enhanced interrogation techniques, her sessions are full of laughter and joy. She takes her job well beyond perspiration to inspiration, by the way she talks, looks at and engages each person during their workout.

There is also a supermarket checkout person in Oakland that a friend told me about. When people are checking out she’ll ask questions about what they’re planning to make with their groceries. She always has a stack of homemade recipe cards that she offers to people. She has dog biscuits and candies for the kids. My friend tells me that routinely people will wait in a long line for her, while other checkout lines in the store are empty.

Finally, on a recent airplane trip a flight attendant went through the entire cabin to personally thank each passenger. I asked her about it and she says that she does it on every flight because she appreciates that her job exists because of these customers.

Virtuous cycles. Think of them as the opposite of Bernie Madoff, AIG, John Thain and the rest of our drowning-in-doom headlines.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re not cosmic cures for what ails us. They’re just band-aids. But when you are bleeding, isn’t a band-aid just what you need?

Last week I decided to jump on the virtuous cycle bandwagon. A woman carrying a bouquet of flowers was walking toward me on the street. I said, “Beautiful.” And she said, “Yes, I love these flowers.” I said, “No. I was talking about you.” She got a huge smile on her face and stopped dead in her tracks. I never slowed down and just kept walking.

Suddenly it got contagious. A friend called me with a problem that her brother was having and freed up time over the weekend to talk to him. I wrote a recommendation for a business colleague, unsolicited. I brought the manager of my apartment building aspirin after she casually said she had a headache.

There isn’t often much you can do to prevent a vicious cycle. But each and every one of us can all start a virtuous one. Get out there and make it a great day for someone else, even when you don’t feel like it.

It sounds crazy to make kindness deposits with the people around you. But it’s crazy like a fox, because quickly you’ll find that most people will quickly reciprocate and send positive energy your way. Now if we could only get the banks to handle our deposits this intelligently.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and contributor to On The Money. He has been called “Dilbert with a solution.” Check out the free resources available at You can contact Bob via