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Debbie Tenzer on Pursuing Your Dreams

Debbie Tenzer on Pursuing Your Dreams

Since some of our listening audience may not yet know who you are, would you please tell us a bit about yourself?

I founded an international kindness movement called Do One Nice Thing, and my first book, also called Do One Nice Thing, was published recently. My message is this: In spite of everything going on in the world now, YOU can make it better—and you don't need a lot of time or money to do it.

It started in the simplest way. Four years ago I vowed to do something nice once a week. Not every day, because frankly, I'm not that nice. But once a week was a promise I could keep.

So I picked Monday, my hardest day. I thought if I could make Mondays better, maybe the rest of the week would go better too. I posted an idea each week on my website, DoOneNiceThing.com, and told some friends. The idea spread by word of mouth and word of mouse. Now we have members in more than 90 countries, and our "nice things" have touched millions of people.
We've sent toys to comfort abandoned animals, and school supplies to kids in Appalachia and Afghanistan. We've knit thousands of little hats for tiny premature babies, and we've sent cards and the Sunday comics to cheer up deployed soldiers. Every week we do something simple to help someone, somewhere.

My book is a how-to guide, offering over 100 easy ways to help friends, kids, soldiers, pets, the planet, and it has a whole chapter of ways to help by simply clicking on a web link. There’s also a journal in the back of the book, so you can keep track of the nice things you do, and that others do for you. When I'm having a tough day, reading my journal lifts me up and reminds me that kindness is all around.

You are a great success. Because of what you've accomplished and where you are in life, what would you tell others to Inspire them today, regardless of where they are in their life?

We are living in tough times. Maybe we can’t solve the big problems, but we can definitely do something. The Do One Nice Thing community has been demonstrating that every week now for four years.

I receive amazing messages from people:

“Thank you for giving me a way to give back!”

“Thank you for showing me that I CAN make a difference. I feel so much better when I’m helping, and the projects are so easy to do.”

"I felt so helpless. I found Do One Nice Thing just in time. You can’t imagine how much I needed it."

Working together we can solve lots of small problems, and we can help ourselves too. I call it “strength training for the soul.” By making kindness a regular habit, you exercise our compassion muscles and keep them strong. It’s empowering. The more you help others, the more hopeful you feel.

We all know that inspiration can change lives. Can you share a personal story of someone who inspired you and made a difference in your life or a defining moment or experience that inspired you or changed your life?

I know that usually people are inspired when something wonderful happens to them. But in this particular instance, I was inspired because of the opposite, something shocked me.

Following the 2004 elections, which were miserably contentious, I was having lunch with a few girlfriends when our conversation turned bitter. We were bemoaning the state of things—the Iraq war, terrorism, local crime and school problems in Los Angeles, and so on. Suddenly, the discussion heated up, and my friends began criticizing each other's views, in very hurtful ways. I couldn't believe it! How could these friends who had known and loved each other for years holler at each other like that?

I left the lunch feeling depressed, but driving home, I had an epiphany: Okay, I can't end hunger, but I can donate cans to a food bank. I can't fix needy schools, but I can give them my kids' old books. I can't end terrorism, but I can send a phone card so a soldier can be comforted by calling home. There are lots of things I can do.

That’s when I committed to doing one nice thing at least once a week, and the idea for Do One Nice Thing was born. And I thought that in spite of our different political views, perhaps we could unite to help others.

You make it look easy, but I'm guessing you've experienced challenges in your life. Can you share with our listeners how that has strengthened you to reach success? In other words, how do you overcome adversity?

Well, what's adversity? I receive 1,000 emails a week, and hundreds of them are from people who have lost their jobs, and sometimes their homes. Some people suffer from severe chronic pain. Some people have faced the death of people they love. And yet, those people are writing to me to find out how they can help others.

Recently I received a message from a disabled Vietnam veteran, asking me if there was a way he could help even though he lives on a very small income and is restricted to a wheelchair. I sent him the addresses of two big military hospitals. They are Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where many of our most seriously wounded service members are treated, and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where our wounded are evacuated from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The disabled vet is now sending cards to our recently wounded soldiers, and giving them encouragement in a way that only he can. He thanked me profusely, telling me how happy he is that he can help.

So compared to that, what's my adversity? Not much. I've had my share of professional and personal disappointments, not very serious, although they felt plenty bad at the time. To lift myself out of a funk, first I tell myself, "You’re not perfect, but you’re good enough." That relieves some pressure and helps me move on.

Second, I remind myself, "There’s always a way." That enables me to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If people in chronic pain, paralyzed in combat, who’ve lost their jobs, or homes, or kids, can see the light, so can I.

And the most helpful thing of all is I do a nice thing for someone. Yesterday I watched my mail carrier’s face light up when I handed him a soda. Just like that I changed his day—and mine.

All people have ideas on how to improve their lives, whether it be a new job, moving to a new city, or finding love. But change can be a bit scary sometimes. Can you please share an experience with us where you "stepped off the ledge" with only faith, and took a big risk, based only on your belief that you would succeed?

I had a simple idea—to use the Internet to unite a group of people to help others. I had no idea how to achieve it, but I knew I wanted to try—and I couldn’t spend much money.

I had never launched a website before, but I managed to do that. I had never put the word out to the public that I wanted them to join me to do something, but I figured out how to do that too. I had always been hesitant to call strangers, but suddenly I found myself calling nonprofit organizations all over and asking them if Do One Nice Thing could help them. And I called other strangers, asking if they could help us assist the needy.

I had never been interviewed by the media, and I didn’t seek them out. But media organizations called me—in some case from foreign countries—so I started doing interviews, hundreds. (I still get a knot in my stomach before a TV interview.)

I had never written a book before, or even thought about writing one, but my members asked me for a book, so I wrote one, and with a wonderful agent’s help, managed to find a fantastic publisher to bring my book to light.

I continue to step off ledges, and now I even enjoy it! I’m not so worried anymore about making mistakes. Sure, I still make plenty of mistakes, but when I do, I try to fix it and move on. There’s too much to do to waste time on the past.

How can others do what you did?

I don’t know that people should do what I did. Everyone has her or his own path.

I like to ask people, "What did God make you good at?" Every five-year-old can answer that instantly. "I'm a good builder." "I'm a good dancer." "I'm a good artist." They know right away, and if you think back to when you were five, you knew the answer too. I bet the answer is probably the same for you now, or pretty close to it.

When I was little I would have told you, “I’m a good helper.” I loved helping people – my parents, my teacher, my siblings, anyone. I guess it’s what I was meant to do.

If helping others is your passion too, join us! All you have to do is sign up on DoOneNiceThing.com for our inspiring emails, which are free. I send out two each month, good news in your inbox with a nice thing project, inspiring stories, and funny videos. We give away free stuff, too—stickers, coloring pages, bumper stickers and bookmarks.

We've also just launched Do One Nice Thing Clubs. Teachers, in particular, asked us to do that. We offer information on how to start your own club, whether you’re at school, at work, at church, or just hanging out with your friends.

And my book, Do One Nice Thing, has a hundred specific ways you can help, the journal and inspiring stories too—good news for a change!

I’d like to hear from you anytime. You can reach me at dtenzer@doonenicething.com. I’d love to hear your ideas and am happy to advise you however I can.

What process, steps or exercises do you recommend that our listeners could do right now and each morning, to improve the quality of their lives?

I don't go through a morning process myself. However, before I go to sleep I try to regain my balance and "clean out" my mind after the long day. I never watch the TV news just before bed. Don't do that to yourself it. It's awful!

I say goodnight and I love you to my family. Then I lay in bed and take a few minutes to review the toxic things that happened during the day. I visualize myself blowing them into a balloon, releasing it, and watching it float away into the distance until it has vanished. Then I say, "Thank You" out loud for all the blessings in my life, and go to sleep.

What's the greatest joy in your life?

I have two great joys. Number One is being with my whole family. It doesn't happen very often now because everyone is running in different directions, so I really treasure the times when we're all together.

And Number Two is hearing that I made a difference in someone's life. That's my rocket fuel!

If you had to wrap up the wisdom of your life to leave as your legacy—call it YOUR BRILLIANCE—what important things that you've learned would you want to pass on to others?

It's incredibly simple: To feel better about yourself, help someone. It's unbelievably empowering.

If you had just one more thing that you could accomplish in your lifetime, what would it be?

That one thing would be to make Do One Nice Thing Mondays a ritual that was practiced worldwide. Imagine what the world would be like if a billion people did a nice thing once a week to make life better for someone. That's the way it should be.

Posted: 8/30/09

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Dear Debbie,

thank you so much for your inspiring story about doing one nice thing. I've suffered from PTSD the last 10 years because I'll tell you the truth I think I lost my way and my purpose in life when my kids left home. I've always been kind and helpful. Your website my just give give the guidance I need for my own soul.

Thank you. Quiring

  • By Quiring
  • on 9/11/09 5:05 AM EST