“Do you want to use the mood organ? To feel better? You always have gotten a lot out of it, more than I ever have.” — Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
When I’m in a bad mood, I forget how powerful I am. At my greatest moments, inspiration and ambition rage within me, fueling my work, my passions, my fitness… But when my mood takes a turn for the worse, it’s a grueling quest just to remember those feelings, let alone find them anew.
I think most people are this way: from inspiration to depression, or from anger to joy, we are made slaves to our moods. But what if you could press a button and feel better — cure that shaky nihilism you’ve been feeling? What if you could flip a switch and feel inspired, alive, impassioned, excited?
There’s no magical switch or button (yet), but mood control is far from a fantasy. Intentionally manipulating your mood is like any other skill: it requires deliberate practice and good technique, but eventually you’ll be able to shift your mindset with ease.
Success in mastering the art of identifying and shifting mood when appropriate can be a game changer in improving your life, leading to increased productivity, happiness, ambition, energy, thoughtfulness, or whatever emotion you’d like to curate most.
To that end, this article describes 5 techniques you can use to practice identifying, visualizing, and executing changes to your mood.
- Keep a mood journal:
The first step to achieving your ideal mood is to realize what your different moods are. Keeping a mood journal will help you train your ability to identify your current mood, and to reflect on what each of your different moods “want”. Here’s an example of my mood journal:
# Mood Log 3
- just got done climbing. Took the wrong train but mostly amused by it. Now on the train. Messaging A — — and E — — about talking/dropping out. Messaging A — — about self-studying math and comp-sci.
- this is a good mood for getting my laundry done lol.
- this isn’t a good mood for reading. Reading might move me from this mood into a more contemplative and curious one.
- right now I’m feeling like a doer or a problem solver. I want to execute on my goals, not decide what my goals should be. Unfortunately for current me, executing means doing my laundry.
- I wonder if this is a good mood for coding. I might be able to get my test done.
Pink Triangle, Weezer
When I record my mood, I record the situation I’m in, the emotions I’m feeling, any songs I’m listening to, and any other relevant notes. But really I’m just trying to record anything that will help me determine 2 things in the future: 1. What is this mood about? And 2. How can I replicate the mood when I’m not feeling it?
You can record anything that helps you answer these questions: what you just read, what you’re thinking about, what you want, who you want to see… anything that might help you recall and recreate the mood.
Mood journaling is best for helping you identify and reflect on your moods. If you keep up your journaling habits, you’ll start to notice the same moods coming up frequently. When a pesky mood comes up like laziness or grumpiness, you’ll start to recognize it right away, journal about what made you feel that way, and move on to tactics for transitioning effectively into a better mood.
2. Reframe the problem:
Often, moods (especially bad moods) are centered around problems or difficult situations you’re facing. For example, I might be upset because a friend insulted me. Or I might be grumpy because my girlfriend didn’t hang out with me last night.
One of my favorite techniques to transition moods is simply to reframe the problem I’m facing. Yes, it’s hurtful that my friend insulted me, but on the other hand, this is a great opportunity for me to get better at dealing with pain and communicating with those around me. Maybe my girlfriend didn’t hang out with me and I’m sad, but this is a great chance for me to overcome those emotions of grumpiness so that I can be a freeing and positive partner for her.
By reframing the source of your bad mood as an opportunity to grow instead of a grievance, you can effectively trigger reward centers of your brain that respond well to the desire for improvement.
A tried and true method for feeling better: physical exercise releases endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Physical activity is like a feel-good cocktail of chemicals that will improve your mood, relieve pain and stress, and boost your sense of well-being.
It can be hard to convince yourself to exercise when you’re feeling depressed, so try to pick something that sounds fun to you: maybe that’s rock climbing, or doing yoga in the park, or doing endless cartwheels. Anything that gets your heart racing and blood pumping will do great things for your mood. No need to lift weights or run a mile if those are boring to you.
4. Listen to music:
The reason I end my mood logs (from part 1) with a song (or set of songs) is because music is such an effective regulator of my mood. Listening to a nostalgic song fills me with memories of all the times I’ve listened to it before. It’s almost impossible not to be consumed by an angsty sense of injustice and ambition when listening to my favorite Green Day albums.
Try listening to some of your favorite upbeat tunes, or a song you’ve performed before, or that one song you listened to on repeat after your last breakup. I imagine it will be hard not to notice the shift in your mood.
5. Engage in positive self-talk:
Self-talk is a surprisingly underrated and effective tool. It seems too good to be true: I can just… tell myself how I want to feel, and explain why it would be great and rational to feel that way?
Of course, it’s not quite that easy in practice. But try talking to yourself about your feelings, encouraging yourself to work through your emotions, and talking about how and why you have the strength to do so. The goal here is to support and encourage yourself the same way you would support or encourage your best friend. If it feels awkward, try doing it in a journal instead of out loud.
It can be easy to find self-talk unnatural. In the past I’ve even found myself embarrassed about self-talk. Don’t be. It’s one of the most positive and uplifting practices, and can be used to inspire confidence, rid yourself of doubt, or convince yourself of your own worthiness.
Things to Avoid
It’s worth pointing out the common stumbling points when confronting difficult moods, so you can identify and overcome them.
If you find yourself slipping into any of these bad behaviors, take a minute to reflect on whether the behavior will be helpful in achieving your goals. Think about whether the behavior is what you really want, or whether it was just an instinctual reaction.
I think that simply avoiding bad behavior is most of the battle to achieving desirable behavior, so if you can make progress against some of these major roadblocks, you’re on a great trajectory toward self-improvement and intentional moods.
Procrastination / Avoidance:
“I’ll confront my mood by journaling or exercising later. For now, I just want to ‘relax’ and watch this youtube video/tv show/twitter feed”
Depressive moods are so difficult to kick because they’re self-reinforcing. Your depression causes you to avoid activities which would make you feel better, which makes you feel depressed and not in control of yourself, which makes you avoid confronting the depression even more.
This can quickly lead to a widening gap between the life you want to live, and the life you’re currently living.
This whole cycle can start with one bad mood, just a bad day where things went wrong, and you avoided confronting that emotion until it grew into something you no longer knew how to confront.
If you can get yourself to start journaling as soon as you recognize your bad mood, even if it’s just for 5 minutes, you’ll quickly find a step change in your ability to influence your moods.
Ever treated someone badly (yelling, complaining, etc.) because they caught you in a really bad mood and said the wrong thing?
Me too, and it feels awful!
Whenever you feel an impulse to yell at someone, or complain about them, or insult them, it’s a pretty clear tell that you aren’t in control of your mood. The issue is that if you don’t regain control, and you do end up having an outburst, you’ll often feel even worse about it later.
Try to be receptive of particularly strong emotions and think about where the source of the emotion lies when they come up. Doing so will help you regain control of your mood.
Mood Immersion or “Sinking”:
Perhaps the most insidious of the common responses to bad moods is immersion. Some people do this intentionally out of a false sense of loyalty to their emotions: “I should feel all of my emotions fully, including my rage, and depression.”
Though, more commonly, it’s done because it’s a natural response: many moods are self-reinforcing, and if you don’t explicitly apply a force, the inertia will cause you to “sink” even deeper into your current mood.
Remember that there’s nothing inherently “correct” about having a particular mood. They are signals about your environment, yes, but you shouldn’t hold onto them if they don’t serve you. Recognizing your mood, adjusting to a more effective mood, and then tackling the root cause of your initial mood disturbance is wonderful. You shouldn’t feel any shame about disrupting your “natural” mood.