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Choosing Your Mood

Have you ever been in a bad mood that you just can't shake? Or had a pile of homework but realized you're not in the mood to get it done? Sometimes we feel at the mercy of our moods — but moods aren't things that just happen to us. We can influence and change them.

Being able to choose the mood that's best suited to a situation is one of the skills of emotional intelligence. Choosing the right mood can help you control whatever situation you're in.

Mood + Mindset = Success

Moods can influence how well we do in certain situations, but so can something else: our mindset. What's the difference between a mood and a mindset? Moods are the emotions we feel. A mindset is the thoughts and ideas that go along with that mood.

Mood and mindset go hand in hand because our thoughts can influence our mood. Here's an example:

Imagine you're competing in a swim meet this afternoon. Which mood and mindset helps you do your best?

  • Mood A: Insecure. You keep thinking about how the competition might blow you out of the water and maybe you're not good enough to be on the team.
  • Mood B: Annoyed. You're thinking about how swimming interferes with your social life.
  • Mood C: Pumped up and confident. You're thinking that if you do your best, there's a good chance your team can place well.

Of course, you're likely to do your best with the mood and mindset in option C. But what if you're feeling A or B and worry that those moods might affect your performance? Luckily, you can change your mood.

How to Choose a Mood

Step 1: Identify your mood. To switch moods, you need to check in with what you're currently thinking and feeling. That way you can decide if you need to change your mood to one that's more suited to your situation — or if you're in the best mood to begin with.

To identify a mood, stop and think about what you're feeling and why. Put those feelings into words, like, "Wow, I'm really sad right now" or "I'm feeling really alone." You can say this silently to yourself, out loud, or to someone else.

Step 2: Accept what you feel. After you name your emotion, show yourself some understanding for feeling the way you do. It's perfectly OK (and natural!) to feel bored on a rainy Saturday or annoyed about having to study when everyone else is going out. All emotions are acceptable and understandable. But you don't have to hold on to feeling that way. Notice your mood, then choose to move past it.

Step 3: Identify the mood that's best for the situation you're in. If you're competing in a swim meet, it's best to be pumped up and confident. If you need to get down to some serious studying, it's better to feel interested, alert, and confident (and not so helpful to feel grumpy, annoyed, and self-defeated). Take a minute to think about which emotions will help you accomplish your goal.

How to Get Into the Best Mood

After you imagine the mood that's best suited for your task or situation, it's time to get into that mood. Think "P for positive" and focus on these 6 things that can help you reset your mood:

  1. Purpose. Get clear on what you want and need to do. For example, you might want to get your studying done as fast and well as possible so you can go to a party later.
  2. Place. Put yourself in the right situation — environment influences mood. If you need to study, it's better to find a table or desk in a quiet room than to go to the coffee shop where you might see friends who distract you.
  3. People. Who can help you feel the way you need to feel? A focused classmate is a better study companion than a chatty friend. Sometimes, just thinking of a particular person is enough to help you feel confident, inspired, strong, or supported.
  4. Playlist. Music is one of the most powerful influences on mood because it's all about communicating and inspiring emotion. Create playlists for the moods that are the most helpful and positive for your life.
  5. Posture. Move your body into the right mood. For studying, try exercises that help you focus on your physical posture like yoga or t'ai chi. For energy, try a workout that gets your heart rate up. To prepare for sleep, try deep breathing, gentle stretching, or other soothing activities.
  6. Promotion. Encourage yourself with self-talk. Self-talk is a way of using thoughts to influence your mood. If you've ever said to yourself, "OK, let's get serious for a minute" or "I can do this!" you've used self-talk to get into the right mood for a situation. Self-talk doesn't just create the mindset that supports your mood, it also helps you keep a mood going. That's why pep talks work so well for athletes.

How to Get Out of an Unhelpful Mood

To get out of a mood that's unpleasant or unhelpful, think "U for U-turn." Try these mood changers:

  • Undo. Do something to break the train of thought that keeps your old mood going. Distract yourself with a game of Sudoku or simply focus on what's going on outside your window for a few minutes. Distractions are like rebooting your mind — they create a space between moods.
  • Unstick. Change your body posture. If you're sitting, stand up. Do some jumping jacks. Stretch. Walk around the room. Moving your body changes your mindset and mood.
  • Unwind. Sit quietly, breathe gently, and focus on each breath. To keep your mind from wandering back to a mood you're trying to change, every time you take a breath, say to yourself: "I'm breathing in" and "I'm breathing out." Focus on feeling calm.

You've probably chosen your mood before without even realizing it — many times people choose a mood naturally without thinking about it. But practicing ways to choose your mood intentionally can help you get good at it.

So next time you feel a strong mood, stop and name it. Ask yourself if it's the ideal mood for what you're trying to accomplish. Sometimes, even the happiest of moods might not be right for a particular situation (as anyone who's excited about weekend plans during Friday afternoon classes knows).

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD

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