By Jim Selman | Bio
Moods ‘color’ our experience of living. They are all encompassing interpretations of the world—especially the future—and tend to determine the quality of our lives. When we are in a positive mood, the world is bright and we ‘feel’ great. When we are in a negative mood, we typically want to withdraw from or strike out at everyone around us. One of the most useful things we can learn as we grow up (at any age) is that moods aren’t personal.
First of all, they are involuntary. No one I know decides they will be in a bad mood (although there are a few who more or less equate their mood with ‘the way I am’, which can become a kind of self-fulfilling story and can justify just about anything). For example, I know a man who believes that he is, more or less, permanently doomed to procrastinate and put off what he knows he needs to do until the last minute. He then begins to become annoyed with himself weeks before a deadline is due and his mood worsens until, at the last minute, he will bear down and produce a result. Unfortunately, he then denies himself the satisfaction of having made the deadline—even if at the last minute—and blames himself for not being committed and chastises himself for his undisciplined working style.
A lot of us can recognize these kinds of patterns in ourselves and conclude that they are somehow connected to ‘the way we are’ and are, more or less, ‘unchangeable’. Even if we choose New Year’s Resolutions and make progress towards them, the basic message and (more importantly) the associated moods persist. If we take a psychological point of view, we find ourselves seeking an answer to ‘why we are this way’ and trying, in one way or another, to get to the root cause of our condition.
From another perspective, we might observe that the pattern is always a consequence of our story—the story we have about our circumstances, ourselves or about other people, or something about the past or the future. If we can change our story, we don’t need to understand why we got trapped in the old story in the first place. We can begin to live and act in the context of the new story. For example, my friend was able to see that his story about his procrastination meaning he wasn’t committed could be changed to his simply being committed to something else. His predominant mood changed from self-resentment and blame to one of becoming interested in observing his choices and priorities. He could then begin to choose to do last-minute work without the associated negative moods.
Moods are one of the most basic and most accessible facets of how we relate to the world and to the context(s) within which we experience our lives. Said differently, our moods can reveal the paradigms within which we are living if we can see the moods as simply reflections of our worldview and not indictments of who we are or our psychological state. We can learn to use them as opportunities to reconnect and regenerate our commitments in the moment, rather than resisting them. We can begin to take responsibility for our ‘self-talk’ and shift our conversations from wondering ‘why we are in a particular mood’ to how we can move forward with the mood. The best example I can think of to illustrate this was shared with me by an actor who is a friend of mine. He told me he always gets hooked by a fearful mood before a performance. His choice is clear to him: he can take his fear with him and step onto the stage or he can let it determine his actions and keep him in the wings. His chooses to not let his fear determine his actions. And as soon as he moves in front of the audience, the fear disappears.