We say or think it all the time: “I’m not in the right mood for [insert activity] now.” Whether we’re talking about exercise, looking for a new job, being social, going to the DMV, or something as simple as sitting down to read a book, we use our mood as a scapegoat so that we don’t have to admit what we’re really up to: procrastinating.
I fall into this trap all the time. In fact, I wasn’t in the “right mood” for writing this blog post, which is what inspired the topic.
Whenever I’m not in the “right mood” for writing, it seems perfectly natural to put it off. Writing requires a lot of mental focus, so it can feel valid to convince myself that at some later time or date, I’ll have a better head for it. The trouble with allowing my mood to dictate whether or not I sit down and write, however, is that I write for a living, and if I don’t do it, I don’t get paid.
So I force it. I sit in front of the computer thinking that it’s going to be a struggle, that I’m not going to enjoy it, and that I’m going to do a sub-par job. The first few hundred words are a struggle, and I resist the urge to listen to my mood, which is busy telling me that I should probably check my email or Facebook again, you know, just in case.
Right around five hundred words, I start to get the flow for it. Suddenly I’m at a thousand, the creative juices are flowing, and suddenly I’m in the mood to write. Which is a good thing, because papa has to earn that skrill.
If we allowed ourselves to do only what we’re in the mood for, everyone would be sitting around eating ice cream, drinking bourbon, and watching re-runs of Star Trek. Nothing would ever get done. In fact, many people do allow their lives to be dictated by mood. They’re not in the mood to look for work, eat well, exercise, put on pants, or whatnot. This can be fine in small doses, but the reality of the matter is that if your mood makes all of your decisions, you’ll get overweight and unhealthy, the bills won’t get paid, you’ll never get a better job, and suddenly you’ll be surprised to find that you’re miserable.
You wonder to yourself, “But how can I be miserable? I do exactly as I feel all the time. I should be happy.”
The truth is that happiness doesn’t come through giving in to cravings and desires, or in other words, your mood. Happiness comes through self-discipline.
True Power and Happiness Come Through Self Discipline, Not Self Indulgence
“Whether you call it Buddhism or another religion, self-discipline, that’s important. Self-discipline with awareness of consequences.” — Dalai Lama
“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” — Jesse Owens
“Respect your efforts, respect yourself. Self-respect leads to self-discipline. When you have both firmly under your belt, that’s real power.”– Clint Eastwood
Let’s use exercise as an example.
Like writing, some mornings I’m just not in the mood for working out. My mood tells me that I would be happier to sit and randomly surf the web and take it easy in general. This is fine every now and again, but your mood, once indulged, decides to see how far it can take things. If you give a mouse a cookie…this is how we fall into ruts that feel inescapable.
So even if I’m not in the mood to for exercise, I force it. On days such as these, it can be really hard to get started. My muscles feel achy, I don’t feel like I have the energy for it, and I find myself thinking that I should just give up for the day. But I keep going, and the thing about exercise is that it provides a quick reward: endorphins.
A few minutes into a good workout, your endorphins start to flow, and you’ll notice a couple of changes. First, you feel much happier (this is that “runner’s high” in action). Second, some of the chemicals released by your brain provide stimulation to your body, and the workout becomes increasingly easier. All of the sudden a workout that seemed impossible one moment is highly enjoyable in the next.
In making the decision to ignore my mood, consider all of the long-term happiness that I’ve embraced. By working out, I’m making myself healthier, more capable, and more physically attractive. Each of these individual benefits lead to an array of others. With these benefits in mind, I am more likely to avoid succumbing to my mood in the future, thus starting a cycle of positive behavior rather than letting myself slip into a rut.
Self Reflection is the Path to Self Discipline
When you’re in a low mood, the temptation is to wallow in it. That is just your mood trying to be a cookie-hungry mouse again. Instead of wasting your energy by giving your attention to your mood, pay more attention to the decisions you’re making.
Ask yourself: “Am I making decisions based upon my mood right now, or based upon my long-term goals?”
Have you been feeling isolated, lonely, and non-social? You miss being around friends, but paradoxically don’t feel like spending time with them? That’s that mood-mouse asking for more, and you’re going to have to step on it to get it to shut up. Force yourself to go out with friends, and like the endorphins that are released a few minutes into exercise, you’ll find enjoyment creeping in.
Or have you ever noticed how the more you neglect your work or studies, the less you have the mood for it?
Or perhaps you’re in a hyper-social mood, to the detriment of the rest of your life?
I could go on. There are a million “moods” that we allow to dictate our behavior. The key to happiness is not to give into these moods, but instead practice the self discipline necessary to make good decisions. This is how you achieve mastery over your mood, rather than giving your mood mastery over you.
Think of it this way: When you’re in a bad mood, especially if you’ve felt as such for a good long while, it often seems like nothing is going right in your life and you’re making all the wrong decisions. If that is the case, maybe you are. Look at a few of the decisions you’ve made as of late, and think about how your life would be if you’d done the opposite.