So you woke up in a bad mood — again — and it’s only gotten worse. All day long you’ve been stomping around, slamming drawers, staring daggers at your spouse, and snapping at your coworkers. Time to take a breather and reflect on the consequences of your negativity. Whatever you blame your bad moods on — a flat tire, a vacation-ruining bout of the flu, a looming stressful deadline — your dark thoughts aren’t just hurting you. They’re affecting everyone around you, too.
And here’s the worst part: Bad moods aren’t an occasional thing — they’re a way of life. Author and mind training expert Patt Lind-Kyle offers some surprising get-started-now solutions for the bad-mood blues.
“As a society, we’re overworked, overstressed, and overextended, which all too often is a recipe for a bad day,” Lind-Kyle, author of “Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence,” pointed out. “And the real danger is that bad days turn into bad weeks, which turn into bad months, which turn into bad years.
However, the good news, she added, is “our brains are actually wired for happiness … you’ve just got to learn how to tap into it.”
Yeah, right, you may be thinking. I’m not the one who causes my bad moods! It’s not my fault that my boss wants me to do a two-week project in one, or that my heat pump just died!
It’s true that you can’t control your boss or your heat pump, Lind-Kyle acknowledged — but you can control how you respond to those stimuli. She noted that you can consciously explore and redirect your brain patterns through mind training — a process that has been scientifically proven to be effective.
Here’s how to kick your chronic bad-mood mindset forever.
Realize that your thought patterns are — almost literally — in a rut. Here’s a surprising newsflash: Before you’re ever placed in any given situation, your potential responses are already very limited by the way your brain is wired — and often, those responses contribute to your negativity. Since there will always be stressors and inconveniences in your life — unless you move to an ashram, that is — you’ve got to go to the source. You’ve got to rewire your brain and repattern the way it works.
“Due to a mix of genetic factors and external conditioning, you are locked into a set of habitual and automatic attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors,” Lind-Kyle explained. “Basically, you’ve unconsciously trained your brain to function and react in certain ways. Your habits and thought patterns are very firmly in place. And trigger A will almost always lead to result B, unless you take specific steps to redefine what B is.”
Negativity is a slippery slope. Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to believe the bad stuff than the good — and that one negative incident can send your whole day into a tailspin? This is because whenever your comforting flow is interrupted by a surge of negative automatic emotional reactions, your body releases stress chemicals to help you “defend” yourself. Those chemicals, unfortunately, can trigger and perpetuate feelings of anger, fear, and anxiety.
“Before you know it, you actually become addicted to bad moods and worry,” Lind-Kyle said. “Those negative emotions start to feel safe, and you unconsciously latch on to your bad moods. They become the ‘easy’ route to take, because — admit it — it’s a lot easier to wallow and grumble than to take action to make things better!”
Harness the power of intent. You’ve heard it before: To some extent, you live the life that you create for yourself — so it’s important to gain control by clearly stating which changes you’d like to make. Just don’t stop there.
“Stating your intent to not let bad moods rule your life is a good starting point, but wanting to be happy just isn’t enough,” Lind-Kyle asserted. “In order to make the changes that will lead to a better quality of life, you literally need to carve new channels, new neural pathways, in your brain. And in the beginning, that can be as simple as waking up each morning and stating to yourself what specific goals you want to accomplish before you go to bed. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate a more focused mind training regimen.”
Yes, you can salvage a “wrong side of the bed” day. We all know the phrase, “Looks like you got up on the wrong side of the bed!” And most of us believe that if you start the day in a bad mood, there’s really not much hope for salvaging it. Not so, Lind-Kyle promised! You are responsible for the direction your life takes, and you’ll be controlled by circumstance only if you allow yourself to be.
“It’s crucial to have a high locus of will and effort, because you don’t want to be unnecessarily buffeted and bruised by life’s vagaries,” she explained. “True, you can’t always control outside circumstances. But you can control how you respond to them. And before you know it, positive reactions will be your default instead of something you have to work for.”
Stop the negative feedback loops. You know what these are. Something has rubbed you the wrong way — maybe something as simple as your spouse running out of the house without starting the dishwasher — and you can’t stop replaying the scenario in your head.
Before you know it, you’re reminded of all of the times your spouse has forgotten a responsibility, and you’re venting to your coworkers around the water cooler. Then they start to share their own gripes, and pretty soon, everyone is steamed up for no reason whatsoever.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that negative feedback loops aren’t exactly helpful,” Lind-Kyle pointed out. “You expend a great deal of energy worrying about what you can’t change, and about things in the future that will probably never come to pass. Your ability to deal with the present is impaired, and your peace of mind is shot. When you catch yourself getting caught in the riptide of a negative feedback loop, force yourself to stop. Drink a glass of water. Walk around the office a time or two. You’ll be surprised by how well these small steps diffuse the negative energy you’ve accumulated.”
When a bad mood strikes, practice being present. When was the last time you stopped to literally smell the roses, enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face, or listen to a beautiful piece of music with no other distractions? For many of us, it’s been awhile. Chances are, you’re too focused on rehashing what’s past or fretting about the future to enjoy the here and now. And that’s bad. A lack of awareness of your sensations can cause you to become forgetful, to have difficulty meeting deadlines and maintaining a schedule, and to have increased anxiety and stress. This is an instant recipe for a bad mood!
“If you find yourself spiraling into franticness and worry, force yourself to use all five senses,” Lind-Kyle advised. “What does the chair feel like against your back? What sounds do you hear coming from neighboring offices? Can you identify what scent is wafting from the candle your spouse just lit? You might not believe me until you try it, but you really can experience a shift of feeling by consciously exploring the world around you through your body’s sensations.”
Give mind training a try. Good news: New research has revealed that the brain never stops changing and adjusting! Repetition and new experiences (whether they are physical, emotional, or mental) literally reshape the brain’s soft tissue — a quality known as neuroplasticity — and revamp the areas of your life with which you’re dissatisfied.
This is why Lind-Kyle is such a staunch proponent of mind training. ”Generating new and/or creative thoughts can change neuronal pathways, releasing the hold old patterns have on us. It’s important to note, though, that neuroplasticity in and of itself doesn’t effect change. It is through the focused attention of mind training that new reactions and habits are formed.”
Know your personality type. (It might yield insights into your bad mood patterns!) The fact is, some personality types are more prone to bad moods than others. For example, if you generally fall into the “Type A” category, you’re more likely to be thrown off-kilter by an unexpected Internet outage than your “Type B” counterparts. And if you really want to delve deeper into the study of personality, Lind-Kyle recommends the Enneagram — a system that describes nine personality types and offers a set of directions that guide each type to psychological health and spiritual liberation.
“In general, it’s a good idea to examine who you are, how you relate to others, what drives you, and what sets you off — among other things,” Lind-Kyle explained. “Before you can begin to effectively battle bad moods, you need to be able to understand what causes them. And then (to the extent that it’s possible) you can head them off. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you are your personality. Your unhelpful personality patterns can be changed!”
Exorcise old demons. The fact is, many human behaviors are emotion-driven. Repressed painful experiences are stored in your subconscious and in your body, and when a situation evokes an emotional memory, your behavior is affected. When destructive and disturbing emotional reactions are triggered, you unconsciously fall into behaving in the same way you always have, driven by this old pattern. For example, if you were repeatedly told as a child that you would never accomplish anything worthwhile, as an adult you might find a fulfilling life elusive because low self-confidence and poor self-image influence your reactions to life’s flow.
“Through self-reflection, mind training, and awareness, you can identify the self-defeating beliefs that are linked to memory and stored in your subconscious mind,” Lind-Kyle promised. “Acknowledge the fears and behaviors those beliefs have caused, and then consciously address your negative and painful feelings. I call it ‘Facing, Embracing, and Erasing.'” (Her book explains this exercise in more detail.)
“For example, you might repeat to yourself, ‘I am anxious, but I am safe,’ or, ‘I am uncertain, but I am capable,'” she continued. “Confronting your feelings and putting them into words actually alleviates emotional distress, enables you to be more receptive to your own needs, and makes you more flexible in the face of challenge. Being released from your fears will cause an immediate change in your behavior!”
Finally, ask yourself: Is my lifestyle the real bad-mood culprit? If you’ve been reading the preceding tips thinking, Yeah right! I don’t have time to train my mind. I have to work 12-hour days just to pay the bills!, you might have hit the nail on the head, Lind-Kyle said. Your lifestyle is probably part of the reason you’re unhappy. The high-pressure job you have to work to pay for the big house and new car and gym membership is sucking up all your energy and perpetuating a pace and intensity that’s the very antithesis of the mental quality that leads to true happiness.
“Western culture is intense, fast-paced, and goal-driven,” she said. “It creates an automatic drive that can get locked into our brain circuitry. And I’m not saying to quit your job and move into an ashram. I’m not even saying to move to a smaller house and take the bus — though that’s not necessarily a bad idea. What I am saying is to rewire your brain to break the hold of the automatic circuitry that’s making you miserable. And, of course, make lifestyle changes where they make sense.”
In conclusion, “We are all wired for what will make us happy,” Lind-Kyle said. “And what we really want is not success and fame — it’s peace, kindness, and happiness. Fulfillment does not come from attaining your desires in the outer world, but from embracing your inner self, which is the real source of your greater identity and peace of mind. You need to be comfortable with yourself as you are, not as how society tells you to be.”
Patt Lind-Kyle is an author, therapist, speaker, trainer, and consultant. She is a former professor at Foothill College, and founder of a learning assessment company that applies neuro-monitoring tools for stress management, health, and peak performance. Her research, writing, and teaching in the mind/brain field center on using an EEG brainwave monitoring system to help individuals maximize their brain-mind potentials. Patt has written a chapter in Audacious Aging: “Building Community from the Inside Out” (Elite Books, 2009). She is also the author of “When Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up” (SwanRaven, 1994). www.healrewireyourbrain.com.