You may be wondering, should I get out of a bad mood? Suppose that our answer is already, YES. Now, what do we do?
Karen Reivich, co-author with Andrew Shatte of The Resilience Factor, suggests some concrete steps. In a talk she gave at our MAPP classes in 2005, Karen gave three suggestions for getting out of a bad mood and out of a downward spiraling mindset. These are practical and immediately usable.
The problem with bad moods is that they stop you in your tracks, they hinder you from doing other things that can lead to continued small successes and that can move you forward in life. Additionally, as Dave Seah points out, you can’t always be waiting for the muse. Most often in life, you need to do things whether you’re in a bad mood or a good mood. For example, compare a person who takes actions to move his life forward only when he’s in a good mood (or when the muse strikes him) to a person who takes actions to move his life forward no matter what mood may have set on him temporarily. Who will likely be more productive?Here are the three principles Karen Reivich teaches to get out of a bad mood. I am coining them here as the “A.P.E. Method” because I remember it better that way:
A – Alternatives P – Perspective E – Evidence
Reivich and Shatte suggests that these are best used “When you need to disarm negative thoughts so that you can stay focused on the task at hand.” At the same time, these are not necessarily the best techniques to use “When you need a thorough, thoughtful and comprehensive understanding of a problem.”
So you want to stay focused on the task at hand, on moving your life forward. What do you do?
A – Alternatives
You can generate alternative beliefs. For example, if the bad mood started with thinking, “I haven’t done anything productive at work in the past year. I haven’t contributed anything. I’ll never contribute anything. And not only do I stink at work recently, but everything else is going down the drain too.”… then what are some alternative beliefs that you could seek?
Karen Reivich characterizes the possible alternative beliefs into three categories (that are introduced with great thoroughness by Martin Seligman in Learned Optimism):
Me / Always / Everything.
- If your beliefs tend to focus on “me” – “I did this, I got myself into a decade worth of trouble,” then try to look outwards a little bit … not too much – do not rationalize away your own potential contribution to the situation. But do look outward if you tend to blame yourself. Do look at the environment, the surroundings, and provide other possible explanations. (Create an alternative).
- If your beliefs tend to focus on “always” – “I’m never good at my work, I always mess up at the office, this never goes right for me,” then train your brain to find the one thing that you consistently excel at during work. Feel that pride – no matter how small – in that one thing that you own, that is yours, and that you can reliably think about to know that you are good at that part of work. (The point is to create one alternative: not always).
- If your beliefs tend to focus on “everything” – “And not only am I not good at my work, I can’t meet a great girl/guy, I’m terrible at keeping in touch with friends,” then train your brain to find the one part of life in which you have control. Feel that control in that part of your life – no matter how small that part may be – maybe brushing your teeth, maybe emailing a certain friend regularly. (Create an alternative thought-pattern: not everything.)
P – Perspective
Emma Judge, a Positive Psychology colleague, says that she once heard somebody say something so visual that she will never forget it.
“Imagine the biggest issue you have – the biggest, most terrible problem or set of problems that you can come up with. Now blow those problems up – imagine them even bigger and more terrible. Imagine close to the worse that can happen. Imagine all those problems spinning around like the tornado in Dorothy’s Kansas at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz. … Now take that entire storm and all those issues and shrink it down and put the entire storm into a teacup.”
Do you see a white porcelain tea cup on a white porcelain delicate plate, and a small steam above the teacup where the remains of the storm can be seen? It is the super-literal description of the phrase “storm in a teacup,” and talk about perspective!
Do that – put some perspective on the issues. What are the probabilities that everything will go wrong? Usually not 100%. Put the perspective of time on it (probably not as intense if you were to look back on this from 50 years in the future). Put the perspective of seriousness on it (these are bad moods, but nobody should be dying from this). Put the perspective of “me” on this (how impenetrable does my problem look compared to starving children). The perspective of comparison with those worse off is called downward social comparison… but in psychological studies it has proven to be effective in precluding depression.
The goal in finding perspective is to create flexibility in thinking. It is not to create an excuse for things that may actually have gone wrong, but it is to minimize the impact on your life of certain thoughts.
E – Evidence
Find concrete evidence to the contrary. If you are in a bad mood because you are berating yourself, then create evidence to the contrary. If the argument is that you’ve never done anything good in your work for the past decade, get a piece of paper and list two things that you have done well. That’s it – two things. Two concrete examples.
If you’re in a bad mood, and want to switch to being productive and focused, use these three techniques to get out of your bad mood:
- A – Create Alternatives for why something may be happening to dispute negative, bad mood thoughts,
- P – Put the issue in Perspective to get out of a bad mood, and
- E – Use concrete Evidence to discount the bad-mood self-talk in your head.
After you read this, you may want to keep handy the three sentences for the A.P.E. Method.
Maymin, S. & Britton, K. (2009). Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves. Positive Psychology News.
Reivich, K, & Shattẻ, A. (2002). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. New York: Broadway Books.
Image: Drawn for the book, Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves by Kevin Gillespie.