Who’s the boss of you? Bringing mood out of the background

by | May 21, 2012

Last week I shared with you 10 “success secrets” for the moody entrepreneur. In the next series of posts, I’ll flesh out those secrets so you can use them to be happier and more successful–and make a better living at the work you love.

How cool is that?

The first success secret is: Notice and acknowledge all your moods, good and bad.

By their nature, moods live in the background, where they affect perception without your being fully aware of it. When you acknowledge a mood, you bring it into the foreground. You shift to having it, rather than it having you.

That’s all to the good, but the question arises: How the heck do you notice something that, by definition, is in the background, transparent to your everyday attention?

Here are four keys to bringing moods out of the background so that they won’t be the boss of you.

Hear yourself
Everyday we say things to ourselves or to others that express our moods. When anger, frustration, or resentment are operating, that might look like cursing the computer (who, me?). It could sound like a mutter or a growl. It could feel like biting back what you are about to say.

Because they are uncomfortable–and often because they are out of synch with your values–there’s a tendency to underplay these reflexive conversations.

But these conversations are a window of opportunity–opportunity to bring your moods into the foreground.

Listen to good moods, too
We say things to ourselves when we experience good moods, too. When delight, gratitude, or peace are present, it might sound like an enthusiastic “Yes!” or a sigh of pleasure. It could look like a simple “Thank you.”

Whatever the happy conversation is, listen!

Because if you don’t pause to notice, the experience of happy conversations can be fleeting. When that happens, you can develop a skewed picture of your moods, remembering the bad ones more than the good.

Pay attention to physical actions and events
Actions and events in the physical realm are also opportunities to bring moods out of the background.

Sometimes you are the agent of the action or event. You slam a door. (Never!) You throw down a tool.

And sometimes the world around you seems to catch your mood and act out for you. A spatula appears to jump out of your hand. A door jamb seems to dart in front of your forehead. (Uh huh.)

Whether or not you are the agent of the action or event, you can train yourself to notice it. Then you can ask, “What mood am I in?”

Attend to the actions and events that accompany good moods
Take a moment and think of some of the ways you act when you’re in a good mood.

Perhaps you take a long, luxurious breath.

Or smile at a stranger.

Or your mouth might water as you savor a delicious moment.

Now think about how the world around you seems to catch your good moods. Suddenly the world looks brighter. Flowers are even lovelier. Babies more adorable.

Again, you can train yourself to notice these indicators so you can consciously note what mood you are in.

Notice how other people react to you
The third way to bring moods out of the background is to notice how other people respond to you.

Do you sense people edging away? Is someone being particularly ingratiating? How about overly apologetic? Each of these is an opportunity to notice and acknowledge your mood.

(Be careful here. This is not about making yourself wrong or less-than. As gently as possible, let people’s reactions point to your mood rather than indict you for having it.)

Take in positive responses
The positive reactions people have to you are reliable pointers to a good mood that might otherwise be in the background.

Take it in when someone responds to you with warmth, gratitude, or appreciation. Then go one step further. Ask yourself, “What mood am I in that is producing these responses?”

Tip on applying the first three keys
The first three keys to bringing moods out of the background show you opportunities, but you may still be wondering how to take advantage of them.

Here’s a tip.

Thank about a mood you’ve had recently. Play back what was going on. What did you say silently or out loud? What was going on in physical space? What interactions did you have?

Practice hearing yourself, paying attention to the physical world, and noticing how people reacted to you as you remember moods. You’ll gradually get better at noticing in real time.

Make white space
The final key to bringing moods out of the background is to make white space.

White space is time when you are open to the moment. It is unscheduled. Unplugged. Time when your mind, body, and emotions can settle and reveal themselves.

The more time you spend in white space, the more attuned you will be to shifts in mood.

There are two kinds of white space: space you set aside on purpose and the space in transitions between two activities or states.

You can make white space by leaving the radio, cd player, or iPod off when you garden, exercise, or drive. (Make note to self!) Meditation is a time-honored method for creating whit space.

You can develop a feel for the white space in transitions by setting a timer to go off once an hour. When you hear it, pause and ask, “What am I feeling right now? What mood is present?”

Be the boss of you
Moods are powerful, but you are more powerful still. Gently, persistently pay attention to the ebb and flow of your moods. Practice inviting them into the foreground.

Then you will have them, instead of them having you.

Next week: How to use compassionate self-observation to unhook from a mood.

Photo credit: via Denaldo Dillo Flickr