Bad Mood Boot Camp: 10 Simple Ways to Kick Your Chronic Negativity for Good

Senior woman in a bad moodLife is short, and you can’t afford to spend it mired in worry and negativity.

You woke up in a bad mood—again—and it’s only gotten worse. All day you’ve stomped around, slamming drawers, staring daggers at your spouse, and snapping at your coworkers. It’s time to reflect on the consequences of your negativity. Whatever you blame your bad moods on—a flat tire, a vacation-ruining bout of flu, a looming deadline—your dark thoughts don’t just hurt you. They affect everyone around you, too.

And here’s the worst part: For many people, bad moods aren’t an occasional thing; they’re a way of life. As a society, we’re overworked, overstressed, and overextended, which is a recipe for a bad day. But bad days can turn into bad weeks, which turn into bad months, which turn into bad years.

The good news, though, is that our brains are actually wired for happiness. You’ve just got to learn how to access it.

Yeah, right, you may say. I’m not the one who causes my bad moods! It’s not my fault my boss wants me to do a two-week project in one, or that my heat pump just died. It’s true you can’t control your boss or your heat pump, but you can control how you respond to them. In fact, the new science of brain synchrony proves the brain is more changeable than we thought. Thus, the mental dysfunctions that make you grumble and huff can be broken and rewired more productively.

I’m not talking about brainwashing. I’m talking about exploring and redirecting your brain patterns through mind training. How?

Realize that your thought patterns are—almost literally—in a rut.

Due to both genetics and external conditioning, you’re locked into habitual attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors. Basically, you’ve unconsciously trained your brain to react in certain ways. Your thought patterns are firmly in place. And trigger A will almost always lead to result B, unless you redefine what B is. Since you’ll always face stressors and inconveniences, you’ve got to rewire your brain and re-pattern the way it works.

Negativity is a slippery slope.

Have you noticed it’s easier to believe the bad stuff than the good—and that one negative incident can ruin your whole day? That’s 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 anger, fear, and anxiety.

Ultimately you become addicted to bad moods and worry. Those negative emotions start to feel safe, and you unconsciously latch onto them. They become the reliable route, because it’s easier to wallow and grumble than to make things better.

Harness the power of intent.

You’ve heard it before: You live the life you create, so 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 isn’t enough. To make the changes that will foster a better quality of life, you must carve new channels, new neural pathways, in your brain. At first, that can be as simple as waking up each morning and telling yourself what you want to accomplish that day. Eventually you’ll want to incorporate a more focused mind-training regimen.

You can salvage a “wrong side of the bed” day.

Most of us believe if you start the day in a bad mood, there’s no hope for salvaging it. Not so. You’ll be controlled by circumstance only if you allow yourself to be.

Stop the negative feedback loops.

You know what these are. Something has rubbed you the wrong way—maybe something as simple as your spouse not starting the dishwasher—and you can’t stop replaying the scenario in your head. Soon, you’re reminded of all of the times your spouse has forgotten a chore, and you’re venting to your coworkers. Then they share their gripes; soon everyone’s steamed up for no reason.

When you get caught in a negative feedback loop, force yourself to stop. Drink a glass of water. Walk around the office a bit. You’ll be surprised by how well these small steps diffuse negative energy.

When a bad mood strikes, practice being present.

When was the last time you enjoyed the warmth of the sun on your face or listened to a beautiful piece of music without distractions? Chances are, you’re too focused on rehashing the past or fretting about the future to enjoy the now. And 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. That’s a recipe for a bad mood.

If you find yourself becoming frantic, force yourself to use all five senses. What does the chair feel like against your back? What sounds do you hear coming from neighboring offices? Can you identify the scent of the candle your spouse lit? You might not believe me until you try it, but you can experience a mood shift by consciously exploring the sensory world.

Give mind training a try.

Recent research shows that the brain never stops changing and adjusting. Repetition and new experiences (be they physical, emotional, or mental) reshape the brain’s soft tissue—a quality known as neuroplasticity—and revamp the areas of your life with which you’re dissatisfied.

Note, though, that neuroplasticity alone doesn’t effect change. It’s through the focused attention of mind training that new reactions and habits form.

Know your personality type.

Some personalities are more prone to bad moods than others. For example, if you’re a Type A, 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, try the Enneagram—a system that describes nine personality types and offers directions that guide each to psychological health and spiritual liberation.

Examine who you are, how you relate to others, what drives you, and what sets you off. Before you can effectively battle bad moods, you must understand what causes them. Then (to the extent it’s possible) you can head them off. Don’t think you are your personality. Your unhelpful personality patterns can be changed.

Exorcise old demons.

Repressed painful experiences are stored in your subconscious and in your body. When a situation evokes an emotional memory, it affects your behavior. When destructive and disturbing emotional reactions are triggered, you unconsciously behave the same way you always have, driven by this old pattern. For example, if you were repeatedly told as a child you’d never do anything worthwhile, as an adult you might find a fulfilling life elusive because of low self-confidence and poor self-image.

Acknowledge the fears and behaviors those beliefs have caused, then consciously address your negative and painful feelings. I call it “Facing, Embracing, and Erasing.”

For example, you might repeat to yourself, “I’m anxious, but I’m safe,” or, “I’m uncertain, but I’m capable.” Verbalizing your feelings alleviates emotional distress, lets you be receptive to your own needs, and makes you flexible in the face of challenge. Being released from your fears will immediately change your behavior.

Finally, ask yourself: Is my lifestyle the real culprit?

If you’ve been thinking, 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. Your lifestyle is probably part of the reason you’re unhappy. The high-pressure job you need to pay for the big house, new car, and gym membership saps your energy and perpetuates a pace and intensity antithetical to the mental quality that leads to true happiness.

I’m not saying quit your job and move to an ashram. I’m not even saying 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 interrupt the automatic circuitry that’s making you miserable. And, of course, make lifestyle changes where you can.

We’re all wired for what will make us happy. And what we really want isn’t success and fame, it’s peace, kindness, and contentment. Fulfillment doesn’t come from attaining your desires in the outer world, but from embracing your inner self. Be comfortable with yourself as you are, not as society tells you to be.

How do you snap out of a bad mood? Let us know!

Source: Patt Lind-Kyle  is the author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain: Applying the Exciting New Science of Brain Synchrony for Creativity, Peace and Presence (Energy Psychology Press, 2009).