“Depending on our mood, we experience the identical circumstances—who we are married to, where we work, the car we drive, our potential, our childhood—entirely differently.”
—Richard Carlson From: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff (MJF Books, NY 10001, 1997).
Mood swings are a fact of life for everyone. Given the increasing scientific evidence that mind and body are interactive I have found the daily practice of rating my mental state helpful and healthful for life management. This is another mindful exercise in self awareness, a fundamental quality that elevates Homo sapiens from the rest of the animal kingdom. This practice pays huge dividends for my quality of life, so I will share my process for you to use. But first let me elaborate on some benefits of engaging a mood rating system.
Become More Peaceful
The late Richard Carlson 20 years ago wrote 100 stress reducing strategies in his little book (cited above) titled after a quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer. Becoming a more peaceful person is the organizing theme. “One of the reasons so many of us remain hurried, frightened, and competitive, and continue to live life as if it were one giant emergency,” writes Carlson, “is our fear that if we were to become more peaceful and loving, we would suddenly stop achieving our goals. We would become lazy and apathetic.
Become More Successful
“You can put this fear to rest by realizing the opposite is actually true. Fearful, frantic thinking takes an enormous amount of energy and drains the creativity and motivation from our lives. When you are fearful or frantic, you literally immobilize yourself from your greatest potential, not to mention enjoyment. Any success that you do have is despite your fear, not because of it,” he states.
Expand Your Vocabulary
Mood disorders affected both my parents and have been an ongoing challenge in my own life. I have learned greater self awareness by creating a one to ten scale to describe my emotional state at any moment. How are you feeling right now? Most people have a vocabulary limited to variations of the two extremes, “good” or “bad,” or of the vague middle, “okay” or “pretty good.”
Moods Are Deceptive
Author Carlson elaborates, “Your own moods can be extremely deceptive. They can, and probably do, trick you into believing your life is far worse than it really is. When you’re in a good mood, life looks great. You have perspective, common sense, and wisdom. In good moods, things don’t feel so hard, problems seem less formidable and easier to solve. When you’re in a good mood, relationships seem to flow and communication is easy. If you are criticized, you take it in stride.
“On the contrary, when you’re in a bad mood, life looks unbearably serious and difficult. You have very little perspective. You take things personally and often misinterpret those around you, as you impute malignant motives into their actions
Moods Skew Perspective
“Here’s the catch: People don’t realize their moods are always on the run. They think instead that their lives have suddenly become worse in the past day or even the last hour. So, someone who is in a good mood in the morning might love his wife, his job and his car. He is probably optimistic about his future and feels grateful about his past. But by late afternoon, if his mood is bad, he claims he hates his job, thinks of his wife as a nuisance, thinks his car is a junker, and believes he is going nowhere in his career. If you ask him about his childhood while he’s in a low mood, he’ll probably tell you it was extremely difficult….
A Human Condition
“Such quick and drastic contrasts may seem absurd, even funny—but we’re all like that,” reminds Carlson. “In low moods we lose our perspective and everything seems urgent. We completely forget that when we are in a good mood, everything seems so much better….When we are low, rather than blaming our mood as would be appropriate, we instead tend to feel that our whole life is wrong. It’s almost as if we actually believe that our lives have fallen apart in the past hour or two.
Time Heals Moods
“The truth is, life is almost never as bad as it seems when you’re in a low mood. Rather than staying stuck in a bad temper convinced you are seeing life realistically, you can learn to question your judgment….” Carlson suggests, “When you’re in an ill mood, learn to pass it off as simply as that: an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time.”
Rate Your State
My 10-scale helps me become conscious of my moods before they snowball out of control. Creating a personal hierarchy of mood states has an immediate benefit of softening the feelings emanating from a negative state or of deepening the feelings from a positive mood. This classification process using numbers facilitates a little detachment from my emotions without suppressing or denying them. As I practice rating my state, I witness a continuous loop of change that reinforces a realistic perspective. Good moods come and go. Bad moods come and go. Some visit longer than others, but they all change. The result is that I am better at accepting my moods and at fashioning good days or good parts of days when I’m feeling low. When I’m feeling ebullient I am better at enjoying that state unencumbered by fearing its loss.
Levels 10, 9, 8 and 7
Level 10 represents the best functional mood I can imagine. I honestly admit to never having experienced a genuine #10. Nine level mood is also a fantasy on my version of this type of scale, and represents the state that I call “being in the zone.” Everything flows smoothly from one uplifting experience to the next. Everybody experiences the glory of win/win benefits. Eight level moods are always positive, gently instructive, ebullient, and rare. Seven is a level that characterizes about 5% of my moods, and I’m endeavoring to increase that percentage. A category seven mood is when I feel pretty calm, competent and resourced. Number seven mood days always have enough time, enough money, enough good food, enough work and enough play.
Levels 6, 5 and 4
When I experience a #6 mood level, I feel called to pump up a few buoyant affirmations or to apply the principle of conscious acceptance of my mood and gently work within it without trying to directly change it. At #5, I have to work to stay positively engaged with life and bring forth as many authentically uplifting thoughts as I can. Days or hours when I feel in a level #4 state, I’m struggling to function with civility. I relate to Richard Carlson’s assessment, “When we are immobilized by little things—when we are irritated, annoyed, and easily bothered—our (over-)reactions not only make us frustrated but actually get in the way of getting what we want. We lose sight of the bigger picture, focus on the negative, and annoy other people who might otherwise help us.”
Level #3 is the mood in which I most often awaken. That’s why the glass walled sunroom is my bedroom—so I can use the beautiful arrival of daylight to my yard and woods beyond to help me pivot into gratitude for the natural beauty and serenity I am blessed to behold every morning. This #3 state is heavy with a sense of relentless responsibility, obligation, drear and drudgery. I treat myself kindly by lightening my schedule, reading inspirational literature, and/or temporarily postponing activities that feel too challenging. Self kindness often includes engaging in productive physical exertion, and/or chatting honestly about my feelings with a friend on the phone or in person.
A lower state shifts my priorities to simple survival. I just focus on endurance. This is the state when accidents are most likely to happen because I’m too morose to be paying attention. At level #2 I postpone commitments whenever possible without inconveniencing anyone, and just stay in bed reading, meditating, and journaling. Fortunately, that’s my lowest state. Decades ago I would occasionally sink to a #1 level where I’d lay in bed for an entire day or two filled with snowballing thoughts of hopelessness and despair and failure. Each episode always passed, morphing into another mood.
Create Your Scale
My friends have adapted their own 1-10 scales to rate their moods. Specific mood data really aids communication and a sense of connection between friends and family. Rating my state and hearing how others rate theirs helps each of us to own and release bad moods as well as release any temptation to desperately try to hang onto good ones.
Author Carlson encourages us to “Put your attention on the fact that life is precious and extraordinary. Then little ordinary things take on a whole new meaning.” I second the motion. Rating my state as a daily practice keeps me moving in a healthy direction. Start now; rate your state at this very moment. It is a life enhancing practice.
- Writer's Bio: Karen is a naturopathic physician who has taken holistic healing and education into the realm of quantum physics. She is credited with “the first major breakthrough in Swedish Massage ~ research demonstrating energetic interconnections ~ since Peter Ling systemized it in the early 19th century.” International recognition for her healing and educational work includes an honorary degree, a silver medal, listing in Who’s Who of Professional and Business Women, appearances on TV and radio, lecturing in Europe and in the U.S. for professional symposia, colleges, corporations, community groups, and being featured in professional journals, magazines and newspapers. She has published more than 200 articles on holistic health and education. She has facilitated joyful well-being and health for hundreds of students she has personally certified in holistic healing and holistic massage and for hundreds more clients she has personally touched including luminaries in science, medicine and religion. [email protected]