As an executive coach reading plenty of research, I know we are more creative, productive, and resilient when we feel more positive.
(Originally published in Fast Company. Photo by Nathana Rebouças)
We all have days where we wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I can recall those days where I wake up in a funk. These days, since we’ve started working from home and changing our lifestyles, I have found my mood lower than usual, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.
I also know, as an executive coach reading plenty of research, we are more creative, productive, and resilient when we feel more positive. Positive emotions fuel high performance and achievement. The ability to regulate and shift your state of mind is vital for your success and your long-term psychological well-being.
Fortunately, you can use simple and proven methods to quickly elevate your emotional state, so you can perform at your best.
To be sure, these strategies are not a panacea, and if you are clinically depressed, these will likely be insufficient. But if you feel a little glum and want to uplift your mental state, try the following quick-working strategies employed by the mentally strong.
Accept Your Feelings
Having negative thoughts and emotions is a natural part of life. Even the most enlightened among us, from spiritual leaders and Buddhist monks, feel negative emotions. However, when we have negative feelings, we often think that we shouldn’t, and then we feel bad about feeling bad.
Resisting your feelings’ legitimacy, however, increases the total amount of negative emotions you feel and increases your suffering. Instead, accept your feelings as normal and part of what makes you human. In fact, at this very moment, there are thousands and thousands of people in our world feeling the same emotions as you.
Rather than reprimanding yourself for your negative feelings, you might tell yourself, “It’s okay. Many people are dealing with this emotional burden. And it’s normal.”
Give Yourself a Dose of Gratitude
The research around the benefits of gratitude on day-to-day well-being is conclusive and compelling. Cultivating gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, build stronger relationships, enhance their health, and cope with hardships.
More good news: there are a multitude of ways to cultivate gratitude, which are simple to implement. One helpful practice is writing down three things you’re grateful for. If you’re struggling to think of something to be thankful for in your current situation, think of others who are dealing with even more challenges, or recall the very worst times in your life (odd are, you survived in one piece). Simple gratitude practices help lift your mood in the short-term and also result in long-term healthful changes to your brain.
Aerobic exercise reduces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of endorphins, neurochemicals in the brain that are natural mood elevators.
A strange quirk about bouts of low mood—we’re most likely to skip a workout when we need it the most. “Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts. That’s the time you get the payoff,” explains Michael Otto, a professor of psychology at Boston University. Take advantage of this chance to get moving and see exercise’s most immediate and highest return.
If you don’t have time or can’t motivate yourself for a workout, simply head outside for a quick 15-minute walk break to return to work feeling more positive and energized. Even moving in gentler ways throughout the day—such as walking, gardening, or stretching—adds up in positive ways for your mood. And taking your movement of choice outdoors provides additional mood-lifting benefits.
Shift Your Brain from "Got To" to "Get To"
I can often feel my frustration grow over the course of the day as I struggle to do deep work amid the noise and chaos of our family of four working and learning from home. To change the frame on any situation, try shifting from a place of “got to” to “get to.” For example, for me, it’s about turning the lens from “I’ve ‘got to’ be at home” to “I ‘get to’ be at home” with my loved ones.
When I see my situation not as a pair of virus-induced handcuffs but as a chance to be around my teenagers more before they leave home, it helps me move from feeling stuck and a victim of these circumstances to seeing the opportunity. Reframing our thoughts is a cognitive reappraisal method, which is effective for regulating our emotions in the short-term and also plays an essential role in long-term psychological health
Plan Something to Look Forward To
Did you know that planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it? The significant boost in happiness people feel during a trip’s planning stages is likely due to looking forward to the good times ahead. While we are currently limited in our ability to take vacations to distant locations, we can still apply the principle and benefit from planning local trips or other events that we enjoy. Even better, as opposed to planning one big and possibly stressful trip to a faraway destination, enjoy the repeated happiness boost of planning multiple shorter getaways, a midweek day off for some self-care, or other simpler things you can look forward to.
While external events and body chemistry influence our feelings, we largely create those feelings through our thoughts and attitudes—and we can employ both our bodies and minds to quickly upshift into a more positive state.
The next time you’re feeling down and want to shift your state, start by accepting your feelings as legitimate. Then, focus on what you’re grateful for, take a brisk walk outside, reframe the situation, or plan something uplifting for the future. These simple and proven strategies will help your mood in the short term, so you can show up and perform at your best. When these steps are practiced consistently, you can build your resilience for the future and boost your long-term psychological well-being.
With daily fires to fight and limited space to think, I understand how the pressures rob your clarity. As a certified executive coach, I help senior leaders and their teams gain fresh perspective, confidence and new capabilities that accelerate their success. Work with Dina