While we can’t control the behavior of others, we still have a higher level of influence than we may realize.
Did you know you have the power to shift someone’s mood? You can take someone’s day from bad to good, or from good to great.
Now, I know we’ve all faced grouches: at work, in the line at the grocery store, maybe even in our own home. There are some people who seem to perpetually exist in a state of negativity. I’m sure we all know a few “downers.” Maybe we’re even guilty of the occasional stinking thinking (aka negative self-talk) ourselves.
Yet, in any given situation we’re able to create a shift—we can literally adjust someone’s attitude. So, are you ready to start flipping?
The Anatomy of a Bad Mood
As humans, we experience a variety of emotions. One of the biggest truths we should embrace when it comes to these emotions is there are no “bad” or “wrong” emotions. If you feel fear, hurt, sadness, anger or even joy, there’s nothing wrong about it.
Emotions are a beautiful part of our humanity. Formed in our amygdala—the very center of the limbic system and oldest portion of our brain–our emotions are powerful. In fact, they’re so powerful it’s very difficult to even exist without our emotions.
Take for example studies of people with traumatic brain injury or tumors in this area of their brain. With the inability to feel emotions they struggle to make even the most basic choices such as what to eat, what to wear, or what to do next. You see, so many of our actions are fueled by emotions, right down to our meal choices. At the heart of every decision are our feelings.
Feelings are powerful. They shouldn’t be dismissed or ignored but rather embraced and explored.
Where our feelings get us into trouble is when we assign them as personality traits, rather than feelings. If you catch yourself saying, “I’m shy,” or “I’m aggressive,” “neurotic,” or “fearful,” these emotions are programmed into our self-image.
Dr. Phillip Zimbardo runs the Shyness Clinic at Stanford University, and he finds that many shy people assume they were born this way, have always been this way and will always be this way. Yet, Dr. Zimbardo has trained many people to overcome shyness, demonstrating that this “disorder” is simply a behavioral pattern representing a lack of skills. In other words, shy people need to practice the social skills that will break them free of their habitual thinking. Their programming loses its power in the face of actions that demonstrate it to be a fiction.
Perhaps the most instructive of all is the research regarding our brain chemistry, showing that we seek the neurochemical states associated with different moods. Let’s say we believe ourselves to be cranky. We’re convinced we were born that way, and our behavior for the last thirty-five years confirms it because we’ve been constantly cranky. In reality, we’re addicted to the waves of peptides that flood our system when we’re in a cranky mood and label ourselves as “cranky.” Our neural network remembers the chemical high we felt when we scowled at our coworkers, snapped at our kids, or stewed in dissatisfaction. We become habituated to this cranky state, and we intentionally think thoughts that evoke it, triggering that neurochemical wash. It becomes essentially, a habit of the mind.
In other words, there’s no such thing as someone who’s just a “grouch.” We all have the ability to break out of our pattern of negative thinking and our self-defeating mentality. We can choose to boost positive thoughts and feelings that result from our moods.
How to Up-Regulate Your Mood
First of all, you won’t experience a paradigm shift overnight. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of a paradigm shift, a paradigm refers to a pattern or accepted perspective. In this case, shifting your pattern or model requires a commitment to change and growth. It won’t happen overnight—you see, those habits are strong—but it will happen.
In the meantime, we all have the ability to up-regulate or down-regulate our mood. Watch a funny cat video on YouTube or read a joke from a friend. What happens? You laugh. You feel instantly a little lighter and more upbeat. Whenever we laugh we’ve up-regulated.
Speakers and presenters often practice standing in a power-stance with hands on hips. They may look in the mirror with their best “go get ‘em” face, or even repeat a mantra. This isn’t for theatrics. It’s because this shifts in our bodies, movements and facial expressions send a message to our brain. We get a burst of feel-good neurochemicals. When we take a power stance, we’re up-regulating.
On the flip-side, consider the stereotypical brooding teen. Maybe he’s wearing black, listening to sad music and reading emotional poetry. He may carry himself slumped with poor posture, backpack slung over one shoulder and eyes downcast. His actions, posture and presentation are down-regulating his mood.
While we often can’t change circumstances or situations that may cause us to feel fear, sadness, anger and hurt, we CAN consciously surround ourselves with uplifting reminders and cues to up-regulate. When we’re feeling a little frightened, adopt a power stance. When we start to feel sad and down, take a five-minute happiness break. Listen to a song, watch a funny video. Get yourself to smile and maybe even close your office door for a dance break. It sounds a little different, but I guarantee you’ll feel lifted and more blissful when you’re finished.
How to Flip Someone’s Mood
Now, the next time a cashier is short with you at the grocery store, you might not want to challenge her to a dance off (although, you certainly could). One of the easiest ways to flip someone’s mood is to simply pay them a sincere compliment.
Truth is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal. When we interact with someone in a genuine, heartfelt manner, we’re telling them we see them. We see who they are, we notice them and appreciate them. A universal yearning is to be seen and appreciated.
Simply taking the time to compliment someone instantly shifts your dynamic. The compliment doesn’t need to be deep, but it should be sincere and heartfelt. Maybe you notice an item of clothing they’re wearing. Perhaps they served your food quickly or waited and held the elevator for you. Instead of simply saying thank you, say, “I am so impressed by your thoughtfulness in holding the door.”
When we offer a sincere compliment, include a smile. When someone smiles, we instantly mirror their expression. It’s an instinct we’ve had since infanthood. What do babies do when you smile at them? They smile back! They might not know why you’re smiling or understand the joke, but they’ll reflect your joy (and you’ll reflect theirs in a ripple effect).
So, are you ready to go out and spread more happiness in the world? Are you ready to flip your next bad mood, adopt a power-stance and compliment everyone you meet? Set a goal to see how many people you can “flip” in a day. Your personal power and circle of influence may surprise you!
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.