Mood follows action

I’m an emotional person. I can be prone to over-analyzing situations, and people’s intent and actions. There are lots of benefits to this – it’s easy for me to empathize and read social situations and I’m fairly good at predicting people’s behavior – there are also clearly some costs, such as taking things too personally and allowing emotion to interfere with logic.

There are many ways to manage emotions and mood, much of which extends beyond the scope and intent of this blog. There is, however, one particular phrase on this topic that has stuck with me for several years now, which is “mood follows action”. You cannot simply ‘think’ yourself into a different (better) mood. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, being in a static environment and dedicating your mental energy to that feeling of frustration almost certainly won’t help. So what will? Taking action.

While you can’t THINK yourself into a different mood, you absolutely can positively influence it via action. For myself, exercise is one of the best actions. If I’m feeling stressed, I know going for a run will help. Obviously, that’s not always practical. But even when it’s not, there are lots of small and simple opportunities to take action, which can very quickly and materially benefit mood: going for a 5 minute walk, changing physical setting (e.g., working at a different desk or in a different room), socializing with family or friends, or listening to music, to name a few. All of these are easily accessible. By remembering mood follows action and not the other way around, you can spend less time stewing and more quickly refresh your mood.