I woke up yesterday morning feeling under the weather. Not sick or anything. Just oddly and ever so slightly depressed.
Apart from the fact that it was cold and dark outside —I’m not a fan of either, can someone please send summer back?— I had no reason to feel down in the dumps.
No stressful deadlines. No looming visits to the dentist. No awkward conversations waiting to be had.
Yet, there it was. A dark and annoying cloud hovering above me.
I meditate twice a day, exercise regularly and eat chocolate at least a few times a week. In other words, I’m doing all the right stuff. So why was my mood in the doldrums?
Here’s where all that time I spent procrastinating on the interwebs instead of working finally paid off. Woop woop.
Mood Follows Action
There could have been any number of reasons for my dodgy demeanour (biorhythms, time of the month, poor sleep, etc.). Figuring out the ‘why’ wouldn’t make me feel better, so I did the next obvious thing.
I snoozed my alarm for 15 minutes and ruminated.
That’s when ‘mood follows action’ popped into my head. It’s something I saw on my favourite podcast host’s website and while I got the premise, I’ve never bothered to put it to the test.
Yeah, lazy hippie.
I figured I had nothing to lose except that stupid cloud, so why not give it a try? I hauled my sorry self out of bed, did some Tibetan Rites, meditated and then headed out. In the dark and cold. Like a badass.
Not a Jill Homer badass. More like a wussy I can’t stand the cold badass.
I managed a five kay followed by a short weights session at the gym. By the time I joined Sporty for a matcha latté I felt perfectly happy. As in, back to normal, no annoying cloud in sight.
You see, humans are wired for instant gratification. We want to feel good now. When that doesn’t happen, we hide under the covers. Our thinking being that we’ll do something when we feel better.
Has that ever happened to you? It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit.
Thanks to my experiment yesterday morning, now we both know — In order to feel better, you first have to take action. Only then will your mood improve.
Exercise is one example of mood following action. However, this approach can be applied to pretty much any challenging situation.
If you’re not enjoying your job, talking to a career consultant will highlight new options. And then you’ll feel better.
If your marriage is failing, seeking relationship advice will help you figure out what’s wrong. And then you’ll feel better.
If you’re unhappy with your body, joining a gym and eating healthy will help you slim down. And then you’ll feel better.
Placing Mental Health Front and Centre
My dark mood left without a fuss yesterday. And if I’m honest, it really wasn’t all that dark. We’re talking more gray than black.
In the past, it wasn’t that easy. Waking up in a funk was the norm, rather than the exception. It also took more than a run and an overpriced drink with my wife for me to feel better.
The difference between then and now is that I wasn’t placing my mental health front and center. My relationship with meditation was sketchy. At best we were passing acquaintances.
I never focused too much on personal growth because I wanted to keep my leisure time for fun stuff. Really Essentially, what I was doing was coasting.
Like a teenager, except with more laugh lines.
We don’t like thinking about mental health because it conjures up images of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Admitting we have psychological issues is tough for most people. Society is perfectly fine with physical ailments, but mental afflictions are looked at askance.
We need to break the stigma. Whether you suffer from panic attacks, have an unfounded fear of commitment or a closer than normal relationship with cupcakes, dealing with those issues should be as commonplace as treating the flu.
That’s easier said than done, I get it. Even if you don’t want to be ‘loud and proud’ about your stuff, at least make a point of seeking out help.
If I’d taken my own advice when I was younger, I probably wouldn’t have downed nearly as many tequila shots.
Unless you make mental health a priority, the issues that ail you will only get worse. How do you do that? Well, along with getting help if you need it, you focus on the fundamentals to the exclusion of everything else.
Everything else is fluff.
Consistency on the fundamentals matters: exercise, eating right, meditation, gratitude, me time, etc. These are the things that, when you do them consistently, give you the energy to show up wholeheartedly in the rest of your life.
It’ll reflect in your work, your relationships and your demeanour. In short, you’ll be a happier and more grounded human.
I’m not saying you can’t ever watch another episode of GOT. Just don’t spend the entireweekend binge-watching three seasons. Watch one episode like a normal person, then go meditate.
Better yet, meditate first.
Decluttering Your Life
Clutter wreaks havoc on your mental health. Decluttering your life might not solve all your problems, but it’ll come damn close.
It’s crazy how much of our unhappiness can be linked to our habits and lifestyle. We often don’t even realise that we’re holding ourselves hostage.
Why do you stay in prison, when the door is so wide open? —Rumi
Decluttering your home is a good place to start, but to see real change you need to declutter every aspect of your life.
Once you’ve cleaned the countertops, emptied the garage and donated all your old clothes to Goodwill, it’s time to turn the lens inward.
Take the time to think about your habits. Rather than labeling them ‘good’ or ‘bad’, consider whether or not they are serving you.
Now, figure out how to incorporate the habits that are serving you more fully into to your life. Can you exercise more frequently? Can you eat more fresh produce? Can you talk more with your spouse?
The trick is to nudge out the habits that aren’t serving you by leaving no room in your schedule for them. Here’s a great example.
We needed a break from the alcohol but we also enjoyed our evening libations. We kept promising ourselves we’d stop, but there was always an excuse.
Recently, we went on a meditation course and the teacher explained that in order to fully appreciate the benefits we’d need to do the practice twice daily.
This was the catalyst we needed to quit our wine habit.
The fundamental (meditation) won out over the habit (wine) because it promised long term benefits. All the wine offered was a momentary escape followed by a nasty headache.
The choice was easy.