Mood Boosters: 7 Ways to Quickly Improve Your Mood

Clinical psychologist Nick Wignall discusses the best ways to quickly improve your mood.

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Nick Wignall

Nick Wignall is a clinical psychologist and writer interested in practical psychology for meaningful personal growth. Nick's work on Medium has attracted an audience of more than 35K followers and millions of readers, awarding him 'top writer' status amongst several different categories including Self Improvement, Mental Health and Life.

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May 18, 2020

Mood Boosters: 7 Ways to Quickly Improve Your Mood

In this article, I’m going to show you some quick techniques for putting yourself in a good mood throughout the day.

As a psychologist, these are the techniques I use with my clients every day to help them improve their moods. They’re also the ones I personally use when I need a quick mood boost.

Let’s jump right in.

1. Stop Hitting Snooze

You know the feeling: It’s 6:00 AM, your obnoxious alarm is going off, and all you want is another 15 minutes of sleep before you have to get out of bed.

So you do what most of us do — hit snooze, roll over, and fall back asleep for another 10 minutes until your alarm goes off again, rinse and repeat two or three times more.

But here’s the problem: While spending an extra 20 minutes or half-hour in bed feels good physically, it’s a set up for feeling bad emotionally.

Snoozing is breaking a promise with yourself. When you set that alarm for 6:00 AM, you were committing to getting up then. By snoozing, you broke the commitment, which means your self-esteem is going to take a hit. Not a great way to start your day off — breaking promises and ignoring commitments to yourself.

Instead, start your day with confidence by getting out of bed when you say you will.

2. Ask Your Barista How Their Day is Going

Human beings are social creatures. We’re wired for connection and relationships. Even the most extreme introverts still crave and benefit from good relationships and positive social interaction.

Which is why we can all leverage our biology to improve our mood by creating small moments of positive social interaction throughout our days.

We humans are social to our core. Take advantage of that fact.

Of course, we’re all so busy with so many big important things to do each day that it’s easy to miss these simple opportunities for quality social interaction. Which is a little bit tragic, since we deprive both ourselves and other people of the simple pleasure and joy of connecting with each other.

So, the next time you’re in line at Starbucks waiting for your coffee, put down your phone and look up:

  • Ask the guy in front of you what he thinks of the new furniture layout.
  • Smile compassionately at the new mom trying to wrangle three young kids out the door and into the minivan.
  • Ask your barista how her day is going with genuine interest.

Of course, harnessing the power of small positive social interactions to get yourself in a better mood isn’t confined to your local coffee shop. You can do it with the clerk at the grocery store, your secretary or assistant at the office, your bank teller, the telemarketer on the phone, or the homeless guy on your evening commute.

Take a little time to make a positive connection with another person throughout your day and your mood will thank you for it.

3. Have a Walking Lunch

Most of us spend the majority of our working days sitting at a desk inside an office filled with things and people reminding us of work we need to do — often stressful, mood-deflating tasks.

In other words, our work environment is full of cues for stress: a reminder about that uncomfortable email you have to send to your direct report, walking by your boss’s office, even just hearing your phone ring for the twelfth time in an hour. All these little cues add up and can take a toll on your mood.

But you can give yourself a major break from all these negative cues and allow your mood to rise by taking your lunch out and going for a walk for 15 or 30 minutes.

Not only does it get you moving, but you’ll be exposed to all sorts of novel, non-work related environmental cues which can positively impact your mood.

Sometimes low mood is simply the result of too much time spent in a stressful environment. If you can break out of that environment, even briefly, your mood will lift as a result.

4. Take a Mindful Music Break

One of the best ways to boost your mood is to relax — to temporarily unplug from the stress of daily life and throw your whole mind and body into something you enjoy simply for its own sake.

And one of the best ways to relax is to become more mindful of the present moment rather than darting back and forth between future worries and past mistakes.

Single-tasking is the ultimate form of relaxation.

Thankfully, you don’t need scented candles, new-age mantras, or yoga pants to be become more mindful — to find a sense of inner calm and peace of mind throughout your days.

What if I told you that you could become more mindful simply by spending a few minutes every afternoon listening to your favourite music?

I call this strategy the mindful music break, and it goes like this:

  1. Take a 15-minute break. Close your office door, tell the kids to go play outside, or do whatever it is you need to do to get a little quiet space.
  2. Cue up two or three of your favourite songs on your phone or computer. Any music will work as long as you love it — classical, heavy metal, emo, polka, whatever.
  3. Put on some nice headphones. Any headphones will do, but this exercise is dramatically more effective with nice headphones. So if you don’t own any yet, consider investing in some high-quality headphones.
  4. Close your eyes and start the music. Just sit there with your eyes closed and let the music wash over you.
  5. Hold your attention on the sound of the music. The idea is simply to enjoy the sound of your favourite songs. If you find your attention wandering to that upcoming meeting or what you need to pick up at the grocery store, gently shift your focus back to the sound of the songs.

If you can carve out 10 minutes a day to deliberately relax with some mindful music, you’ll be shocked at how much it can reduce your stress and quite possibly shift you into a good mood.

If you want to feel genuinely relaxed and calm, give your mind a break and do just one thing, like listening to good music.

5. Text Someone You Love For No Reason

We tend to feel better when we get outside our own heads and do something for others. But being kind and generous to other people doesn’t have to be a monumental act of charity and self-sacrifice. It can be quite small and still meaningful.

Try this:

  1. Make a list of 5–10 people whom you love and care about.
  2. Set a recurring daily reminder on your phone for any time you like.
  3. When the reminder goes off each day, take 30 seconds and text the first person on your list. It could be anything from a heartfelt message of love or admiration to a silly gif.
  4. Work your way down the list, texting a new person on the list each day.

Random acts of kindness are a great way to improve not only the quality of your relationships but also your own mood and emotional life.

In 30 seconds, with almost zero effort, you can improve your mood and make someone else’s day.

Sometimes the best way to feel better is to get out of your own head and put something nice into someone else's.

6. Jot Down Tomorrow’s Top 3

Chronic worry and anxiety is a common source of low mood. And while there are many reasons why we worry, there’s one big one that almost no one thinks about: Worry is a memory aid.

See, when your mind doesn’t trust that you’ll remember things, it throws those thoughts into your awareness as a way to keep them ‘online’ — like when you can’t write down a phone number and have to say it over and over again in your head in order to remember it.

Your mind will stop worrying so much when it trusts you to remember important things.

If you want your mind to stop resorting to worry as a memory aid, you need to convince your mind that you’ve got a consistent and reliable method for remembering and doing important things.

While there are countless organizational and task management systems out there, my favourite is a very simple but very powerful technique I call Tomorrow’s Top 3. And it goes like this:

  1. At the end of your workday, set aside 5 minutes after you’ve finished up work but before you leave.
  2. Take out an index card or sticky note and put it front and centre on your desk, workspace, or wherever you begin your workday.
  3. Next, write down the three most important things you’d like to get done the following day.

Not only will you start your next day knowing exactly what the most important things to work on are (which is a great way to outsmart procrastination, by the way), but you’ll go into your evening with fewer worries. And fewer worries means a lighter, better mood.

7. Conduct an Evening Review

An evening review means you take a few minutes to pause and reflect on your day. This can take whatever form you like — journaling, meditation, prayer, etc.

But a simple version of it that I like has two brief steps:

  1. What’s one thing you could do 1% better tomorrow. For example: Be 1% more patient with my kids before bed; be 1% more friendly with my annoying coworker; increase my workout time by 1%. I like the 1% rule because it’s small enough to seem doable but, when compounded over years, small bits of 1% improvement add up to major changes.
  2. What’s one thing you’re grateful for. For example: Your manager’s kind words about your presentation to the team; the beautiful weather where you live; that fact that you’re healthy enough to still play tennis at 75. Quick tip: when it comes to gratitude, the more specific the better.

Getting into the habit of a brief evening review can be a powerful yet easy way to improve your mood at the end of the day because it puts things in perspective: Yes, some things went not so great today, but there’s plenty of room for improvement tomorrow and there are still a lot of wonderful things in my life that I’m grateful for.

And besides the immediate good mood benefits, an evening review has other knock-on benefits like calming your mind before sleep.

Perspective on our days leads to perspective on our lives.

Cultivate the Habits of a Good Mood

Of course, we can’t always be in a good mood. Bad moods strike, often for perfectly valid reasons. And it would be a mistake to insist on always feeling upbeat and in a good mood. Still, most of us have more control over our moods than we think.

While you can’t simply turn up the happiness dial or crank down the sadness lever, you can build-in small mood-boosting habits throughout your day.

Further Reading
How to Radically Improve Your Life
With just three words.
June 6, 2020
Six Habits of Deeply Miserable People
Psychologists say these are the giveaways to watch out for.
June 3, 2020