At some point in their practices, many therapists (myself included), espouse the idea that people can make a choice about how they feel and how they respond to circumstances. For example, when I am getting ready for the day tomorrow, I can proclaim that I will choose to be in a good mood, and when something does not go as planned, I can choose to respond positively and rationally. Psychology Today even has a blog post out titled “Stress Is a Choice: How to Give Up Getting Worked Up.” It’s a great post that highlights how people can choose whether they will feel stressed. As I was reading this piece and nodding my head in agreement, I paused and thought, Boy, I wish it were as easy as it sounds. I would be stress-free and happy 24/7!
Cognitive behaviorists believe wholeheartedly that your thoughts will directly affect your mood. Let’s say you have a co-worker who is always in a negative mood in the morning. If you think to yourself, Her mood ruins my morning every day, then you will feel frustrated and crabby. If you think to yourself, Her bad mood sure does make for a hard day for her. I’m glad I choose to be happy, then you will feel less frustrated and probably happy!
First let me say that I strongly believe in the cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and apply them in my own life, as well as teach them to my clients. However, I also think you should get a disclaimer first:
The truth is, choosing our moods, thoughts, and behaviors is not easy!
In fact, it takes a lot of practice and mental energy, especially in the beginning. There are so many factors that affect our moods (or so we are led to believe) that it often feels like you are constantly playing defense against the environment. There will always be factors out of your control, such as your co-worker’s mood or whether the printer jams when you have a deadline to meet. The goal is to make your responses thoughtful and then emotional, rather than emotional first. Secondly, recognize that there are circumstances in which it is extremely difficult or nearly impossible for one to choose their thoughts or mood. These can include serious mental illness, hormonal imbalance, and substance use.
Before I get emails about the simplistic manner in which I presented cognitive behavioral therapy, I must mention that this therapeutic intervention entails so much more than this post addresses. For more information, you can visit PsychCentral and the National Association for Cognitive Behavioral Therapists.
To answer the title of this post…yes, I believe it is possible to choose our moods in most normal everyday circumstances. Remember, practice makes for more success!
What about you? Do you think this concept works?
Originally posted 2012-05-07 17:30:53.