Allow me to remove my management expert garb for a moment, and once again dress like my old psychologist self. 2020 has been a year of hard times and the difficulties are not finished yet.
During recent months you may have experienced a sense of loss, isolation and negativity. You may have suffered some symptoms of depression as well.
But you can do something to improve your psychological state and prevent any future decline in mood. Yes, you can do something to gain back control of your emotional life and become positive again, and you can do it right now.
The practice that I warmly suggest you try is tracking your mood.
The principle is quite simple: you can control what you are aware of, so becoming aware of your emotions will help you to transform the negatives into positives.
You’re probably thinking that you are already aware of your emotions, but there’s a good chance that this is not completely true. Experiencing emotions doesn’t automatically mean that you are aware of them. If I ask you for example what your prevalent emotion has been during the past week and what triggered it, would you be able to answer precisely? We probably all have a rough idea about what happened to us last week but this false feeling of self-awareness is exactly what sends us out of control and makes us feel negative and depressed.
So how can tracking your mood can help?
Are you ready? Take a notebook and seat yourself comfortably. Draw a horizontal line at the centre of the page. This is the timeline of your coming week, so mark all the weekdays on it but be careful to leave some space at the beginning and at the end of the line. Once you have done this, you’re going to label the vertical scale by drawing five small emoticons, representing five possible levels of happiness. First of all, level with the horizontal line, draw a “neutral” face (this is why you had to leave space at the end of the line). Moving above the horizontal line, firstly draw a smiling face and then above it, a joyful one. Below the horizontal line on your vertical scale, moving downwards draw firstly a sad face and at the bottom, a very sad/negative face.
Your new mood tracker is easy to manage. Every day you will mark with a dot or a cross the maximum and the minimum level of your happiness according to your scale. Against each of the two marks, write a note in order to remind you what happened. Now connect the two dots with a thin vertical line and mark the middle point between the two dots. You have tracked the mood of your day. If you then connect all the middle points across the page, you’ll have a graphical representation of the mood of your week.
Why is this so useful?
First of all, you may think the positives and negatives during your day were quite obvious, but the fact is that when you have to put it down on paper, you need to make a choice. This decision forces you to think and reflect, which forces self-awareness. Furthermore, when you see on paper the result of the process in the form of a graph, self-awareness is further reinforced. At the end of the week you have a snapshot of how your emotions progressed and you can consider: Are my mid points above or below the line? What situations, things and people triggered the positive emotions? What about the negative ones? What could I do to foster the positive moods and reduce the negative?
Doing this on a regular basis will increase your ability to manage your emotions, right at the moment you experience them during the day. You’ll be able to anticipate situations associated with the negative feelings and activate (or even transform them) into feelings that instead generate a positive mood. So there you have it, a simple way to nurture and foster your happiness.
Monday 4 January
+ First running session
– First email with a problem
Tuesday 5 January
+ Lunch with my son
– Complaint from a colleague
Wednesday 6 January
+ Praise by the boss
– Difficult discussion with a colleague
Thursday 7 January
+ Call with my sister
– Worked until late
Friday 8 January
+ Difficult task delivered
– Call to explain an organisational change
Saturday 9 January
+ Breakfast with my family
– Long queue at the supermarket till
Sunday 10 January
+ Running session
– Lots of work emails to process