The following points are five common distortions that needs to be avoided:
1 Fortune Teller’s Error – This distortion arises when you have no real information about an important issue—so you fill the void by concluding that no news is bad news. Say you thought a job interview went well, but the company is taking its sweet time getting back to you. There’s no reason to believe the news is bad, yet the lack of info is cause for despair.
The Fix: Prepare for bad news (get busy setting up more interviews) but don’t develop an ulcer.
2 Personalization – Our wont to link negative acts to unrelated outcomes—“Hurricane Sandy ravaged my basement, so God must have it out for me!”—is another insidious distortion.
The Fix: Lose the arrogance. Remember that you aren’t the center of the universe—and be very thankful for that.
3 Externalization – We often credit our moods to outside influences rather than to their true source. Say your physician observes that, at 5’9” and 230 lbs, you need to lose some weight. Chances are, you take the news at face value and conclude that your doctor would rather have you cut back on the Krispy Kremes than court diabetes. On the other hand, if your girlfriend says you’re overweight, you might—if you’re externalizing—feel that she’s blaming you for having no self-control. Wham! Now you’re in a foul mood and she’s the reason—except that the real reason is simply that you need to drop weight. In your physician’s hands, that fact is mere data; in your lover’s, it’s the source of embarrassment and distress.
The Fix: Don’t lard simple facts with false meaning. If there’s a real problem, get to work on it. Also try turning your would-be assailants into allies by asking for their support.
4 Polarized Thinking – This mental malfunction describes the tendency to see the world in black and white. If you’re not built like an NFL linebacker, you’re a skinny wimp; if you’re not a CEO of a multibillion corporation, you’re a worthless failure.
The Fix: Computers deal in zeroes and ones, but humans shouldn’t. Instead, put things in context by assigning some rough numbers. Example: That last big sale might have fallen through, for example, but maybe you’re still batting over 300 for the year.
5 Overgeneralization – It’s surprisingly easy—and utterly irrational—to think one negative event is a harbinger of disaster.
The Fix: Dust off your high school statistics book and recall that one data point is virtually meaningless.
Berglas points out that you don’t have to think your way out of a funk—you can act your way out of one, too.
To understand why, consider what’s known as the James-Lange principle of emotion, developed independently by two 19th century psychologists William James and Carl Lange. James and Lange theorized that emotions are responses to an idea or experience. Example: You run from a bear because you know it can tear you apart. Conclusion: “I’m afraid of the bear because I’m running from it.”
Research has shown that the James-Lange principle works in reverse, too. If our bodies move in particular ways, our moods will align accordingly, depending on the context in which we’re moving.
One experiment involved two groups of people with fake electrodes attached around their lips and chins. Without any further explanation, the first group was asked to form of a smile, while the second was told to wear a frown. Afterward, the subjects were handed comic strips while the “electrodes” were being “calibrated.” Result: The people previously asked to smile enjoyed the comics more than those asked to frown. Action dictated mindset.
With that theory in mind, here are five ways to act your way out of a bad mood:
1 Channel Your Inner Warrior – Acting brave on the outside—with head high, chest out, and gaze firm—often helps you feel positive and strong on the inside, says Berglas. Even more stabilizing is the feedback from others who, through non-verbal cues, recognize and respect your strength.
2 Throw Your Weight Around- Going to the gym helps, but only to a point, warns Berglas. While releasing endorphins and squeezing extra reps can put you in good spirits, bad moods can sap vigor and hurt performance—so cut yourself some slack.
3 Drink Less – A couple of cocktails can settle your nerves, but not for long. As your body processes the alcohol, dysphoria—an emotional state marked by anxiety or unease—soon kicks in. “By the time drink number two is in your hand, the problems associated with booze have already begun to outweigh the benefits,” says Berglas.
4 Do A Spring Cleaning (Any Time Of Year) – Many bad moods begin as “I’ll-never-get-there-from-here” self-defeating statements. Clutter—the real kind, not emotional baggage—is often responsible. Purge to-do lists over a year old; “good books” you’ve started three times but will never plow through; and clothing that will never fit unless you contract malaria. Not only will your mood lift, you’ll have more energy for the stuff that really needs your attention right now.
5 Help Someone – Two benefits here, notes Berglas. First, the time you spend on the activity (cooking dinner, running an errand, whatever) is precious time away from whatever is bothering you. Second, the sense of accomplishment is dependably fortifying—as is the gratitude of the person eating your homemade lasagna.