Today, a little how-to for a change of pace. Tip: it’s detailed! So bookmark this set of recipes for whenever you need them.
When I lived in Austin, I was miserable. I loved Austin very much — the weather, the food, the rolling hills of Central Texas all around — but circumstances in my inner world kept me mad, sad and bad most of the time.
My inner bad mood was so pervasive that it had become a habit. No book or friend could help me find my way out of that habit. No amount of “trying” or analyzing. I was STUCK.
Desperation fuels innovation, and I ended up developing a few very effective and surprising techniques to change a bad mood that I still use to this day.
1. Good Bad Jokes
Austin is one of those kickass places where there is not only live music every night, but also 24/7 comedy talk radio. How cool is that?
Keep in mind that it’s Texas, so the humor could get pretty, um, raucous.
When my mood got really stuck, I would turn on comedy radio instead of my same old tired Spotify lists.
I let myself sinking deeper into negative thoughts rather than trying to push them away. Then I’d get in a Zipcar and drive around doing errands with comedy radio, listening to offensive hilarity.
Within seconds, I’m laughing awkwardly by myself with the windows rolled up. My brain is flooded with an emotion it hasn’t felt in awhile and my body feels more loose because a good laugh literally shakes you up physically.
Then, I’d work myself back into whatever remained of that bad mood — and then listen to another round of standup. I was scrubbing out a stain, and I would repeat this 2-step process until the stain was lifted, layer by layer.
How it works
1. A good laugh is the most disruptive positive event that can happen for you right now
2. No one is making you laugh loudly, inappropriately and physically in the middle of your day
3. It turns out you can do it for yourself for free right now:
(Side note: they switched Comedy 102.7 Austin to a Latino music station, so the website above is the only place to listen to 24/7 Comedy)
2. Neanderthal Look = Productivity Killer
Wearing your shoulders as earrings is not a good look for anyone, any gender, any age, size, or style.
Our shoulders, collar area, upper back and chest store a lot of the tension that we take in through our minds.
Without even knowing it, every one of us can fall into the trap of storing a huge amount of our psychological tension in the shoulder, upper back and chest. From there, that tension travels up the neck and right back into our head, where it blocks creativity, productivity and goodness. And also gives us that uniquely unsightly weak-neanderthal/laptop-nerd posture.
So I like to open up my shoulders and upper back, the areas that get weary from carrying around lots of thoughts.
Here are two simple stretches you can do anywhere — the plane, the cubicle, the bathroom, your home office, wherever you need it.
1) Neck Lengthener
Prevents “Danny Devito”
— Place elbows approximately in line with your shoulders, elbow creases facing upward toward the ceiling, backs of your triceps pressing down
— Hold a book, water bottle, shoebox (or a VEGA sport protein powder container) between your hands to keep them separated. Press this strongly your entire hand but especially your forefingers and thumbs.
— Pull your shoulders down towards your hips using the muscles along the bottom of your shoulder blades, your rhomboids
— Make your neck long like a giraffe
— Relax your mouth completely
— Hold 30 seconds and repeat
2) Chest Broadener
— You can do this anywhere. Grab hold of your wall, door frame, pole or random street column with your left hand
— Step your same (left) foot forward and your right foot back
— Lean into your left foot, pulling your torso forward and leaving your left arm behind
— Ease your shoulder down toward your hips using the muscles along the bottom of your shoulder blades, your rhomboids
— Make the side of your neck long and inhale into the broadness of your chest
— Relax your face completely
— Hold 30 seconds and switch to do the other side
3. BREATHE — 5 minutes to transform any STUCK
Even better is when releasing tension and stretching out tightness from the inside. Deep breathing actually expands your muscles and connective tissue by using the diaphragm, lungs, and deep abdominals — areas we don’t normally think about. Regularly practicing deep breathing makes you broader, taller, and decreases the unsightly laptop-hunch.
Here’s one simple breathing exercise you can do anytime.
1) Lay down on the floor.
Just get horizontal and let that occupy your concentration. Feel the points where your body makes contact with the floor.
— Feel for symmetry from right to left and head to toe
— Uncrank your neck and relax the back of it into the floor
— Empty your body of human animation, now you are a finished sack at the sandbag factory.
— Bring the inhale upward along your spine from your tailbone to where your spinal column meets the back of your head
— At the same time, resist the upward motion of the inhale by dropping your tailbone downward — both ‘downward’ horizontally aka away from your head, and also downward literally aka deeply into the floor that you’re laying on.
3) Keep inhaling.
As you continue, let the inhale expand your rib cage one rib at a time. Bonus if you expand your rib cage in the back and at the sides, not just in the front where it’s easy.
Finally, let this same inhale peak just behind your collar bone. Let your shoulders drop down against the lift of your upper chest.
Exhale slowly and evenly. Allow the exhale to travel down your spinal column like a slow elevator in a glass elevator shaft, elegantly, evenly, and smoothly.
Don’t hold your breath at any point, just go slow. This makes all tension go away, even if it’s destined to come back at some point. Keep doing it, and it’ll take longer and longer to come back.
It took me a long time to realize that the bad mood that felt mental and emotional was also physical. I still don’t know whether the physical originates the other two, or the other way around, but it doesn’t matter.
These three Bad Mood Chasers make it physically impossible to hold a productivity-blocking bad mood.
Our mind lives inside our body and tries, to varying results, to control it. We can work on our minds, learning 101 productivity ‘hacks’ to think differently. Or, we can shift gears and disrupt our mental patterns by working on the most concrete thing that all living things share (but only humans can willfully transform) — our physical body.
There are other ways, but stuckness is a big chasm to cross and these are the three most FUN and pleasurable ways I’ve discovered to leap right over it.
From there, get on with work and play, and keep creating!