It's Fine to Put on an Act & Here's Why
Moods have a way of polarizing behavior. If our mood is up we like to spread the love, be happy, smile and reveal our energy. When we're down the head drops, we frown, mope about silently and get grumpy. Despite the down days we've probably all put on an act to cover it over. Those days when you grit your teeth, put on a happy face yet will the day to come to a close. In many ways you've probably done yourself a big favor behaving like this, even if it doesn't feel that way.
In a previous post Thinking Yourself Better Can Only Go So Far I briefly explored the issue about how behavior influences mood, and how by experimenting with confident behavior people can start to feel more confident. Following this, a reader emailed me to ask for more details as to the actual mechanism. I promised I'd follow up with a SharePost giving a few more details, so here goes.
I think we've all come across situations where the expression on someone's face says "back off". Equally, if you get a nice smile then you often find yourself doing the same thing in return. These little social behaviors are actually fairly complex and subtle mechanisms hard-wired into our brains. An important issue here is the way in which learning, memory and emotions are so closely linked. Let's use the Christmas season as an example. Let's say every year you find the prospect of Christmas depressing. The reason for this is that your memory undertakes a rapid search of previous Christmas experiences and the associated emotions. As a result you have learned to associate Christmas with some level of emotional discomfort.
As much as these simple principles offer an explanation for your mood it doesn't necessarily mean you are trapped. Think of the Christmas - memories - emotions thing, as one of several million electrical circuits that have developed in your brain. The way you access this network is through some trigger about Christmas, like seeing decorations or cards or any one of the many others in the lead up to the Christmas season. Is there a way to avoid this particular neural network? Yes, I think there is.
This brings me back to the principles of behaving in ways that your emotions will follow. The more you act as if things are alright the greater your chances are that things won't seem so bad. This is because your brain feels so much better when things are going well for it. The smiles you get back from other people are so much more reinforcing than the frowns, or the negative comments. Every moment you stay outside of that little cluster of neural activity you previously laid down, is a positive thing. By making yourself think more positively and by making yourself be pleasant to other people you are laying down an alternative neural structure that one day may actually take precedence over the more negative one.
All this may sound a little wacky but you've probably got a history of doing this already. Can you recall saying something like, "I used to hate (whatever) but now I quite enjoy it". So, giving yourself opportunities to nourish your brain with rewards, is a good way to tip the balance in your favor and if that feels like you're putting on an act, well there's nothing wrong with that.