An ‘attitude’ versus a ‘mood’

I recently challenged you to adopt an attitude that reflects your best self and I heard from many readers who were up for that challenge including one who wanted to know the difference between an attitude and a mood - great question.

Think of an attitude as a personal mission statement - it is your ballast that rights your boat when life is leaning sideways. Your mood is a reaction that is closely tied to your interpretation of a situation. It is more mercurial than an attitude and, in fact, can often derail your best intentions of a positive attitude. It’s hard to say which comes first, the mood or the attitude but there is no doubt that nurturing a good mood grows a better attitude.

In my mid-30s I decided to accept an invitation from some friends who were road cyclists and, like my father, became addicted. I bought a bright yellow LaMond Buenos Aires road bike and learned to ride fast and long. Drafting and pace lines were adventures and my only crash was caused by a nasty set of railroad tracks that smacked me violently to the asphalt. Railroad tracks aside, I was confident in most situations except riding through narrow spaces with my feet clipped into my pedals.

One of my enthusiastic bike racing pals gave me the key to that particular problem and it became my life’s metaphor that rights me when I am tilting. She said if you want to crash into the barricade, look at the barricade; if you want to ride between them, focus on the opening between the two barricades. Sounds so simple, but we all know otherwise. The dangers and hazards, the “what-ifs” and “oh no’s” that litter life’s road beg our focus. Keeping our attention on the clear path, on the opening, is challenging, but necessary if you want to avoid crashing into barricades.

All my adult life I have used exercise to keep my mind in a positive place - for most people exercise can manage dark moods, anxiety and depression by creating an environment in the brain rich in mood-boosting chemicals. Exercise, whether running, walking, gardening, or golfing, has an immediate mood boost (those lovely endorphins flood your brain, leaving you serene). Long-term exercise can work as a mood stabilizer in the same way that medication does by altering the chemicals responsible for emotions.

However, sometimes exercise isn’t an option or perhaps exercise isn’t enough to bolster a flagging mood. When this is the case, think about what surrounds you. Your mood has no chance if you often watch television shows where grisly and gruesome take turns on the screen (sounds like the evening news, doesn’t it?). A bucket load of endorphins won’t undo that damage. When you find yourself surrounded by complainers, grumblers, and whiners it’s like feeding your mind and your mood the emotional equivalent of deep-fried Twinkies - might be satisfying at first but then comes the stomach ache.

There are those times when you have no choice but to be in the company of such negativity - these are the times when a long walk or a quiet moment under your favorite tree can reset a downward spiraling mood. Keep you eyes on your open path and your attitude will carry you through to the brighter moments.