• Scenario One: Your day is going along just fine. Then you get a piece of news from a colleague that makes you mad.


  • Scenario Two: A simple two minute “hello” phone call to your significant other turns into a 15-minute argument about, nothing.


  • Scenario Three: A meeting you attend is full of energy and productivity and it causes a wave of happiness and vitality to run through you.


  • Scenario Four: Critical but helpful feedback on an important piece of work causes you to feel simultaneously frustrated and excited.


All these situations have one thing in common. Like hundreds of other scenarios, each of the four above have the potential to evoke moods. Moods happen. And our ability to maximize moods is critical to our success. Of course the opposite is also true. If we allow moods to run wild, we can become slaves to them which can have serious consequences.


A mood is a temporary emotional-mental state that we experience due to any number of inner and/or outer dynamics. When they pop up, we have to manage or navigate them. For example, when we’re in a foul mood, we likely avoid consequential activities, stay away from high-stakes conversations, or delay important decisions.  But rather than simply avoiding certain behaviors, due to a mood, what if we could use a mood to be more ingenious and productive? In other words, what if we could play judo with our moods and use their energy to our advantage.


The Maximum Efficiency Strategy of Judo


A key strategy in judo is to use the momentum and energy of your opponent against him or her–and to your advantage. This is known as “maximum efficiency.” In judo this means, “redirecting the opponent’s force, off balancing the opponent, or making use of superior leverage.” Even though moods are not exactly opponents, sometimes it can feel that way. But whether moods are allies or enemies, we need to do more than “endure them.” We need to make strategic use of them?


Here are two ways to make strategic use of moods (to use their energy for your advantage)


Strategy One: Match Your Task To Your Mood


We all know the power a mood can have over our energy. It can instantaneously inflate or deflate us. We’ve experienced a difficult conversation or received tough news that deflated us, ending our ability to work or focus. We’ve experienced a moment when exhilaration and energy made us feel like we could conquer most anything. Reading a mood and matching tasks to that mood is one way to your use that mood to your advantage.


For example, if a mood has deflated you, and you’re in a funk, that is likely not  the time to do work that requires deep and reflective thought. You may need to switch to a simpler task, one that is more mundane or even physical in nature. On the other hand, when you are in a mood that is full of energy, don’t waste it on answering trivial emails, surfing the web or engaging in small talk in the hallways. Aim that energy at an activity or conversation that is both meaningful and challenging.


Matching mood and task allows you to use the energy of a mood to make progress on big and small issues.  Rather than wasting big energy on little items, or becoming paralyzed due to low energy, sync your moods to tasks that maximize the moment you’re in.


Strategy Number Two: Question (And Learn From) Your Moods


Moods carry lessons if we are willing to explore them. For instance, think about a time you received critical feedback from a person and that feedback shifted your mood. I recall a time this happened to me. A person I was working with gave me, what I perceived to be, negative feedback. I thought it was unfair. I thought she was wrong. And I told her so in my head for the next three days. Every time I rehearsed the unfairness in my mind, my mood once again plummeted. Only after three days of this rehearsing was I ready to ask myself questions about my mood or my response to the feedback. Finally though, I used the energy of the mood to explore my own behavior. I asked questions like:


  • Why am I having such a hard time letting go of, or embracing, this feedback?
  • Why am I so mad at the person who gave me the feedback?
  • If I stripped away my anger, would I find anything of value in the feedback?
  • What should I do about my mood and the feedback?
  • Why have I given this so much power?


Questioning moods can, at times, lead us to discover some of what caused the mood in the first place. It can also give the mood a voice. And that voice can become a teacher. That is, if we’re willing to listen. The beautiful result is that we find wisdom from the examination of a mood. This wisdom can help us move beyond the mood or more deeply into it (whichever is more appropriate).


One Final and Important Idea


When we talk about emotions, we are in tricky terrain. I understand that navigating the intricacies of emotions is sometimes anything but a simple or straightforward endeavor. One’s biology, personal history and current circumstances can combine to make emotional struggles a complex issue, requiring a wide range of strategies and support. This piece is not an attempt to address more complex emotional situations. Instead it’s about how we might use fleeting, but powerful, moods in more effective and ingenious ways.