Fight the Funk: Develop Your Own Personalized Mood-Boosting Cheat Sheet

Fight the Funk: Develop Your Own Personalized Mood-Boosting Cheat Sheet

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Materials required:

  • Paper (a large sheet of butcher paper or the backside of wrapping paper is ideal)
  • Markers
  • Your fabulous brainpower

While I generally consider myself a pretty happy person, like everyone else, I have days when I seriously have to will myself to “fight the funk.” Whether it involves pushing myself to finish a mission-critical (but daunting and/or boring…) project, or dealing with the constant existential crisis of running my own venture—challenging situations come up…

Now, let me be clear—I’m not talking about those situations where there is some big, important “issue” that I need to work through. When those come up, I’ve found that taking the time to actually address the problem and work through the situation is best.

No, I’m talking about those situations where I just feel totally unmotivated, bored, and unenthusiastic about whatever I’m working on. In these situations, I’ll admit—my naturally tendency is to mope, distract myself, and hope it passes; however, over time, I’ve found that there are more efficient and effective ways to cope—and to boost my mood so that I feel inspired and motivated to get crackin’ on whatever it is that I need to do.

In fact, for just such occasions, I keep a list of my mood-boosting activities on a large sheet of butcher paper in my room. Nerdy? Yes. Effective? Absolutely!

How did I come up with this list? Actually, it was fairly easy—I just set aside about 10 minutes one day and made a list of the activities that I do from time to time that always seem to motivate and/or inspire me and boost my mood. After the allotted time, here’s what I had come up with:

  • Watching inspirational (e.g., TED) talks (Here’s a great one.)
  • Love (showing it, receiving it—can be anything from hugging one of my cats to putting together a care package for a friend who’s suffering through her first year of grad. school…)
  • Singing/dancing to music (I credit my friend Jane with introducing this to me, but I credit myself for forcing my mom to do a dance party via Skype to Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” music video. Did she feel better afterwards? Do you even have to ask?)
  • Reading my favorite books, especially those with inspiring/motivating themes (e.g., Harry Potter, the Alchemist, good poetry, etc.)
  • Running (I learned this about myself because whenever I’m super stressed, my mom and my partner, Nick, always say, “Maybe you should go for a run…” and I have to admit that I always feel better afterward…)
  • Leave the house (fresh air + sunshine—or a cool evening stroll = awesome!)
  • Google things that inspire me (e.g., successful writers and entrepreneurs)
  • Baking (something about the combination of sweetness and creativity totally boosts my mood!)
  • Do something for someone else (perhaps unexpected or even counterintuitive…but it’s the most effective of all the activities on my list…)

Of course, there’s more to boosting your mood than simply creating the list; in fact, the list has to be posted somewhere where you see it regularly and can refer to it when needed—which is why I keep my list prominently posted on a closet door in my bedroom.

So really, the mood-boosting formula is pretty (deceptively?) simple: ID mood-boosting activities + display them in a place where you are forced to actually use them = instant mood boost when you need it.

Okay, but maybe you’re having trouble identifying your own specific mood-boosting activities (Really, I can’t stress Harry Potter enough here…). No problem! UC Riverside psychologist, Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, identifies 12-happiness inducing strategies that can provide some creative fuel for developing your own list of mood-boosting activities:

  • Expressing gratitude (e.g., write down three things you’re grateful for and create a gratitude journal)
  • Cultivating optimism (e.g., practice that Nobel Prize acceptance speech in the mirror…)
  • Avoiding overthinking and social comparison (e.g., read the Desiderata—LINK)
  • Practicing acts of kindness (e.g., put together a care package for someone you love, prepare a meal for a homeless person in your neighborhood)
  • Nurturing relationships (e.g., call your grandmother)
  • Developing strategies for coping
  • Learning to forgive
  • Doing more activities that truly engage you
  • Savoring life’s joys (e.g., take a bubble bath)
  • Committing to your goals
  • Practicing religion and spirituality (e.g., go to a church service—bonus points if it’s for a denomination other than your own)
  • Taking care of your body (e.g., make these)

Normally the temptation is to read an article like this and think, “Yeah, that sounds great…I’ll definitely get around to doing that…eventually.” No! Do not move onto your next activity until you’ve written down (somewhere…even a post-it on your desk will do, if necessary!) at least 5 mood-boosting activities. DO IT NOW!

Now, before I close—two activities that you should avoid putting on your list: social media and television. These two activities are designed more for addiction and encouraging feelings of inadequacy than for actually improving your mental and emotional mindset, so resist the temptation to take a “Facebook break” and instead call your dad to send him some love, or take your dog (or cat) for a walk.

Now go forth, you happy, inspired, and motivated person, you!

Friends and Fellow Changemakers: We’d Love to Hear Your Favorite Fight the Funk Activities! Leave a Message Below.

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Danielle Harlan is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential ( and author of the leadership book, The New Alpha ( She earned her doctorate in political science and M.A. in education from Stanford University, where she was a Jacob K. Javits National Fellow and received a Centennial Teaching Award for excellence in instruction. Prior to launching the Center, she was the Chief of Operations for the Carnegie Foundation, where she worked to harness the power of networks and quality improvement strategies in order to solve important educational problems. Named one of Silicon Valley's "40 Under 40," Danielle has also been a speaker for TEDx and worked as an instructor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension's Corporate and Professional Development Program. In addition, she has given guest lectures at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (the “”) and the Career Development Center at Stanford, and has been featured in leading publications such as Fast Company, Forbes, and Women's Health. Danielle started her career as a Teach For America corps member and later served as a mentor and advisor for Global Leadership Adventures, an international leadership development and service program. In addition to teaching in the U.S., she has taught in Brazil, China, Costa Rica, and South Africa. She is a member of the International Leadership Association, the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, and the National Association for Female Executives.