(Epistemic Status: Endorsed, but kind of difficult to apply – if your brain works at all like mine, doing something intentionally to break a down frame will often just cause the down to spread)
I’m going to ask you to do something. When I have completed these instructions, you will stop reading this post for 5 minutes.
For the first minute – consider your mood – are you feeling good, bad, indifferent? Don’t make a value judgment of your emotions, just…feel them, acknowledge them.
For the second minute – I want you to get up, stretch for a bit. Do wrist circles, ankle circles, shoulder circles – or perhaps another stretch that appeals to you. While you are doing this, consider how much space you take up; think about what is around you, what you are avoiding with your stretches. Maybe you can’t lean all the way over because you would bump into your desk, or you can’t stretch your arm all the way out because there is a wall. Notice these things, consider them – see your space with fresh eyes as you move in it.
For the third minute – I want you to move to another part of your room. Explore it, become in tune with how it looks, how it sounds, how it smells…touch it a little. I won’t ask you to taste the space, that might be weird.
For the fourth minute – consider how you feel again – has your mood changed? See how your relationship with your mood and your space has shifted.
For the fifth minute – leave your space entirely. Go on a walk – focus on the sensation of walking. It doesn’t strictly have to be one minute, but go for an amount of time that feels like a minute to you. When you come back, before you sit down, consider how you feel one last time.
Do this ritual now.
Does it feel the same way as when you started, or do you feel differently? How did this ritual affect how you felt? What went through your mind as you changed your space – first a short distance change, and then a longer distance change? Did you find the flow of your thoughts changing?
There’s a phenomenon where we store some of our memory and processing in the space we are in. You perhaps have noticed that having a conversation while walking is a little more disconnected, or perhaps that when you shift spaces, it’s difficult to recall the previous threads of conversation; you might even need to completely restart conversational flow. Less obvious, however, is the fact that mood is often influenced by space – I often find that my mood can vary wildly based on where I am…and often I will come up with completely unrelated reasons as to why I feel worse or better. When I am at home on my computer, I often require significantly more activation energy to do important tasks – my room isn’t exactly good mood place for me because it often means I failed to make plans for the night, so I often feel a little worse than usual without being sure why, taking a little bit to rediscover that I do in fact have really high social needs. In a coffee shop, particularly ones I frequent, I often feel more conversationally witty, creative, and capable – I’m fun to be around and feel conversational flow keenly. I often also feel very happy and up, things feel very real. When I am at work, I often feel…dull, drained. It’s not exactly sadness, it’s a lack of spark. Being at my desk often causes me to ruminate more and be more sensitive to the status structure of the office, in ways that are not beneficial to me. However, when I note these things, I often can alter my mood by moving to a different space, at least briefly. When I change my space, I change my spirits.
The drawback of this approach is that you aren’t always in situations where you can change your space freely – considering it this way in a situation where you are already down may actually make the effect (and the affect) stronger if you cannot get out of it. Another drawback is that, at least for me, knowing I am doing something for the sake of altering how I feel can sometimes spread that feeling to wherever I go – the relationship between mood and space is not one way. Still, if one is able to move to a new place, it is usually easier to use a distraction to shift frames due to not having the weight of spatial context adding to mood management difficulties.
Overall, space is an easy to ignore aspect of mental motion, especially in today’s world where most of our focus is monopolized digitally, where space is less real. While space impacts mood and memory, it also impacts a variety of other things in ways that can sometimes be difficult to understand – a lot of self help focuses on this aspect because it is so easy to neglect. While self care often focuses on things like food, drink, and medication, I think it is also important to consider the trends of how you relate to space and how you can use these to improve your life.
Discussion questions: How has your use of space impacted your mood? Are there spaces that are “good” for you? What about “bad” for you? Do you think you can change the valence of a space through applied mindfulness? Did the ritual have any effect on how you related to the space you are reading this from?