In the past three months, I’ve uprooted my personal and professional life, starting a new job and moving all at once. And as someone who does not thrive in the midst of change (even when said changes are net positive), I've been going through it. My mood has suffered, and I've found myself feeling sad more frequently than I was used to. But, despite so much around me changing at what feels like the speed of light, I know I'm always in control of at least one thing: my agency. I always have the power to use well-being practices to boost my mood. And that's why I committed to dancing first thing in the morning, every day for 10 minutes for a month, no matter what.
Dancing feels comfortable to me and evokes happy memories with my family, so though perhaps not the most common of activities one might do upon opening their eyes, it made total sense to me. “As human beings, we like to stick to things that we are familiar with or comfortable with,” says happiness expert Rochelle Gapere. Having grown up in a family that happily danced salsa, cumbia, merengue, and bachata at every opportunity, movement through dancing is something I thoroughly enjoy.
And, since it's far easier to stick with healthy habits you actually enjoy doing, this seemed like a slam-dunk plan to help me and my depleted mindset. Dancing also offers exercise-related benefits, like elevating your heart rate, mood, and brain function. And since physical activity is linked to having a sense of purpose in life, that's a win, too. However, my month-long morning dancing stint didn’t come easily, only because it was something with which I had a positive association.
In large part, it was also simple because, from the onset, my goal was “SMART,” says licensed psychologist Selena Snow, PhD. A SMART goal is an acronym with the characteristics of being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based. My goal was specific because I said exactly what I was going to do (dance!), measurable (10 minutes a day), attainable (I love dancing and, frankly, I am quite good at it), realistic (10 minutes isn't so long, especially for an activity I love), and time-based (every morning for 10 minutes throughout a month).
All of that's to say that if dancing isn't what brings you joy, you can still add an activity to your routine as a means to boost your mood—and making sure the activity in question doubles as a SMART goal will hold you accountable and set you up for success, says Dr. Snow.
Read on to learn how my mood changed week by week when dancing in the morning was part of my rise-and-shine routine.
How dancing in the morning for a month affected my mood, week by week
The first week that I danced in the morning, I realized that I actually had a bit more energy afterward rather than less (which I assumed would have been the effect of exerting energy first thing). In fact, I felt alert and mentally ready to tackle the day. The practice also helped me start the day feeling accomplished because even if I didn’t get out of my pajamas, at least I had already checked something off my to-do list. That sense of achievement stuck with me and kept at bay my typical anxious and productivity-compromising feelings about what I wasn't getting done.
Dancing first thing facilitated a confident, achievement-oriented mindset that helped me focus and be productive.
“We don't feel good about ourselves when we are just lying there,” Dr. Snow says, and she's right. Dancing first thing facilitated a confident, achievement-oriented mindset that helped me focus and be productive. The vibe carried throughout the day, allowing me to get dinner with friends or spend more time with family instead of crawling into bed right after finishing my workday, as I previously might have been apt to do.
Dr. Snow points out that my mood could’ve been boosted during the first week of dancing in the morning because instead of idly waiting for my outlook to change, I took action to spark that shift for myself—despite not being in the best mood. Newton's first law of motion is at play here: an object at rest stays at rest. And if that object is a bad mood, it's important to inject some motion to shake things up.
If the first week of dancing in the morning was the honeymoon stage, the second week unfortunately wasn't so sweet. But that had more to do with losing an hour of sunlight thanks to the end of daylight saving time than with the dancing itself. I’ve long been affected by seasonal changes, and this time around was no different. This week, I wanted to stay in bed as long as I possibly could before starting work, and I wanted to crawl into bed as soon as I finished my workday (probably because it was already super dark outside by that time). Then, something curious happened: near the end of week two, on a particularly glum-feeling day, I found myself wanting to dance at 7 p.m in addition to 7 a.m. And I felt a boost of energy and a change in mood almost immediately after.
Dr. Snow says that this could be explained by the fact that the activity was becoming so “enjoyable that [I was] even seeking out the activity at other times of the day as well,” which makes sense considering all of the positive associations I have with dancing. Additionally, clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, says that this 10-minute morning practice served as an important reminder for me: “I matter. This is still my life. I’m important, and my happiness is important.”
I learned it’s important to keep going even if you can only give it 50 percent instead of your normal 100 percent, because you keep building on the momentum from the activity that brings you joy.
Even on days when I just wasn’t feeling it, I still got up in the morning and did my dance. It’s important to keep going, says Dr. Snow, even if you can only give it 50 percent instead of your normal 100 percent, because you keep building on the momentum from the activity that brings you joy. Had I not danced when I wasn’t feeling up to it in the morning, perhaps I wouldn’t have thought to dance when I was in an evening slump.
One difference I began noticing in my third week of dancing in the morning was how much introspection I was able and motivated to do. During the first week, I was so focused on just staying on track that I didn’t really think about myself or how I was feeling. The second week kicked off similarly, until my daylight saving mood roadblock forced me to check in with myself (and dance some more).
So, I began kicking off my mornings with pre-dance check-in to introspect about how I felt upon waking up. Some days I woke up feeling amazing—and others, not so much. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found it much more difficult to get up and move on days when I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. However, Dr. Snow says, it’s key to keep going, even when you don’t feel your best. So I did.
“Oftentimes, when we're feeling depressed or anxious, we have the thought of, I'll just go and rest; I'll take a nap and then I will feel better,” says Dr. Snow. “But what we actually fall into is exactly the opposite.” Essentially, if we spend more time avoiding what we need to do, we’re more likely to just keep avoiding those things. Making plans and having structure work wonders for us and “actually boosts our mood,” says Dr. Snow, because it helps us feel better about our habits in general. So, I mindfully stuck with dancing—even when my instinct was not to.
Bad news: By week four, I started to feel like dancing in the morning was just another task on my already endless-feeling to-do list. It seemed harder to get out of bed and start dancing because I wasn't getting the same mood-boosting benefits that I'd enjoyed earlier in the month—benefits that I’d come to expect from from the practice. The experts say this makes sense for a couple of different reasons.
It could be the case that my body simply got used to the morning dancing, which made it less novel for me (read: the mood-boosting effects wore off), says Dr. Daramus. It's also worth mentioning that I played the same songs every morning, which she says could make the exercise feel routine and stale. So, I banned Toddrick Hall’s "Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels" from my happiness playlist for now because it seems you can, in fact, have to much of a great thing.
By the end of the month, I was tired of dancing every morning—but I kept going. Sometimes I danced for the full 10 minutes, but other times, I only danced for five minutes. And other times, I danced to just one song. However, I still did it—which made it easier to keep doing it.
Ultimately, I'm not still dancing every morning. But I have learned the power using my own agency to boost my happiness and productivity. While I might be burnt out on dancing in the morning (and it may have never been in the cards for you), it's important to note that the premise of the practice extends to any pursuit, so long as a sense of accountability is present—whether you're writing about your experience for work, you signed up for a non-refundable class, or you've loop in a friend as an accountability buddy. That said, be mindful not to rely on others to keep you on track. This is about you being in the driver's seat of your destiny and also—very crucially—having fun.
Looking to hit refresh on your healthy habits this January? Check out our full 2022 ReNew Year program for expert-led plans for better sleep, nutrition, exercise, and self-care routines.
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