05/15/2014 01:07 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2014

Agenda, Behavior, or Mood - What's Driving You?

Take a blank piece of paper (or whiteboard) and draw three circles on it equally spaced apart. Label the first one "Agenda." This is what you're trying to accomplish and achieve at any given moment, be it as broad as your life's mission or as narrow as your goal for a specific conversation. Label the second one "Behavior." This is what you're actually, observably doing at any given moment, be it eating a candy bar or arguing with your spouse. Label the third one "Mood." This is how you're feeling at any given moment, be it happy, sad, angry, or anything else.

Now, draw arrows between the circles to indicate what drives what. You can use solid arrows for "driving" and solid arrows for "influencing." In other words, if you think your mood strongly drives your agenda, draw a solid arrow from "Mood" to "Agenda." If you think your agenda somewhat influences your mood, draw a dotted arrow from "Agenda" to "Mood." What did you discover?

Many of us will draw this picture to indicate that their mood influences their agenda and drives their behavior -- "When I'm in a bad mood, I don't want to accomplish anything -- and, I'm argumentative." And yet, what we'd like to see in organizations (and beyond) is a different picture --- one that puts agenda in the driver's seat: "Based upon what I'm trying to accomplish, I select the behaviors most likely to succeed -- and the feeling of working on something important to me sometimes helps my mood."

It's easy to imagine a strong negative response to this idea. "But I don't have a choice! I feel what I feel, and I can't help what it does to me." Maybe a rock dropped on your toe, and now the pain makes you blind to anything else. That can certainly happen. I can easily recall times when I was too angry, tired, or overwhelmed to think straight or to act appropriately.

And yet, to draw the picture with mood at the helm, directing your agenda and behavior, is to miss completely the point of human choice. If you reflect honestly on your own dour moods, I'd wager that you've not only been the recipient of them, but a party to their creation. Maybe parts of what happened were outside your control, but parts certainly weren't. You weren't the one who dropped the rock, but wasn't it you who dressed in sandals and put your foot in harm's way?

The real power lies in the ability to find and acknowledge your contribution to all of your moods. In what ways have you been known to set yourself up for enjoyment? In what ways have you been known to set yourself up for misery? Reflect on those actions -- on your conscious, intentional acts -- that have had a tendency to lead to certain experiences of mood. Then, ask yourself: which of those were most consistent with your agenda? Which were helpful? Which were not? Are there any that, in retrospect, you'd avoid or change? Make a commitment to repeat one positive behavior, or to change one negative one, at your next opportunity.

We all live within the context of our agendas, moods, and behaviors. Each takes a turn driving the other. With a little reflection and a little effort, we can give a lot more time in the driver's seat to what we really want.