Mood-Dependent Behavior vs. Strategic Behavior

“Life is a train of moods like a string of beads; and as we pass through them they prove to be many colored lenses, which paint the world their own hue, and each shows us only what lies in its own focus.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the trickiest behaviors to overcome or change is one that is mood-dependent. We all experience mood-dependent behavior from time to time in our lives, although the way these behaviors manifest themselves vary from person to person. These behaviors are especially difficult to shape and mold because of the powerful emotional undercurrents to the behaviors. Mood-dependent behaviors have a tendency to slip under the radar in the sense that it is easy to believe we are not really “choosing” these behaviors, although the healthy and responsible part of ourselves knows better.

Mood-dependent behaviors are generally expressions of an underlying emotional state, rather than mindfully directed toward meaningful goals. You can be confident that you are engaging in mood-dependent behavior when you are acting in a certain way specifically because of how you are feeling. An example of mood-dependent behavior would be a time when you are feeling particularly grumpy or irritable, someone makes a request of you, and you respond to this request with visible irritation. You may not have responded with the same grumpy attitude had you not been in this particular mood. Simple enough, right?

Strategic behaviors involve increasing mindful awareness of your emotional state in the present moment and responding to situations more deliberately. This means taking the time to pause and ask yourself if how you are about to behaviorally respond in the moment is going to really get you what you want. Is what you are about to do going to move you in the direction of your valued-based goals and dreams, or is it a mood-dependent response that may be counterproductive to your most cherished goals? In other words, how likely is it that you are going to regret how you are about to act?

In order to engage in strategic behavior, try breaking down the situation into the following components:

  • What is the environmental prompt? Exactly what is happening in the moment that is urging you to respond?
  • What is your internal mood?
  • What is your short-term objective/goal?
  • What is your long-term objective/goal?
  • What behavior (action) will lead to accomplishing your goal?
  • If you choose to express your mood in this moment, will it interfere with or enhance your objectives/goal attainment?

While this type of problem-solving may seem self-evident, consider how easy it is to slip into the habit of engaging in mood-dependent behavior instead of strategic behavior. Quite often, an intense emotional state makes it seem difficult, or even “impossible,” to mindfully choose alternate (strategic) behaviors. While it may feel this way in the moment, it is possible to choose strategic behavioral responses over mood-dependent ones. The trick is choosing to practice emotional regulation strategies and mindfulness practices with greater frequency, so that it becomes more natural to approach your mood states more deliberately.

Mood-Dependent Behavior:

  • Chosen entirely based on whatever your current mood happens to be.
  • At the whim of your internal emotional state.
  • Not mindfully chosen… reactive and impulsive.
  • Little to no consideration for consequences/effects on other people.

Strategic Behavior:

  • Guided by your heartfelt values and goals.
  • Intentional, deliberate, and mindful.
  • Careful/thoughtful consideration given to future consequences/effects on other people.
  • Responsive, not reactive… using “wise mind.”

When you take a moment to reflect on how you typically respond to your emotional states in the moment, do you notice that you have a tendency to gravitate toward mood-dependent or strategic behaviors more often? Take the time to consider the consequences that various courses of action have on your well-being, relationships, and pursuit of your goals. If you believe that you may benefit from using mindfulness and emotion regulation coping skills, make a commitment to yourself that you will begin to integrate these practices into your daily life.

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Marra, T. (2004). Depressed & anxious: The dialectical behavior therapy workbook for overcoming depression and anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Featured image: Two Mad Girls with Arms Crossed Attitude by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. edwaix on April 9, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for the blog post.Really thank you! Awesome

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