The Weird Way to Boost Your Sad Mood

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Have you ever wondered why you feel the urge to blast your “tearjerker” playlist when you’re down in the dumps? Maybe it’s because sad tracks can actually improve your dreary mood— if they also have one other characteristic, according to new research.

In a study published in the Psychology of Music, researchers at the University of Limerick looked at the effect of “Self-Identified Sad Music” on the moods of participant. Motives for choosing certain kinds of songs varied, but the only quality that directly predicted an uptick in the listener’s mood was if a track was considered “beautiful.” Improved attitude has to do with your perception of the aesthetic beauty of the music and the quality of the song. Which means sorrowful ballads can help you indulge your bad day, and simultaneously give you a pick-me-up. (It makes sense that your post-breakup Adele binge was really a form of self-soothing, right?)

The next time you’re feeling blue, consider putting some somber melodies on repeat, as long as you promise to feel better after. Here are 20 sad-but-beautiful songs that may help lift your spirits:

  1. “The House That Built Me,” Miranda Lambert
  2. “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” Taylor Swift
  3. “Someone Like You,” Adele
  4. “Say Something,” A Great Big World
  5. “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” John Mayer
  6. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles
  7. “Jar of Hearts,” Christina Perri
  8. “The Scientist,” Coldplay
  9. “Tears in Heaven,” Eric Clapton
  10. “When It Rains,” Paramore
  11. “If I Die Young,” The Band Perry
  12. “Charlie Boy,” The Lumineers
  13. “Stay,” Sugarland
  14. “It Will Rain,” Bruno Mars
  15. “The A Team,” Ed Sheeran
  16. “Apologize,” One Republic
  17. “I Will Always Love You,” Whitney Houston
  18. “Every Breath You Take,” The Police
  19. “Something in the Way,” Nirvana
  20. “Doesn’t Remind Me,” Audioslave

Have you ever tried this sad-song trick to boost your mood? What’s your favorite “downer” tune?


Jenna BirchJenna Birch is a health and lifestyle writer. She has written for many web and print publications, including Marie Claire, Runner’s World, and As a nutrition and fitness junkie, she’s a lifelong athlete, major college sports fan and developing yogi — but still can’t resist the allure of an occasional chocolate lava cake. (Everything in moderation, right?) For more, visit her at or follow her on Twitter.  

So You Want to Start… Getting More Sleep

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Let’s say you have a checking account. Every day you put $100 into that account, and every day you spend around $90 to $100. One day you decide that you’re going to start spending more. $120, $150, $200… You keep spending a little more each day, because no one from the bank has called you and told you stop. What happens? You find yourself in the red, with some major banking penalties.

This is essentially the same as trying to diet, exercise hard, and live a full, hectic life. Only the currency is recovery, and the only way to deposit more into your account is to sleep. The more activity and energy you spend to meet your goals, the more sleep you need to deposit into your account.

In North America, the average adult reports sleeping 7 hours per night, and 33% of the population logs fewer than 6.5 hours per night. It’s important to note, these numbers are based on polling data in which people report the amount of time they spend in bed, not necessarily the time spent snoozing—and there’s no data measuring the quality of that sleep. Deep, consistent, rejuvenating sleep is a major factor in recovering from a stressful day. Improving the amount and quality of your sleep will benefit just about every area of your life.

To improve your sleep, it’s important to focus on the outside factors you can control. Instead of getting into bed and hoping for Mr. Sandman to show up, my clients and I work on crafting the environment and the habits around bedtime to ensure a restful night. Here’s how you can do it, too.

Plan a sleep routine Going to bed at the same time every night (or at least every weeknight) sets the stage for shutting down your brain and falling asleep quickly. But the plan should start well before you turn out the lights.

Set a “shut down” alarm It takes time to unwind, so have an alarm go off 30 to 45 minutes before you want to actually be asleep and begin your bedtime ritual.

Create a nightly ritual Turn off all your electronic screens, write down everything you need to do tomorrow (so you’re not fretting about when the lights go out), get into your pajamas, brush your teeth, wash your face, drink a small glass of water. Whatever you need to do before bed, do it in the same order every night. This sends the message to your brain that it’s sleepy time.

Get dark Humans are very sensitive to light, so do your best to make your bedroom as dark as possible. Think about repositioning your furniture, purchasing a set of dark curtains, and covering up all the little lights on your devices—black electrical tape works well. If you keep your cell phone on your bedside table, place it face down.

Shhh… Make your room as quiet as possible. A bed partner can make this difficult, so consider investing in a pair of earplugs or a white noise machine if the person next to you is a heavy breather.There are also phone apps that successfully muffle the sound of snoring.

Soak up the sun during the day Exposing yourself to plenty of natural light during the day, taps into your body’s circadian rhythm—the internal clock that tells you when you’re tired. At night, the contrast of your dark, quiet room, will strongly signal that clock to make you sleepy, so you’ll fall asleep faster and more easily. Spend as much time outside during the day or in bright rooms as you can and save dark spaces for bedtime.

As a coach I’ve seen the worst. I’ve had clients show up at my doorstep ready to exercise themselves into the ground, starve themselves to meet their fitness goals, and balk at the idea of sleeping 9 hours a night. Sleep may not be sexy, but it’s the currency that makes all the other things we want to do in life possible. Take the time to master a simple sleep routine and you’ll find you have more than enough energy to spend on your health and fitness goals.

How many hours of sleep are you getting each night? Think you need more?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.  

Is Your 3pm Coffee Habit a Cry for Caffeine or Camaraderie?

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngThe most common question I get asked about habits is, “How do I break a bad one?” Now, there could be a number of things right with your daily coffee break (I’m a big fan of walking breaks throughout the day!), but if you notice that your afternoon cup of Joe also comes with a cookie or has some other negative consequences, it’s worth doing some testing to find out exactly what you’re looking for when you leave your desk at 3pm.

Habits work on a simple loop of reminder, routine, reward. And even when we know what the routine is, like buying coffee every day at 3pm, it turns out many of us are really bad at identifying our own reminders and rewards. In fact, research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows we’re much better at making up stories about the rewards for our behavior than actually figuring it out the trigger.

Let’s take your 3pm coffee habit, for example. It could be triggered by low blood sugar, but it’s probably just seeing the hands of the office clock pointing to 12 and 3 that bring on the urge for coffee, and “low blood sugar” is the excuse you’ve made up to give yourself permission to buy an espresso and a cookie. Other habit studies show that when you take someone out of their scheduled routine, the habit is forgotten, leading researchers to believe the trigger is simply that we usually do the same things at the same time every day. Think about it: how many 3pm coffee breaks do you need when you’re on vacation?

Your 3pm-coffee-habit reward could be caffeine, that tag-along cookie you buy, the people you interact with along the way, the break from your desk, or the cute barista who remembered your name 3 years ago—and now you’re just on autopilot. However, once you pinpoint the trigger and the reward, you can piggyback healthy new habits onto them. Here’s a simple way to break down this:

Step 1. Simulate your coffee break Today at 3pm, get up and do everything you normally would, short of buying the coffee (and the cookie). Talk to all the same people, even walk into the café and take a look around. Then leave, walk back to your desk, and ask yourself, “How was that?”

Step 2. Repeat step 1 several times If you do this for a few days and still feel compelled to do it when the clock strikes 3pm, you’re still being rewarded, and it wasn’t just the coffee. Now you can start exploring other things that might be rewarding during your afternoon jaunt, like the refreshing walk itself, the people you talk to, or that cute barista.

Step 3. Assess the reward If you do the loop for a few days, and still find yourself craving the coffee, then the caffeine probably was the reward. If that is something that bothers you, start cutting back by ordering 1/2 decaf and 1/2 regular, or try switching to green tea.

Step 4. Do a little time change Take the break later than usual, but do the exact same routine you would have done at 3pm. When you get back, ask yourself the same question, “How was that?” If you found yourself staring at the clock for that extra hour, your trigger was likely the clock. That’s a very strong cue that you can now use it to trigger a new habit.

Why all this experimentation? Because something is “working,” and if you can find out what’s cuing and rewarding you, you can start using this loop to your advantage. Try inserting a new, ridiculously small habit you want to start in between your trigger and your reward—like an additional lap around the block, and watch that bad habit turn into a good one.

What’s driving your afternoon coffee habit? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.  

So You Want to Start… Working Out at Home

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngPicture in your mind a regular exerciser: Someone who works out nearly every day, as easily as you and I brush our teeth in the morning. Now picture them working out. Where do you see them? In a gym? Try again! According to surveys conducted by the National Institutes of Health, that person is more than likely working out at home.

What’s a gym anyway? A building with a bunch of heavy things that charges you to get through the front door—there’s nothing magical in there. Working out at home can be just as, if not more, effective—especially for those of us with jam-packed days full of errands, commutes, jobs, and families. So with a few heavy things of your own and some simple strategies, you can start the habit of working out at home today.

Find a Program You’re Excited About The most common barriers to exercise are lack of time, motivation, and fear of doing it wrong. Since working out at home is going to help save time, finding a program written by a professional that you’re excited about will take care of those other two barriers. There are lots of books, DVDs, on demand TV workouts, and YouTube channels that will ease you into proper form, loads, and volume. Still, for those of you who find Internet searches daunting, I recommend “Coach Stevo’s Pick Up a Heavy Thing Every Day Program.” Here’s how it works…

Get a Heavy Thing Whether it’s for an exercise DVD or “Coach Stevo’s Pick Up a Heavy Thing Every Day Program,” you’re going to need a heavy object. Any good program will have specific recommendations that you should follow, but for my program I’m not picky. If you think it’s heavy, it’ll do. If you think it’s too heavy, find something less heavy. Obvious examples would be kettlebells, barbells, and dumbbells.  More readily available examples (and these are things actually used by my clients) include dutch ovens, stacks of Bibles, sacks of dog food, potting soil, duffel bags filled with old shoes, and, my personal favorites, babies and dogs. (Hey, if they’re chubby, they count.)

Be Reasonable The goal of this program is to do it every day. That means 1) not getting hurt because you won’t be able to do the program from your bed and 2) being reasonable because if you go too hard you probably won’t want to do it again (because you’ll be sore in bed). So be reasonable.

Remind, Routine, Reward Finally, the way we are going to do this program every day is to make working out a habit. Habits work on a simple loop performed daily: get reminded, do the routine, then reward yourself. So here’s the program:

Day 1:

Step 1) Set a reminder based on something you already do every day, like making coffee.

Step 2) When you are making coffee, pick up the heavy thing and carry it around until you’re done. How do you know when you’re done? As soon as you have the thought, “I think I’m done.” You’re done. Put down the heavy thing.

Step 3) Reward yourself! Say, “Good job!” or “I just got stronger!” or “I’m awesome!” or anything else that makes you feel good. Maybe have a nice, long sip of that fresh coffee. Countless habit studies have shown that rewarding yourself is absolutely crucial to forming new habits.

Day 2 & Onward:

Just like Day 1 except you pick up the heavy thing and carry it further.

Invite Friends I am writing this post in the morning. In a few minutes, I know there’s going to be a knock on my door and then I’m going to go to my backyard and pick up something heavy. That’s because I work out with anyone who shows up at my house at 9:00AM every day (except Sunday). I depend on the willpower, discipline, and focus of my friends to keep my health habits on track— and I do this for a living! You want a reminder? Invite your friends. You want a routine? You can all do it together. You want a reward? What’s more rewarding than spending quality time with people you love?

Working out at home is a great way to become a regular exerciser, because it comes with the lowest barrier to entry. Even something as simple as “Coach Stevo’s Pick Up a Heavy Thing Every Day Program,” will help you get stronger and put you in the habit of working out. And if you already work out sporadically, nothing will keep you in the habit more effectively than sharing your sweat sessions with friends and family (remember, your kid counts!). So look around your house and find something heavy. We start today!

What heavy thing are you picking up today? Think you can stick to a working-out-at-home habit?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit. He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012. 

5 Ways to Find the Bright Side of Weakness

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Coach-Stevo-Logo.pngWe’ve all been there. The sun has just come up, and your head feels like it’s twice the size as the one you went to bed with. You’re hazy on specifics, but there are still a few congealed pieces of pizza on the counter. And now you’re trying to decide if logging all that pizza, wine, and ice cream into MyFitnessPal will just make you feel worse. Yes, you’ve stumbled, but with a simple mental shift you can get back on track in the time it takes to find the Advil and read this post.

“Becoming is better than being,” Carol Dweck writes in Mindset. A psychology professor at Stanford University, Dweck finds the key difference between successful people and those who aren’t is a “growth mindset,” a way of looking at life that highlights effort and learning over innate ability and given circumstances. I have seen this mindset first hand working with elite-level, internationally competitive athletes. These athletes sacrificed decades to prepare for a single moment of competition, and if anything went wrong on that path to the top, they would do something quite amazing: they’d shrug it off. These athletes would find something positive to say about the experience, and move on as naturally as you and I are breathing. In the world of sport psychology, this powerful skill is called Reframing. And, like all skills, reframing can be learned, practiced, and improved with time. Here’s how:

1. Forgive yourself It wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to be perfect. You’re still on the path, you’re still moving forward, the road just isn’t as straight as it looked from where you were. For many of my clients, this is the most difficult step, but there’s a trick that might make it easier: Take a deep breath and actually say the words, “I’m OK,” out loud.

2. Learn from the experience One of the athletes with whom I worked had a sticker on her training journal that said simply, “Win or Learn.” This is an opportunity to reorient. Why is the path different than you thought? Are your priorities in order? Are you pushing yourself too hard? Or not enough? Are you bored? Are you missing something? These are all fixable problems if you take the time to reflect.

3. Change your perspective There is a saying in Zen Buddhism: “The obstacles are the path.” Context is everything, and if you think of this moment as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what you’re doing, then you’ll actually be better off for the experience.

4. Don’t worry about the next mile, worry about the next step Put your time and energy into what you need to do today to get back on track. What can you do in the next day, the next hour, or the next 60 seconds that will refocus you on your goal? Even if it’s simply tossing the leftovers in the trash or making a cup of coffee, you’ll be headed in the right direction.

5. Have a ritual My best athletes had some set pattern that told them it was time to move on. They took a deep breath. They took off their shoes. They packed up their gear. Even the simple act of saying out loud, “Whelp, glad that’s over!” can create the space necessary to get back at it.

Reframing can seem like huge task when you’re down, which is why I didn’t try to teach the habit to athletes at the State Championship. We practiced these steps in training sessions instead, when the stakes were low and the emotions were less charged. You can practice them in daily life too, by reframing a typo in an email, burnt toast, or a wrong turn. Practice makes perfect when it comes to getting into the habit of finding the bright side—especially when it’s the bright side that has you reaching for the Advil.

Have you “reframed” a misstep or mistake lately? What helped you see the bright side of the situation?


Coach Stevo is the nutrition and sport psychology consultant at San Francisco CrossFit.  He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, holds a BA in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, and is finishing his MA in Applied Sport Psychology at John F. Kennedy University. His specialty is habit-based training and he contributed to Intervention by Dan John in 2012.