Another good question. I'm paraphrasing here, it was something like, "How do you know you're fixing the right problem if things seem wrong? In relation to habit change, improvement, changing moods - how do you know you're solving the right thing?"
My answer -
Well, I think the first thing worth saying is that most people don't fix most of their problems. I don't say that as a pessimist - they could fix their problems. But they don't. Most people don't change much after their early youth is over. If they overeat, they overeat their whole life. If they're an alcoholic, they're an alcoholic their whole life. If they work at some shitty job they hate, they work there their whole life.
I say this just to give you an idea of how hard it can be. In my experience, it takes me a lot longer than I want it to to change fundamental aspects of my character and habits. Oftentimes, it takes 6+ months of regular focus on it, if the old habit was burned in a lot. That sucks and it's hard, which is why most people don't change.
I think fundamentals are typically the way forwards. When feeling low, unproductive, frustrated, annoyed, angry, whatever - typically, the answer is fundamental stuff. Eat right, stretch, breathe, get into motion with some exercise or at least some walking, spend time in nature, spend time around people you respect, read good books, get on a normal healthy sleep schedule, take vitamins, clean up the area around you, things like that. Wash all the clothing, clean up computer/email files, shave (for a guy)/cut fingernails/cut toenails. If in a country where it's inexpensive, go get a massage. Go sit in a quiet cafe or on a beach and fully relax if very tired. Do planning/goal-setting type stuff in a notebook.
I find it's very, very hard for me to do correct things for 3 days in a row and still be in a bad mood. If I'm stretching, exercising, taking vitamins, sleeping on a good schedule, eating well, spending time in nature, breathing, planning/strategizing, reading good books, connecting with good people, improving the environment and things around me...
You might wind up solving the "wrong" problem like you say, but it's still worthwhile. And there's a very good chance that if you work on 5-10 fundamental areas, you'll hit on the real problem and solve it.
As for long term habit change, it's harder than most people anticipate, which is why most people quit. My biggest advice there is to just stick with it and constantly pay attention to it if you do think it's important. I've got habits that have taken me months to establish, or even a couple years sometimes, but I think it's worthwhile and worth doing.
I wish there was a more fancy epiphany-generating answer, but I'm not sure there is. I think it's really fundamentals + paying attention to what's important, and then constantly refocusing your attention on things that are important. I think that solves the vast majority of problems, habit change, etc.
From a reader -
Just a thought - You probably get several requests for advice, inputs etc. Do you not get overwhelmed?
Indeed, my email/people contacting me volume has gone up massively a lot. Like, a whole lot.
Do I get overwhelmed? Well, I reckon there's two things people usually call "overwhelmed" -
1. A short term overwhelmed feeling, like when you've got to do 6 hours of things, but you've got a flight in 3 hours.
If you want to totally screw up your life, here's my advice: cultivate some bad habits. That's how most people do it. Very few people screw up their lives by drinking once, but a lot of people screw it up by developing a drinking problem. I've never heard a story of someone who went to Vegas for the first time and lost his entire fortune, but I've heard plenty of stories of people with gambling addictions who have blackjacked their way to bankruptcy. Even breakups are far more likely to be caused by habitual bad behaviour than by a single action (even in the case of cheating, a lot of couples stay together).
This is because a single action doesn't have all that much leverage on your life. But habits, on the other hand, define us as people-- literally. What we do regularly becomes a label. Bob's an alcoholic. Tom is a cheater. Raymond is a gambler. Habits change ephemeral verbs (Tom cheated) to nouns. Once you're defined by your habits, it takes a lot to change that. If Bob doesn't drink for a night, he isn't magically changed into tee-totaler. You are your habits.
And that's why habits are my religion. I write about them all the time, from every single angle, and that's mostly a result of being fixated on habits in my own life. If you can change your habits, you can change who you are. So I pay very little attention to rare occurrences and work on my habits constantly.