Someone recently asked me if I ever have bad days. I actually get asked that question pretty frequently. I think it’s because when people see me, I’m usually happy. After seeing me being so positive and energetic all the time, some of them start to wonder if I’m ever anything other than positive and energetic, and that leads them to ask if I ever have bad days.
Do I? Of course! Absolutely! And probably more often than you think. The reason people don’t see my bad days is because I’ve figured out the four things I need to do to turn those days around.
Step 1: Accept That Bad Days Happen
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Yeah, Jim. Duh. Of course bad days happen. Everyone knows that.” Of course you know it, but do you really know it? Most of us have strong feelings about how we would like life to go, and we get it into our heads that life should go that way.
The reality is, every day can’t be a day at the beach. We can’t control what happens in the outside world: There will be days when we get bad news about a friend or family member or we get into a wreck or we get a cold. We can’t even always control what goes on in our internal world: Sometimes we just wake up grumpy.
I’ve noticed that, for me, a bad day is often triggered by something I ate the night before or over the weekend. Too many carbs and too much junk food leaves me feeling bummed out and down. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet worked out a way to remember that when I’m tempted by the rich food; I’m usually having too much fun in the moment with friends to think about how I’m going to feel when all the salt, fat and chemicals works its way through my system.
I’ll keep working on that, but even if I never ate another mozzarella stick or plate of nachos again, I would still have bad days sometimes. They do happen, and they will keep happening. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do when one does happen.
Step 2: Realize When a Bad Day is Happening
Stick with me here. I know this sounds as obvious as Accept that bad days happen, but stop and think for a moment about the last bad day you had. When did you realize you were having it? Was it after you snapped at your spouse or kid or the driver in front of you? Was it after you’d been brooding for twenty minutes (or longer!) about things had gone wrong and were going to continue to go wrong? How about after you’d decided the entire world was out to get you?
We can be in a bad mood for a while before we notice we’re in one. We grumble and stew and catastrophize, which does nothing but feed the bad mood. The only way we can break out of it is to first notice that it’s happening.
I’ll be honest: It’s hard at first. You have to create a habit of noticing. But you can do it. As I’ve already mentioned, one of the signs that I’m in a bad place is that I feel physically off. I want to be ready to go, but instead I feel unmotivated. I start to worry about money, about my business not growing as fast as I want it to. I’ve learned to catch myself having those thoughts and emotions, to ask myself, “Is there a reason I’m feeling this way? What has happened recently in life? Did I eat something that makes me feel bad?”
When terrible traffic makes you late for an important meeting or a colleague doesn’t follow through on a project for you, try to notice those feelings of irritation, frustration and inconvenience before they blow your mood—and the rest of your day—out of control.
That doesn’t mean you have to be a Pollyanna about it. In fact, it’s better if you’re honest about how you feel. It’s okay to say, “This stinks!” “I’m furious that she let me down again!” “I feel like such a idiot for breaking that glass!” Acknowledging what has happened and admitting how you feel about it are both part of realizing that a bad day is happening—and you can’t turn a bad day good if you don’t know you’re having a bad day in the first place.
Step 3: Break the Pattern
A bad day feeds itself; once we feel negative about one thing, we’re much more likely to start thinking and feeling negatively about other things. That sends us into an ever darker, ever more negative spiral that’s hard to escape. But you can escape it if you recognize that you’re in it and then do something to break out of that pattern of negative thoughts and feelings.
There are a lot of ways to do that. You might get outside and take a walk to clear your head and your heart. You might turn on your favorite song or look at pictures of kittens. Taking a few minutes to focus on your breath or brew a cup of tea or call a friend can interrupt that downward spiral and help you put things in perspective.
You can discourage a negative pattern from even starting by beginning your day positively. Every morning before I go to work, I read a devotional to inspire me spiritually and mentally. I also read a few pages from a motivating business book. Get a Grip by Gino Wickman and Mike Paton always gets me pumped for the rest of my day. When I don’t start my morning off proactively, I’m much more likely to fall into a negative pattern. I’m also less likely to be able to break that pattern easily.
Step 4: Make Progress, Even a Teeny Little Bit of Progress
Maybe the worst part of having a bad day is that feeling of helplessness that accompanies it. When you’re having a bad day, you feel like you can’t accomplish anything, maybe even that you’re regressing. You might feel abandoned or incompetent. It’s certainly hard to muster the drive and confidence you need to move forward.
Success begets success, and the same way that a bad day can cause a downward spiral, a success—even a small one—can create an upward spiral. So once you’ve noticed that you’re having a bad day and have done something to break the pattern of negativity, your next step is to achieve something. It doesn’t have to be huge; trying to move forward a mile takes more energy and effort than trying to move forward an inch, so start with that inch.
Every little thing you do is something your bad mood tried to tell you that you couldn’t do. Every little thing you do might inspire you to do something slightly bigger, or you might just stop there and celebrate that you did even a little thing.
The point is, do something, no matter how small. There are bad days when the best I can do is straightening the piles of paper on my desk. On other bad days, I might muster the energy to clean my house. I might only be able to read another chapter in my book. What’s important is that I give my brain something that feels like progress. Like all human brains, mine wants to move forward. If I can take even a little step forward, my brain can latch onto that little momentum and feel like we’re getting somewhere. Which makes me want to take the next step, and the next.
Bad Days Don’t Have to Stay Bad
Bad days are part of life, and there are going to be days when something so awful or life-altering happens that we have no choice to let it dictate the rest of our day or week or month. For all those other times when we wake up grumpy or have something frustrating or inconvenient or infuriating happen to us (or when we cause the frustration, inconvenience or irritation!), we don’t have to let a bad day be all bad. In fact, it could be more helpful to think of bad moments instead of a bad day.
When you have a bad moment, keep it from being a whole bad day by:
- 1. Accepting that bad things do happen, to all people, regardless of how hard you try to avoid them
- 2. Recognizing when you’re in a bad moment and acknowledging how you feel about it
- 3. Breaking that negative pattern so you don’t start thinking that things are worse than they are
- 4. Make progress, even a little bit of progress
Above all, be kind to yourself and patient with yourself. Bad moments are hard, and we shouldn’t make them worse by kicking ourselves while we’re down. Do your best, and pretty soon you’ll probably have people coming up to you asking if you ever have a bad day.