Have you fought with a good friend and, as a result, blown away a diet plan that you had followed well until then? Did an argument at work lead you to having one drink too many? Or did you jump a traffic signal after a having bad day, get pulled over by cops and screamed, “You don’t know my day was!” Have you woken up the next day wondering whether you could have avoided everything that you did? If yes, you are not alone.
What makes us turn into people whom we cannot recognize on bad days? Are there ways to avoid behaving in ways which make us feel miserable later, and force us to apologize to others?
Before we dive into reasons and explanations, let’s look at an interesting case study.
A team of psychologists in National Academy of Sciences, USA examined 1,112 rulings by judges over a 10-month period, all of which were made to determine whether a criminal should be granted parole or not. Typically, factors like the type of crime committed or laws broken would impact the judgement, right? Not quite.
A judge would rule in favor of the criminal at the beginning of the day about 65 percent of the time. As the morning wore, the likelihood of a criminal getting a favorable ruling steadily dropped to zero. After lunch, the likelihood of a favorable ruling instantly shot back to 65 percent, and was back to zero by the end of the day. This trend held true regardless of the crime – murder, rape, theft, or something else. What happened to blind justice and logic?
Your willpower is like a muscle, explains James Clear. The more you use it, the more it gets exhausted, just like the muscles of your body. Making a decision is like doing a rep at the gym. No matter how physically fit you are, exerting yourself leads to exhaustion. The same holds true for willpower.
Researchers term this phenomenon decision fatigue.
If you encounter a tiring day at work, or things don’t go your way, you feel drained. On such days, it’s easier to eat a cheese burst pizza than hit the gym. The cheese burst pizza destroys your diet plan, putting you back to square one. Pizza parlors know how easy it is for us to give into temptation. Now you know why pizza parlors sprout right next door to gyms. Or you hit the bar instead of catching up on sleep. One drink turns to four and you wake up with a horrible hangover the next morning. Put your clothes on, and back to work.
What should you do to fix a bad day? Strengthening your willpower involves time and effort. We will discuss that aspect in a later post. For now, here are six simple methods that can improve a bad day.
1. Be aware of your feelings
Not getting in touch with your feelings is like not using a lifebuoy when you’re drowning. In a relationship, you can give your partner your best only when you understand them. The same holds true for your relationship with yourself.
So, the first step is to be aware of how you feel when you want to indulge in it. Are you feeling angry, depressed, stressed or plain moody? Spend a couple of minutes figuring that out. And don’t be harsh on yourself. It is okay.
2. Replace the feeling
Once you know how you are feeling, ask yourself – “What can I do to make this go away?”
If you yearn for junk food because you’re stressed, have a glass of water or lemon juice. If you want to consume alcohol because of anxiety or frustration, speak to a close friend instead. Stretch and exercise a little. You will be surprised at how cooperative the mind is when you want to break a bad habit.
3. Salvage what you can
Brooding when half your day remains is counter productive. It makes the incident (and the day) appear worse. It makes you draw conclusions which compound your negative emotions, reminds you of unpleasant incidents in the past; brooding messes your mind up even more.
Instead, be present in the moment – at work, with friends, or with family. Look in the mirror and say, “I will make the best use of the time available.” Give it your best. Focus allows you to drift away from negative emotions and presents you with opportunities to turn the dat around. You can never predict when Lady Luck shines on you – when a distressing day could become the best day of your life.
4. Help someone
As bad as your day is, you are still better off than millions (according to the Red Cross, if you can read, you are better off than one billion people).
Studies show that when you help others, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins which trigger positive feelings in you. You don’t have to go out of your way. Simply ask a colleague if you can contribute to their project, or call a friend to ask how she is doing. Hold the elevator door for someone, or let someone enter the bus or train before you.
Warning: If you expect gratifications from others and don’t get it, you will have another bad day. Not good. Help others without expectations.
5. Don’t say “I Can’t”
“I Can’t” should reduce your stress, right? People should let you be, they must understand that you cannot do what they ask. Then why does it make them mad? And why the heck does it add to your stress?
The word ‘can’t’ shows your doubt in yourself, and eventually makes you surrender to self defeat. It also makes others see your abilities in lesser light. Drop the word from your vocabulary. Imbibe the habit of saying “no” assertively. It will lower your stress and increase your respect in the eyes of others.
6. Be persistent
You cannot change to a person who takes bad days in her stride in a day, or a week. It takes patience and persistence Often, we start something in full steam, only to give up quickly claiming that it doesn’t work.
Persistence is about much more. It’s about staying on the path till the goal is reached. Yes, you will waver, but what matters is how quickly you return to your path. It’s about following the Stockdale Paradox which comprises of three key aspects: the belief that you will eventually succeed, the ability to face brutal facts, and discipline.
Every part of your life bears the brunt of your spoilt mood – work, colleagues, family and friends. But the impact on you is the largest. A bad mood can easily spill onto the next day, and the day after that. Before you know it, one unpleasant incident turns into a bad week.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. Life allows you to hit the reset button each morning. Going to bed with a calmer mind will make you wake up in a better mood. This builds resilience. It gives you the strength to take up challenges that life throws at you. “Why me” becomes “try me”. You earn the respect of others because of your attitude. One bad day a week means that you go through 52 bad days a year. You still are left with 313 so-so or good days. Use them to pursue a life which offers you happiness. After all, you are unique. And you deserve happiness as much as the other 7,999,999,999 people in the world.