Anatomy of a Bad Day
Bad days happen to the best of us. More often than not, the cause is one incident which spirals and turns what would otherwise be a perfectly fine day upside down. While not all bad days look the same, there's some definite overlap when it comes to what they're made of. Understanding what tends to cause your bad days is the first step to turning them around and making lasting change for the future. Here are four major elements which make up a bad day:
1. Wrong Side of the Bed
For me (and probably for most of us), this is the most common cause of a day gone wrong. Recently I was listening to a podcast which talked about the importance of flowing into our day, rather than falling into it. When we feel rushed first thing in the morning, it can throw off our mood for the rest of the day, regardless of whether or not anything "bad" actually happens. That's why making time to settle into your morning (instead of immediately being gogogo) is so necessary. It sounds dramatic, but establishing a regular routine and taking some me time for yourself first thing in the morning can genuinely change your life.
Think about it: when you start off your morning in a rush, you ensure that the first emotion you're experiencing is that of unease. On the flip side, if you give yourself time to stretch, relax with some coffee, or eat a proper breakfast, your day starts off on a much more positive note. Over time, having this routine can significantly cut down on your bad days and allow you to start rewiring your brain for success.
Something in this vein that I've been trying to work on is limiting my phone usage after waking up. It's definitely easier said than done, but if you can avoid the screen for that first hour, eventually you'll notice a dramatic shift in your mood. This is because our minds are most susceptible right after waking and right before falling asleep. If the first thing your waking brain registers is a bunch of Instagram posts, chances are it's swirling with thoughts of comparison, inadequacy, or envy. If this becomes a habit, you're starting each day in a negative mindset which (probably unconsciously) throws you off your rhythm.
2. Victim Mentality
I'm sure many of us are guilty of this one. Once we're out of our groove and a bad mood sets in, it's all too easy to fall into a victim mindset. Thoughts of "why me?" and "how could it get any worse?" may seem harmless enough, but if unchecked, they become incredibly toxic over time. These kind of thoughts create resistance towards all the good things that are still available to us in a given moment. If engaged with for long enough, these thoughts can warp our perspective and leave us feeling as though we're in a constant state of helplessness.
The best way to combat or reverse a victim mentality is to accept that life will always involve things which are out of our control. Failing to recognize this only puts us in a state of denial and feeds what we perceive to be a lack of power. You've got to understand that while you don't have control over all the things that happen to you, you always have control over your response. The way you choose to handle a situation determines much more than the outcome of that situation alone. Regularly playing the victim creates a habit which then affects just about every other aspects of our lives.
So much of the world around us is shaped by our thoughts and actions. If we're constantly believing ourselves to have no power, we will only be presented with more evidence of that powerlessness. By the same logic, if we choose to see the good in even a seemingly bad situation, we will be presented with more evidence of how the world is good to us. Shifting away from this victim mindset is not easy, especially if you've lived this way for a long time (as I have). It's something you will need to work at every day until you truly believe in the silver linings you're choosing to focus on.
3. The Struggle Bus
The reason we often default to feeling like a victim is because it's so much easier for our brains to soak in the misery than try to shift our way of thinking. It will always be simpler to do nothing and let your moods control you, but that doesn't make it the right choice. Changing our mindset is simple in theory and much trickier in practice, but it's hard work because the payoff is so great.
When you start to become conscious of your bad mood and develop an awareness of how it affects your external life, making the shift becomes much easier. This is because we are stepping outside of ourselves and beginning to recognize that the relief we feel from being miserable is not only temporary, but damaging in the long term. It's more than fine to have a bad day or be in a shitty mood; what matters is how you handle the aftermath. Instead of choosing to sulk or throw yourself a pity party, consider what it would feel like to release that weight and move forward in a positive way. Allow yourself to feel the bad mood and then make the choice to let it go, rather than hold onto it for longer than is necessary.
4. Sympathy for the Devil
Another reason we might bask in our own bad mood is because it tends to garner us sympathy. When others see that we're upset or irritated, chances are they'll ask us what's wrong or cut us some slack for the time being. While this feels great in the moment because we're able to complain or to take less responsibility, it's another approach which (you guessed it!) proves damaging down the line.
The problem is that if we get this response enough times, our brain starts to associate pain or sadness with attention. Think of when you were a child and cried about a cut that didn't actually hurt that much; it just felt good to be the object of your parent's concern. While this is a pretty common behavior during childhood, it can also follows us (often undetected) into adulthood. If this mentality is continuously reinforced, it can impact how we relate to both ourselves and others. Eventually you may start to measure your value by how much attention people give to you.
This is dangerous because you're actively offering up your power and giving someone else control over your emotions. It can completely skew the way you view yourself and cause you to put others on a pedestal they have no business being on. The best way to combat this reflex is to understand that it's a slippery slope and again remind yourself what you do have control over. Becoming aware of your own power makes it more tangible, and therefore harder to give away to someone else.
Life will always have up and downs, and sometimes it won't be as easy to rally. But if you can cultivate an awareness of your mindset and understand the way your brain may try to trick you, it makes the bounce back much easier. Eventually this practice will become a reflex in the same way that your negative responses are currently. The first step to bringing about change in your life is to recognize and truly understand which thoughts or behaviors reinforce your dissatisfaction. From there, you can always remind yourself that you have the power to move beyond these thoughts and actions. Never forget that this is your life- no one and nothing outside of yourself has control over it.