One of the universal experiences common to human beings of all races, creeds and colors is having the occasional bad day. There is no formula for what constitutes a bad day; the circumstances and aggravations that pile up are unique to each of us. The individual slights and jolts that make a bad day for you might not even register as anything for someone else. We’ve all had the experience of listening to the whining of the entitled and thought how wonderful it would be to have such problems. There’s even a forum on Reddit called FirstWorldProblems that mocks the petty indignities of the modern world.
Airline crash investigators will tell us that it’s rarely a single, catastrophic event that leads to a crash. More often the cause is traced to a collection of decisions that set off a cascading series of failures that eventually lead to a crash. Just like an air crash, most bad days are rarely tied to a single event. More often it’s a series of events that all build upon one another and pile up to crush your day. Traffic makes you late for work, being late prompts your boss to yell at you, one of your coworkers adds to the problem and you spill coffee on yourself. Individually, none of those would rob you of the enjoyment you should feel every day. Collectively their weight becomes greater than the sum of the parts.
The first key to salvaging a bad day is seeing one starting to take shape. The first few isolated events that can start you on a path to a bad day are usually entirely within your control. Getting up late, opting for coffee instead of breakfast and rushing out the door become a base for further aggravation to build upon. If you’re stressed walking out the door, you’ve already created the foundation for a bad day. Giving yourself a few minutes of extra time and developing a morning ritual can at least avoid that out the door stress. Why wound yourself before you’re even in the fight?
Head It Off At The Pass
Srikumar Rao Ph.D, a business success psychologist, points out that humans instinctively label individual events as “good” and “bad” many times during the day. It turns out that we tend to use the “bad” label three times more than the “good” label even in completely random circumstances. He recommends something he calls the “engineering” mindset. That perspective, which is common among successful people, simply does not label anything “bad” instead, those who consistently triumph, simply look at life and individual events as obstacles that have an engineering solution. Stuck in traffic? Instead of sitting there in a stew of stress, call ahead to your boss, reschedule your meetings, and maybe dictate a letter or catch up on your email. The engineering mindset keeps small, random events from becoming personal.
Hit The Reset Button
Resetting your perspective doesn’t change your day, it changes how you react to it. Once you label something “bad” your only options are to do something to make it less bad or pretend you’re taking lemons and making lemonade which is codependent thinking. The first step in getting out of the dysfunctional cycle of endless bad days is to stop labeling events “good” and “bad” which is not easy or fast, but it can be done. If you don’t walk into the sand trap of seeing things as “bad” then you won’t need the crutch of positive thinking to get you out of that self-imposed hole.
We’ve been conditioned to see events in terms of “good” and “bad” and, for most people, that’s a handicap. Replace those labels with an engineering mindset that treats minor inconveniences and setbacks as engineering problems that can be mitigated. At first you’ll find it’s very hard to do but, the longer you practice it, the more you’ll become solution oriented and that will serve you well in any endeavor you choose to pursue.