Ever faced one of those days when you dread getting out of bed? Me too.
Ever started a day filled with energy, only to see it turn into a drag halfway through? Me too.
Ever wondered why the clock appears to stand still when you’re burning out? Me too.
You attend meeting after meeting but no work gets done. The project you’ve spent days reworking has exhausted you, but it just won’t finish. Your child has suffered from an illness for days, and there’s no sign of it getting better. Yuk!
Lousy days are inevitable, and their effects can leave you feeling low for long. But it doesn’t mean you have to wallow in them. In fact, if you want the results to get better, you must keep taking small but important steps to get out of the rut.
I’ve been through phases when lousy days extended for weeks, only for events to suddenly work out. When they did, I double- and tripled-checked whether I was missing something, but I wasn’t.
So I began to journal my daily activities to identify what I did on good days and on not-so-good ones. Now I know what to do if I want to get out of a funk.
Here are five steps that have helped me and many people I know. Hopefully, they’ll be useful for you too.
1. Cheat a little to indulge yourself.
A large part of where we are depends on our mood. How we feel in the moment impacts our actions which impacts results to a large extent.
As long as we feel mopey, we drag our feet on what we should do and things stay the way they are. But research shows that a tiny shot of dopamine is enough to motivate us to take meaningful action.
So when you’re having a crappy day, read a few pages from your favourite book. Listen to your favourite upbeat music. Treat yourself to an extra coffee from your favourite mug, or to a portion of pizza or cake. Do anything that makes you feel good.
People often use such activities as rewards for achieving a milestone or making it through a rough day. But these activities can also fire up your brain and trick it into feeling good. When your mood improves, you return to the stalemate feeling energized.
It’s important to practice moderation though. Overindulgence might feel good in the moment. But in the long term, you’ll feel guilty, which will further aggravate your stuck-ness. So avoid binging on dessert or junk food, going on shopping sprees, or scrolling Instagram for hours.
2. Work smart and score tiny wins.
On a recent podcast episode, Jordan Gross narrated an insightful anecdote.
When he played baseball as a child, Jordan tried to smash every ball out of the park. In doing so, he got out a lot. One day, his team coach said, “Jordan, a single is as good as a home run. You get to the next base. Run four singles and you complete a home run.”
What his coach was teaching him was that collecting small wins inevitably leads to larger ones.
When we feel stuck in a rut, we either passively surrender to circumstances or swing for the fences. Both extremes only worsen our days further. A simpler and more potent option is to score tiny wins.
If you’re exhausted by meetings, delay attending the next one by 15 minutes. In that time, make a note of tasks to be completed. Just putting those points down on paper will substantially ease your anxiety.
If your current project is stuck, shift your focus to a quick task you can complete. Finishing such a task will instantly put you in a better mood. If your child’s health isn’t improving, tell her a funny story or watch a cartoon while she cuddles up with you.
When I’m stuck while writing an article or working on a project, staring at the screen never helps me get unstuck. Instead, I email someone I admire. Or I hit the gym and try to have a good workout. Or I figure out a tune I like on the guitar.
Tiny wins don’t just make you feel better. They also help you salvage something from seemingly hopeless days.
Keep taking quick singles. You’ll have a much healthier strike rate than the batter who swings for the fences each time.
3. Be selfish in connecting with friends.
Talking to someone is a definitive way to de-stress. It lets you understand your own emotions and see things more clearly.
But talking to anyone you know just because they’re available at that moment could spiral into larger problems if they don’t understand you. Instead, choose whom you talk to. Engage with loving critics—people who have your best interest at heart but will also tell you what you need to hear.
Such people will let you give your feelings an outlet. But when needed, they’ll also tell you things as they see them. And many times, such perspectives are exactly what you need to get unstuck, take action, and turn bad days around.
Texting is an option too, but I’m not a big fan of it because:
- Texting is slow, and I think faster than I can type.
- I tend to censor myself rather than express my true feelings.
- There’s plenty of scope for misunderstanding.
Pick up the phone. Don’t be afraid to vent your true feelings or disrupt your friends’ schedules. It’s okay to be a little selfish during such times.
4. Get up and get out.
Much of how we feel stems from our environment. And one reason for bad situations to turn worse is that we stay stuck in the environment that led to the problems in the first place.
Such environments put us in a state of mind that’s too close to the problem. And as Einstein said, we cannot solve problems with the same mindsets we used to create them.
The first step to shifting your state of mind is to change your environment. Move. Get out of the space where you feel constrained. Take a walk in nature without your headphones. Visit the nearby marketplace and spend some time there instead of hurriedly running errands. Sip on your favourite coffee in your favourite café and observe the people around.
Someone I know visits unknown places and chats with strangers, or just stands in a busy place and observes things around him. Such activities either clear his mind and offer fresh perspectives, or they let him accept the inevitability of what cannot be changed and move forward.
Another friend goes for long walks in the park late in the evening every day. And she uses this time to catch up with her friends and vent if she really needs to. The break from her home environment leaves her feeling fresh at the end of any day, including bad ones.
5. Suck it up.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference: Serenity Prayer
You cannot control outcomes, no matter how hard you try. The only things you can control are your perceptions, actions, and willpower.
Sometimes, the day will refuse to get better regardless of what you try. You will still get dragged into meaningless meetings, the project will remain stalled, your child’s illness will continue to frustrate her and you.
On such days, don’t take rash action that you could regret later. Like losing your cool in a meeting or at your child, or deleting the document that has frustrated you for days. Instead, cancel the pity party.
Allow yourself time to wallow and feel angry or upset in private, then suck it up. Accept that the situation is beyond your control and that better days will come if you’re patient. Go to bed early instead of drinking your day away or binging on Netflix and Instagram.
When I go through days where I feel stuck, burned out, or angry, I shut off all electronic devices by 8:30 PM. I play my guitar for some time, journal how I felt during the day, and meditate for half an hour. Observing my thoughts doesn’t just give me clarity; it also makes me feel lighter in the head. Then I sleep by 10:30 PM. And almost always, I wake up the next morning feeling better.
You can make it through to bedtime regardless of how heavy your burden is. That’s all you have to do. Just make it through the day. Because each new day brings myriad possibilities with it.
Without the dark, we cannot know the value of light. Likewise, without bad days, we cannot understand the value of good ones.
Bad days bring balance to our lives. But it doesn’t mean you have to surrender to them. You can take simple steps consistently to overcome them.
Indulge yourself in moderation. Score tiny wins. Connect with friends. Change your environment. And if nothing works, suck it up and go to bed with the hope that tomorrow will be better.
Life is not what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens. And you can always make your response count.