A Seven-Point Checklist for Lifting Yourself Up and Out of a Bad Day

by Henrik Edberg

A Seven-Point Checklist for Lifting Yourself Up and Out of a Bad Day
Image by geeknerd99 (license).

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
Henry David Thoreau

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

You are having a bad day. Things feel off, uninspired or negative in some kind of way.

What can you do?

Well, instead of letting that day drag you down you can realise that you always have a choice. You can choose how to feel and what to do. So you can choose to improve your day by doing a few simple things.

This is a personal list of such things that I will use to refer back to whenever I’m having a bad day. I think it will be quite helpful as it is easy to forget about the ways that you can change a bad or mediocre day when you are stuck in it.

You don’t have to use all the suggestions to improve your day. One may be all you need to put yourself back on the right track.

Just do it.

Of course some – or a lot – of the time you won’t feel like doing what you know you really want to do. So what do you do? You do it anyway.

Even though you don’t feel like it. This is a ridiculously important thing, at least for me.

And it’s a habit you cultivate. You have to do it over and over to get your mind to get that you can do what you want despite what you feel or think.

Because you’re not your thoughts or emotions. You are just the observer of them. That can be hard to understand at times when you don’t feel like taking action though since you may have spent several decades of your life totally identified with your thoughts and feelings. It takes time to reprogram those old, ingrained habits. Over time you’ll be able to remember this and just do things more and more consistently. Read more about this in Just do it!

Eat.

It’s sometimes easy to forget how much the lack of food can affect you. If I go for too long without my next meal my blood sugar levels drop and I become easily irritable and I can’t concentrate on anything.

Get enough sleep.

Another fundamental that I think a lot of people get too little off. And that can have a big effect on your mood, your ability to direct your thoughts and handle all kinds of things in your life. I don’t take naps but just lying down for a while can help if you’ve gotten too little sleep last night. And of course, make sure that you get enough sleep tonight.

Work out.

Working out can make a massive difference in your day. I was for instance feeling lazy, tired and totally uninspired yesterday afternoon. So what did I do? I worked out with free weights for about a half hour. I didn’t feel like doing it before I started but instead of letting that stop me I went into the present moment and just started working out anyway.

After the workout I felt powerful, focused and alert. The difference to how I felt before the workout was almost like the difference between night and day.

This suggestion and the two previous ones may seem very obvious. But I believe that many of the problems we face tend to lose much of their power or vanish completely if we have these three things handled. Don’t ignore the basic fundamentals and try to replace them with fancy tips and techniques. You need to have a solid foundation in your life.

Ask the right questions.

If you are asking yourself disempowering questions like:

“Why did this happen to me? “, “How can get out of doing this?” and “What are all the awful things about this?” then of course you are going to feel lousy and get very little done.

If you on the other hand start asking yourself useful questions about the situation you are in or the day you are having then you can quickly change how you feel and get yourself into taking action-mode. You become empowered instead of getting stuck in victim thinking. A few good questions are: “What is awesome about this situation?” and “Will this matter 5 years from now?”. Check out a few more really helpful questions in this article.

Give value.

We may often be lead to believe that getting value from someone else is the best thing ever. And it can be awesome, no doubt about it. But the funny thing is that giving value to someone else nowadays pretty much always makes me feel better and more empowered and positive than getting value. If I feel bad then giving value to someone – for instance by writing a blogpost – will pretty much always make me feel a whole lot better. And it puts me into an active mode rather than a passive mode after I’m done writing.

What is value? It may be bringing a positive attitude and vibe into interactions, offering useful advice or knowledge to someone, just offering a listening ear to someone who needs it, cheering someone up, hugs or helping someone out with moving, cooking or cleaning up.

Check out this article for 4 awesome reasons to give value in your everyday life. And a few more examples of the value that you can give.

Try something new.

One way to turn a mediocre or bad day into a better one is simply to try something new. Perhaps a meal or kind of food you haven’t ever tried before. Or some kind of music you’ve never listened to before. Or some kind of activity you haven’t participated in so far.

Cultivating and strengthening your just do it attitude is very useful for this since you may not feel like expanding your comfort zone.

When you expand your comfort zone you tend to feel good about yourself. You feel like this day isn’t just another boring day in existence but actually something that is quite exciting. You feel alive.

What is your best tip for turning a bad day into a better one?

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{ 21 comments }

Shanel Yang June 11, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Watching a favorite movie. I’m almost too embarrassed to write this but “A Bug’s Life” always does it for me. It’s so darn positive! What could be more uplifting than watching a bunch of bugs trying to make a difference in their lives? When I feel insignificant or unproductive, just watching those little critters working away at their dreams (and ultimately achieving more than they ever imagined) is all the encouragement I need.

At other times, I prefer something more adult and violent. “Kill Bill Vols. I and II” get me in the mood to keep fighting against the odds b/c The Bridge certainly persevered when all seemed impossibly lost — many times! Now, she was having a lot of bad days, but nothing — and I mean nothing — kept her down! Even as she bawled like a baby after being nailed up inside a coffin, she finally calmed herself down, gathered her mental focus, and eventually got busy rescuing herself. What a woman! I say to myself if I could just have a fraction of that kind of determination and resourcefulness, I can’t possibly fail.

Thanks for another great post, Henrik! So wise to be so young! I wish I had your level of maturity when I was your age.

Shanel Yang June 12, 2008 at 12:17 am

1. Watch an old favorite movie or go to a new one.
2. Write a private diary entry.
3. Review old private diary entries.
4. Go for a long walk.
5. Organize work space or clean my home.
6. Cook a lot of extra food and store it.
7. Reread a favorite book.
8. Drink a pot of tea slowly.
9. Listen to favorite old music.
10. Take a long, hot bath.

That’s a lot of old favorites! I guess it’s about regaining perspective for me.

Thanks for another thoughtful post, Henrik!

Kashmira June 12, 2008 at 12:39 am

I had exactly this kind of day yesterday. Nothing went wrong, yet my mood was down, and I was not able to lift my spirits.

I decided to eat a chocolate souffle for lunch, a real treat for me, but that didn’t make me feel better either.

I really like taking pictures, and when I walked out of the restaurant after lunch, I saw this tiny bicycle tied to a tree near my parked car. Just that sight made all the blues go away! I got my camera out of my purse, and took a couple pictures.

Even if I had not discovered that bicycle there, I now know that taking pictures would have made me feel better in a matter of seconds.

Moral…find something that you KNOW you really like doing, and do it!

Jonathan June 12, 2008 at 1:25 am

This is a great list.

Each one of these items have serious value especially when you have a bad day.

If I may add one of my own I would like to throw in music. I keep a “high energy” play list on my mp3 player and it can make a world of difference. After 30 minutes or so of listening I almost always find myself in a better mood.

Thanks for the article.

Eric June 12, 2008 at 3:42 am

Good suggestions, all of them. I would also like to mention calling or going out for lunch with a good friend. This can work wonders and can magically lift spirits.

Clara Charlotte June 12, 2008 at 10:57 am

I have to agree with Eric. Great post! But the people are missing. On a bad day, i tend to crawl into my room and close the door. But what always gets me out of the blue mood is my friends, when they knock on the door.

It may not work for everyone but: get out and get some sun – it’s almost spooky how a little sunlight changes my mood instantly.

Henrik Edberg June 12, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Thanks for all the excellent suggestions, guys! People, the sunshine and good music are some of the things that lifts my mood too. At the moment, the sunshine is a really important thing over here since the weather in Sweden can be a bit gloomy for long periods of time.

Sara June 12, 2008 at 4:48 pm

It’s funny to me that a few of these (eat, sleep, move) are things we should just do anyway. But you’re absolutely right. Not taking care of the basics sets us up for bad days. When those aren’t the culprits, good music changes my entire energy. Ditto on sunshine. And ice cream. And getting an unexpected compliment.

Marc and Angel Hack Life June 13, 2008 at 2:20 pm

I’d also like to add meditating to the list. Just like a catnap, a 20 minute meditation in complete silence can work wonders for a person’s mood and energy levels.

tilney June 13, 2008 at 3:51 pm

One thing I do is balance my energy with alternate nostril breathing which goes like this: sit and breathe slowly in and out for a few moments, then gently block the right nostril with right thumb-breathe in and out slowly for 5 breaths, then switch and block the left nostril and breathe in and out for 5 breaths. About 3 rounds of this should balance your hemispheres and make you feel very good indeed! I learned this in my Kundalini yoga class.

Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. June 13, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Henrik,

You must have taken a peek into my life. For all my writing about making your life happy, I fell into a sad mood last week when I decided to cut off caffeine cold turkey. Whereas normally it takes a lot to make me cry, tears were just rolling for no apparent reason. It was an unfamiliar feeling for me, but I decided that there must be a lesson in it (other than never quit an addictive habit like coffee cold turkey.)

So for 3 days I allowed myself to mope around. I got bursts of feeling better with spells of brief meditation, sporadic decluttering a corner of my bedroom and exercise. But I finally asked myself: What can I learn from this? (I always look for the lesson in my experiences)

Out of it came a realization that I’ve been judgmental about others, a new compassion and a revelation that my so-called strength disguises my need to control. Wow! I needed that bout with sadness, didn’t I?

On the 4th day I resumed my coffee habit with a plan to cut back, but not cut out.

The insights I gained during my sad spell make me feel reborn.

Vic June 14, 2008 at 12:16 am

My bad days don’t really seem blue, they’re where I feel tense and out of sorts with myself like at-ends, I don’t even have to be doing anything.
One thing I’ve done recently is drink a lot less coffee, smoke a lot less cigarettes(besides making me sick), and play a lot less music with lyrics. It’s like I’ve got this modem pool that can only service so many discordant calls and when all of them are connected the discordancy amplifies with the number of calls linked up. I don’t get blue, I get taxed.
So I guess I could reboot and take a long hot bath, but I don’t want to lose that investment in my day every time, so I’ve found altering my habits makes the biggest difference to get out of the day a positive experience, it really doesn’t have to be happy per se, just one in which I can see the sun
such as:
wearing sunglasses, cuts down on tension headaches
going to bed early, rising early for that morning peace and prep
listening to music without lyrics
walking around the block
making beer and smelling the hops
reading a fresh magazine at a park bench
going to a museum and connecting
If it’s endemic like job, applying for other jobs Always cheers me up
Fly fishing

tania June 16, 2008 at 3:00 am

My bad days started last month when I was unexpectedly laid off from my job. The suddenness of it was breathtaking. I was totally caught off guard because I had just received a good work review and new responsibilities.

The first week I just drank wine and ate cashews, while attempting to clear off my desk and handle unemployment issues.

The 2nd week I managed to get a little more sleep but that’s still a problem.

However, this week, I started making meals, resumed exercise (swimming), started reading again, seeing good movies, calling friends, napping to make up for lost sleep. I also asked if I would leave by month’s end instead of dragging it out until mid August, tho’ I’d be ‘on call’ if needed. That seemed both professional and protective. I find that my mood is slowly picking up and I’m better at balancing good with bad.

Trula June 18, 2008 at 1:13 am

I really like this post and the following comments. A lot of helpful suggestions!

Kay June 22, 2008 at 8:04 am

I think it depends on what level of bad day it is.

Sometimes something simple is needed, if i just feel lethargic and tired and not doing anything working out definately helps. Also another quick-fix (well one that doesn’t involve actual sleep). Is to take about an hour (or two if luxury allows) to take a shower, dry/straighten my hair/style it all pretty, moisturise, lounge while debating about what outfit to wear, and then matching makeup to it. Basically taking time and putting it into my appearance, and then heading out. Even if its just to go to the 7/11 or something looking my best helps (even better if i’m going to hang out with friends or something like that …). If in a real rush even just washing my face and reapplying some mascara or something helps me feel better. Taking the time to look my personal best gives me confidence to interact with other people… interacting with other people, makes my day better. :)

Now sometimes if its one of those horrible no good days that leave me feeling worthless the only thing that works is… to Cry it out (i know… not all might agree but for a personality type like mine, sometimes a girl just needs to let the tears out in solitude)..Put on a dvd of my favorite TV show (I call Lois and Clark my TV-comfort food) snuggle under a blanket on my couch until i drift off.

ClickALifeCoach June 22, 2008 at 1:23 pm

Great list for getting yourself up again when you have a bad day. My favourite is

“Give value.”

It is something we use a lot, do something for a complete stranger. This can be as simple as buying a stranger a coffee in a cafe shop or paying for the parking at a parking meter.

One that works for me all the time, I make myself laugh. Just look at yourself in the mirror and start laughing for a couple of minutes – works wonders.

Ben June 30, 2008 at 1:37 am

Great post!

Writing usually helps me out. I still believe in writing hard copy instead of publishing it on a journal somewhere. If you really cannot do without the keyboard, you might want to look into something like Evernote

Working out also helps me by focusing on the task at hand and nothing else. It’s a beautiful thing!

Keep the articles coming.

Tony July 12, 2008 at 9:51 am

Thanks a lot for this- the article may as well be called “How to have a good day”! I am going to try and absorb this information and utilise it in my own life. So I will try something new now- leaving a reply!

roy July 18, 2008 at 8:28 am

‘shopped.

the pixels on this site are all wrong.

dandeliondreams July 18, 2008 at 10:10 am

I think I detect the tell tale signs of ACT there, I’m going through a course of that particular therapy at the moment in an attempt to deal with certain aspects of depression and anxiety.

Thanks for the advice but at the moment I can only implement the techniques on days on which I don’t feel as bad as normal, so it isn’t working for me right now.

Good luck everyone.

Inspiration for Change August 10, 2008 at 6:26 am

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Excellent suggestion.

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