“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
Henry David Thoreau
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
Some days are great, better than you would have expected when you rolled out of the bed in the morning.
Quite a few days are just good and OK days.
And then we have the other ones. The days that just wind up being bad.
What do you do then? I used to let them drag me down and I often wound up having not just one but a couple of bad days because of whatever happened.
Nowadays I do things a bit differently. And this week I'd like to share how I do that.
Here's 21 tips and habits that help me to turn a bad day around. Most of the time I use more than one of these habits to do that.
I usually start turning my day around with shaking things up by using my body in some way.
The first thing I almost always do is to just breathe. I breathe deeply through my nose by using my belly. I focus only on the air going in and out for 1-2 minutes.
This calms my body and mind.
2. Do a power pose.
Then I sometimes follow that up by striking what Amy Cuddy calls a power pose for about 2 minutes (check out her TED talk, it’s really good).
The simplest way to strike a power pose is to stand up confidently like Wonder Woman or Superman with your legs apart, head up and your hands on your hips.
It might sound odd but it can really change how you feel in a quick and positive way.
3. Work out.
Another habit I use several times a week to shake things up by using my body is to lift free weights in my home. I do this for about 30-40 minutes and it helps me to release tensions and worry.
And after I am done I feel more powerful, focused and energetic.
Just by hugging someone quickly you can feel safer and more optimistic again.
And an embrace that lasts 30 seconds or a minute or more can recharge your batteries and release an unexpectedly large amount of stress and tensions.
5. Pet an animal.
If you don't have anyone close by to hug during a bad day then pet your cat, dog, bird etc. It has a very similar calming and stress reliving effect.
And it makes your animal companion happy and that in turn will boost your mood too.
6. Find a new viewpoint.
The body tips above often work well to change my perspective by altering my emotional state and energy level.
Sometimes something more is needed though.
So I start looking more actively for a better and more helpful viewpoint on the situation at hand by asking myself a couple of questions.
Three of my most commonly used questions that help me with that are:
- Will this matter 5 years from now?
- Who cares?
- What is one small action, one small and practical step I can take to start turning this day or situation around?
7. Go out into nature and enjoy the summer.
Leave your couch or workspace for a little while.
Talk a walk and just soak in the last summer sun and warmth. Enjoy the birds singing and the nature blossoming.
Just being out there in nature tends to make it easier to think optimistically again and to start looking for practical solutions or upsides.
Or you can simply be there in the moment fully and let your thoughts about for example work rest for a while (and then later on you can return to that with fresh eyes and a calmer mind).
Another upside is that the sunshine and exercise during this 20-30 minute pause in my day also recharges my energy.
8. Accept what is.
One thing that sometimes work better than just about anything is simply to accept what is at this moment.
To not deny or try to push away negative feelings or thoughts that show up. Even though you may feel an impulse to do so.
Instead, just accept what is right now.
The thoughts and feelings within you.
And just be with them fully and observe them flowing through you.
By doing so you are not giving up.
No, because when you accept what is then you stop feeding the negative thoughts in your mind with more energy. And so they become weaker.
They start to lose their grip on you after a while and then they float away. And so you feel more open and are able to think more clearly again.
9. If you made a mistake then don’t let your inner critic take over.
If you’re having a bad day because of a mistake you’ve made or a failure you’ve had then don’t let your inner critic take over.
Instead, as soon as you hear it start berating you in your mind with negative thoughts about you and your worth do this:
Say a stop phrase. In your mind, say or shout, something like: Stop!
Or: No, no, no we are not going down this road again!
Then, after you have silenced your inner critic ask yourself this:
How would my friend/parent support me and help me in this situation?
Then simply do things and talk to yourself like he or she would.
This will help you to feel better again and to move forward to solve and improve upon the situation. And it’s a much better use of your time and energy than beating yourself up.
10. Tell yourself: Just for today!
I learned this one from Brian Tracy probably 10 years ago.
And in this case it can help you avoid falling back into those destructive responses to a bad day that may have become a bit of a habit for you.
So what you do is this, tell yourself that:
Just for today I will X!
And in this case you can replace that X with for example “not beat myself up about a mistake!” or “focus on solutions and action instead of procrastinating!”.
The nice thing about this one is that you only make a small commitment to do things differently today.
Then you can go back to your old ways tomorrow if you like. But you may not want to and perhaps you instead start building a positive spiral of positivity for the whole week.
Or you go back to your old ways sometimes and sometimes you use this tip to handle a bad day in a more constructive way (which is still an improvement compared to doing things the old way 100% of the time)
11. Get outside of your own head by adding positivity to someone else’s life.
One of the simplest ways to get outside of your own head and out of sinking deeper and deeper into your own negative thoughts about your day is to add positivity to someone else’s life.
That focus outward and on someone else can drastically shift your perspective around for the better.
You can for example:
- Help someone out. With for instance moving houses, with planning for an upcoming job interview or by offering some advice that has helped you in a similar situation that your friend is in now.
- Just listen. Sometimes people just want someone to truly listen for a little while as they work out their own situation and possible solutions.
- Be kind. Give a genuine compliment for something that means a lot to the other person or something she does that is often taken for granted.
12. Take 5-15 minutes to read some motivational quotes.
This is something I quite often do to change my mood and viewpoint and to find some new motivation.
Here’s 6 of the my favorite and most popular posts about quotes that I have put together over the past 10+ years:
- 185 Inspiring Happiness Quotes
- 101 Inspiring Self-Esteem and Self Love Quotes
- 141 Inspiring Love Quotes
- 134 Inspiring Friendship Quotes
- 73 Inspirational Quotes on Fear
- 87 Inspirational Quotes for Work (Motivation to Work Hard and Smart)
13. Journal about your day.
Writing down your thoughts and feelings about your day can help you to mentally step back a step or two from what is happening and to see things with more clarity (and from a wider perspective).
Doing this has helped me many times to not build a mountain out of a molehill and to start finding solutions to my current situation and or at least a small step or two that I can take to begin moving in the right direction.
14. Talk it over with someone to find that new perspective.
This is a bit similar to journaling and it’s in my experience one of the best ways to find a new perspective on a negative situation.
Because just letting your thoughts and feelings about your bad day bounce around in your head tends to exaggerate things and can make you feel more and more powerless.
But letting those emotions and thoughts out helps to vent all of that built up inner pressure and it allows you to start to either figure out the situation and what to do about it for yourself as your friend just listens.
Or the two of you can have a conversation about it and together come up with a plan – or the start of one – for what you can do to improve upon the situation you’re in.
15. Take a laugh break for 10-15 minutes.
Few things can so easily relieve stress and inner tensions and allow you to see things from a lighter perspective as laughing and having fun.
So I often take a laugh break and watch, read or listen to something that makes me laugh. Like for example a favorite episode of The Simpsons, a couple of online comics I like (such as the Oatmeal and Poorly Drawn Lines) or a bit of a standup show on Netflix.
16. Find something to look forward to.
Find something to look forward to or to reward yourself with after you have done what you need to do today, no matter if that is boring work or a doctor’s appointment that you're nervous about.
Like for example that movie you’ve been looking forward to seeing coupled with your favorite take out food.
17. Take a shower.
My wife sometimes recommends this one to get a bit of a restart. And I often find that it works surprisingly well – considering how little effort it takes – to mentally reboot a day that has not begun well for me.
18. Clean up.
I find that taking a shower and then following that up with spending 5-10 minutes decluttering my workspace or home and organizing things makes me feel more in control again and more ready to start anew and take care of what I need to do to improve my current situation.
So try that combination or combine that shower with one of the other tips in this post to get an even better effect.
19. Tap into gratitude.
When you’re having a bad day or you’re in some kind of bad situation then you may get lost in only seeing the negative things in your life.
A way to counter that and to break out the pessimism that can suck out so much of your energy and trap you in inaction is to ask yourself a few questions that help you to tap into gratitude.
So ask yourself these 3 questions:
- What are 3 things I can be thankful for in my life today?
- Who are 3 people I can be thankful to have in my life and why?
- What are 3 things I can be thankful for about myself?
These things don’t have to be big things. They could just be the nice weather, that you have access to clean drinking water, that you flossed today or that your friend made you laugh yesterday.
20. Look back and celebrate how far you've come.
Another thing that is easy to lose sight of when you’re down and you’re having a bad day is what you have actually accomplished so far.
The steps you have taken, the obstacles you have overcome and what you have learned.
Reflect on that when you're having a bad day to find a wider perspective and to see that this one day is just a temporary step back and nothing more on your journey.
And take a few minutes to appreciate and celebrate what you have done so far to move yourself towards your goal or dream.
21. Remember: sometimes a bad day will just be a bad day.
Now, from time to time, even if you use several of the techniques above – one after the other – you won’t be able to turn a bad day around.
That has been my experience at least.
Because no matter what habits you adopt, life will never be perfect, positive or awesome all the time.
And this website was never about living some kind of life that only exists in a perfect dream anyway.
This website is about replacing unhelpful habits with better ones.
It is about raising the percentages of times where you can handle things in a better way. In your regular, everyday life. And when bigger things happen.
Because that will make a huge difference.
But still, life will have natural valleys.
And a bad day will sometimes just be a bad day. And that’s OK. That’s life.
But the interesting thing is this: if you accept that life is like this sometimes – and let go of the dream of perfection – then you’ll create less suffering for yourself and life will become lighter, simpler and happier.
So in the long run there is an upside even to a bad day that you may not be able to turn around.
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A helpful and empowering addition to the affirming advice you offer us every week.
Been in a 3 day depression after having none for quite a while and I do most of these suggestions — when I remember, that is! Today I got your email and a great boost of hope because there is ALWAYS something I can DO to make my day better. So, thank you for the reminder, Henrik; I’m about ready to take action to make it a much better day!! ?
Also, just knowing that I’m not alone in having a bad day makes me feel better too! Much love, Heide
I feel very happy and more confident when I read your article.