May 18, 2020
How To Recover From A Bad Day In 5 Minutes
second year in college began with boundless excitement. I was smitten with a super-cool woman in my psychology class. We hadn’t started to date yet, but I knew that was the next step.
You could imagine my surprise when I arrived at the dorm cafeteria and saw her cozy up with a friend of mine — a friend I had introduced to her. I spent the next several hours sitting in my room sulking over the turn of events. It was a scene reminiscent of a dozen cheesy coming of age movies from the 80s.
Everyone experiences bad days. You spend your time sulking in self-pity over minor setbacks, rejection, and life’s general unfairness. Each minute you spend in despair robs you of productivity and happiness. It siphons time you could direct towards your passion, relationships, and growth.
You probably have your own set of despair triggers — things that send you spiralling into a melancholic state. Perhaps your story bombs or someone leaves a scathing social media comment. Maybe a client cancels a contract or your car craps out on the way to work.
The limitless number of these triggers makes you wonder how you ever get through the day without something depriving you of your joy.
So You Had a Bad Day — Now What?
There’s a natural feeling of gloom that hits when an outcome falls short of expectations. We may possess differing thresholds, but none of us are bulletproof to disappointment.
It becomes problematic when you cling to the negativity. It consumes you and distracts you from your purpose, mission, and even day-to-day life.
That kind of residual despair makes for an unproductive and unhappy life. You can deal with this mental state in one of two ways:
- Allow time to do its job — a few hours, a solid stretch of sleep or a few days of reflection and reconciliation.
- Circumvent the reconciliation process.
Shortcut Your Recovery
Of course, the sooner you get past whatever pain commands your attention, the quicker you return to focus on things that bring you contentment.
Paste this quote onto your wall
The shortcut began to unfold when I read the book, ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ by Viktor Frankl. One quote from that book carries such profound meaning it forces me to recalibrate my emotions every time I read it.
This quote alone won’t get you over the bad day hump, but the application of it — which I share later — will change the way you interpret disappointing experiences.
‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way’ — Viktor Frankl
You own the response to whatever crap life throws at you. It’s the only freedom they can never steal from you, ‘to choose one’s attitude in any given situation.’
That’s all well and good, but in the midst of a tailspin, you need need a practical tool — one you can apply to real life. You need a mechanism that enables you to change your perspective and gives you the benefit of immediate hindsight.
Life as an Aggregate Instead of Isolated Events
When it comes to career, passion, and even life, we tend to focus on the moment, rather than looking at it as an arc that extends over decades. We blow up small events into life-altering catastrophes:
- You get a rejection letter and wonder how life went astray.
- A client said no to your proposal; you sit on the curb, bury your head in your hands and weep.
- You spill coffee on your shirt and curse the unfairness of life.
Your focus on the moment might work for meditation and much of everyday life, but it falters in circumstances that require perspective and context to stabilize your mental state.
When you evaluate negative situations in isolation, you give your pain undivided attention, often at the expense of context. Some cases call for distance, looking at life from a 30,000-foot view.
The Twenty-Five-Year Lens
It’s the aggregation of experiences, decisions, and reactions that determine your life’s arc. The phenomenon of hindsight helps you reinterpret life’s mishaps. It gives us the temporal and emotional distance to dispassionately evaluate experiences.
You can’t gain hindsight with the flip of a switch, but a few strategic questions will help you create that emotional distance required for candid assessment.
Identify your triggers
What’s your despair trigger? For me it’s indifference. It could be indifference to my writing, my presence, or my opinion. It bothers me more than outright criticism. Your triggers might differ.
Once that trigger fires, disappointment, anger, and resentment consume you. The universe surprised you with a full-court press, and now you’re trapped in the corner with no timeouts. There’s only one quick escape.
Change your perspective. View the misfortune through the lens of your future-self.
How will you evaluate this setback twenty-five years from today, with the benefit of hindsight and distance?
Likely, you won’t even remember the experience that ruined your day twenty-five years from now. If you do, your rejection, failure, or obstacle won’t seem like a big deal.
By then, you will have evaluated it within the context of a lifespan. It will seem insignificant in the grandiose scheme of things.
The emotional pain will have dissipated. You’ll wonder why you had gotten so worked up over it in the first place. You might even regret your overreaction to the minor setback more than the misfortune itself.
Given this new perspective, how do you choose to respond?
Recall Viktor Frankl’s message. You get to choose how you respond. It’s a freedom nobody can confiscate.
If you’re going to reinterpret today’s events as a minor issue, then why wait? Why not choose to get past it now?
Putting it All Together
We’ve covered a number of different points in this article. To close, let’s tie them all together:
- The one freedom nobody can take from you is the freedom to respond to a given set of circumstances as you see fit.
- Look at today’s undesirable results in the context of twenty, thirty, or forty years from now. How will your future self evaluate those results with the benefit of hindsight, and taken within the context of a full life?
- Which perspective will serve you better — the one from your future self or present-day self?
- Why wait to gain that future perspective? You may as well adopt it now.
This exercise will take you all of five minutes, and it will transform your perspective, your mood, and your ability to persevere through setbacks, turmoil, embarrassment, rejection, and failure.