Bad Days Are Good for You

If you know how to use them

They say one bad day can make anyone crazy. That’s a lie. Bad days are full of truth. A bad day can save your life. Bad days force us to see things clearly and make tough choices.

The phrase “bad hair day” sounds a little outdated now. I haven’t even heard anyone say it since the 90s. But it has a little hidden meaning. Here’s how the Cambridge English Dictionary defines one:

A day when you feel that you do not look attractive, especially because of your hair, and everything seems to go wrong.

Days like this have nothing to do with your hair, how you look, or with everything going wrong.

Days like this always point to something else. They highlight your flaws and insecurities. So if you’re sensitive about your hair, or a freckle, that’s what you’re going to fret over for the next 12 hours.

(And who isn’t sensitive about their appearance?)

Days like this don’t just happen. They might feel like an avalanche, but they’ve been a long time in the works. Muddling through doesn’t cut it. Think of bad days as an opportunity. It’s a chance to learn more about yourself, including the stuff you don’t want to know.

What bad days aren’t

There’s a difference between accepting bad days and wallowing in them. Bad days aren’t just frustrating ones, or ones potholed with struggle and failure. They’re the days when all that finally gets to us.

Here’s what else bad days aren’t:

  • A reason to give up
  • A sign you’ve failed
  • An occasion to vague-book
  • A good time for a pity party
  • Something that can be “fixed”
  • An excuse to hurt someone

Bad days are a signal to check in with yourself. Ask yourself some hard questions about your goals and relationships, your priorities, your health, and whatever else you’re managing.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned: Bad days either lead to a realization that you’re life is going better than you think, or worse. Used well, they prompt some adjustments to your internal GPS.

Don’t try to shortcut a bad day

We love our life hacks and shortcuts. We think they’re the answer to everything. They’re not. Sometimes you need the long way and the hard way. Think about the last time you tried to find a shortcut, and wound up making everything way worse in the end.

All you learned is that shortcuts are overrated.

Life hacks are unreliable.

When you try to get out of a bad day by shopping, going out drinking, or Netflix binging, you’re cheating.

Retail therapy isn’t the answer to life’s big problems.

That doesn’t mean you have to cancel your entire day, but it means accepting that buying things and watching one more episode of that show won’t make us feel better — just numb us.

If there’s one thing we’re all good at, it’s numbing ourselves.

Pin down your feelings

Bad days start with the whisper of a problem that’s been bothering us for a while — something ongoing that we’ve ignored. That’s why we feel like crap, and little problems get louder. We’re trying to drown out the whisper, by turning up the volume on trivia.

Listen to yourself for once.

Even your worst self deserves the floor for a few minutes. You’ll probably want some privacy for that.

Your worst self isn’t the enemy. It can be surprisingly perceptive about problems in your life. It can be brutally honest in articulating those problems, even if it can’t solve them.

Get stuff done anyway

A bad day doesn’t mean you have to spend hours navel gazing or simply reacting to everything you can’t control.

Go to work. Run your errands. Hit the gym. But tape off some time to figure out what’s on your mind. Thoughts start with feelings.

Treat yourself like a crime scene.

Chores are a nice time to do some inner detective work.

Let out your negative thoughts

Quit the positive thinking for a minute. Too much of that is like stashing all your junk in the attic. It’s still there. You just don’t see it. If you’re going to solve your problems, you have to figure out what they are.

Doing that is unpleasant.

You might even want to sit down and write out how you’re feeling. Writing has a way of focusing your thoughts.

This is why some of us keep diaries and journals. It’s not full of gratitude cliches and inspirational phrases. They can harbor some dark thoughts. Your journal is where you get to be yourself and take your filter off, without worrying about everyone’s feelings.

Don’t hire a carpenter for a plumbing job

What’s bothering you probably isn’t the bad news you’re reacting to. You were feeling bad before that happened.

Most of us misdirect our focus when we’re in a lousy mood. It’s like calling a carpenter when you need a plumber. Don’t fixate on what triggered your bad mood. Look for the underlying cause.

You can’t cast spells on yourself

You should never judge yourself for how you feel. You can sculpt feelings, but you can’t cast spells on them.

However you feel, there’s a good reason.

Plunge your hands into it.

Do anything but have a meltdown

It’s easy to blow up at your friends and say hurtful things to your partner when you feel like crap. In the moment, you might even think they deserve a bolt of your anger.

Or maybe you’re going to tell that barista just how much she sucks at her job — as if that’s the source of all your strife.

Maybe everyone deserves to hear how you feel, but you’re not Zeus. Hot, righteous bolts of anger won’t improve your life.

Give yourself a break

You don’t have to pretend everything’s fine, either. It’s okay if you don’t want to act like your normal, peppy self.

Sometimes you just go through the motions. You hit the bare minimum, and cut your losses on everything else.

That’s enough.

Do just one thing

Your worst days don’t have to be a total loss. You don’t have to give up on your ambitions. But you’re probably not going to get everything done you wanted. So don’t try. Just do one thing.

Send one email. Read one article. Write one paragraph. Then go relax. Take care of yourself — whatever that means to you.

Remember you’re human

Bad days remind us that we have flaws and insecurities. They’re always there. We just don’t pay attention to them when we feel good — even when they still influence our behaviors.

Bad days are information.

They tell you that you’re not “done” yet. They also tell you when it’s time to focus on a problem you’ve been ignoring. Bad days aren’t kinks and holes in your plot. They’re part of your story.

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