Turn Around a Bad Day Using Science!

Everyone has those days when mistakes, negative feedback, and unexpected problems seem to storm down all at once. Your Boss criticizes your decision, your biggest client asks to get reassigned, and your neighbor backs into your new car.  Often, one day spills into two and you start to believe you’re cursed.

To quickly turn around a bad day, try these science-backed tips:

  • Get perspective. The average human lives 25, 915 days – they can’t all be good!  According to research conducted by Pew, on any given day about 7% of the population report having a “bad day.”  If you do the math, that means you average maybe 2 bad days per month. Considering the crazy, stress-filled world we live in, that’s completely manageable!
  • Avoid cognitive distortions. Catastophizing or extending a bad situation to its worst case scenario (e.g., My Boss hated the presentation, it’s only a matter of time until I’m fired!”), generalizing or using a single data point to make an overall conclusion (e.g., “I guess I’m just not a good presenter”) or polarized thinking, which is viewing situations as black or white with no shades of gray (e.g., “I’m a complete failure.”) are defense mechanisms your ego engages to protect itself from conflict. Unfortunately, they just make you feel worse.
  • Engage your brain’s novelty response. Interrupting the recurring tape in your head can break the downward negativity spiral.  Watch a movie, play with your pet, go for a walk, or clean your closet. Changing your environment triggers your brain to focus elsewhere, which gives you space to see that life goes on and this bad day is temporary. Bonus: novelty releases dopamine in the brain, a natural mood enhancer!
  • Change your expectations. Science shows that patients “primed” with the knowledge that a procedure will be very painful actually have a stronger pain reaction (which is confirmed through MRIs!) than patients who believe they’ve been given a pain reducer (which is actually a placebo).  Simply the expectation that bad things will happen actually can lead to more bad things happening. Don’t let a bad few minutes turn into a bad day by expecting that to be the case. In fact, do the opposite. Expect it to be a great day, because what you focus on e-x-p-a-n-d-s.

One trick that works for me on a bad day is recognizing things could always be worse. Counting your blessings  is a powerful mood booster any (good or bad) day of the week.

Happy hunting!

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