Bad days suck. They come out of nowhere, and stick to you like double-sided tape – securely attached to you, and doubly attractive to the consequences of Murphy’s Law. Bad days have also been known to somehow affect the space-time continuum to where every real minute is consciously experienced as two. It’s the type of day where you swear that when you look up, you can see an actual black cloud overhead which has chosen to devote it’s time to you.
These types of days are usually triggered by a disappointment or bad event, and then go downhill from there. And the worst thing about having a bad day is that it is most likely a self-created situation.
Self-created? Yes, self-created.
It is a fact that bad things happen. Bad occurrences happen unexpectedly, yet they are normal (no one escapes them). However, our attitudes and reactions to these occurrences are what CREATE a bad day. Specifically, not allowing a bad moment to fade into the past is what perpetuates a bad day.
Bad occurrences are emotion-generating events. We appraise the situations that occur, and based on whether we believe them to be good or bad, an emotion arises. This is somewhat unconscious and automatic. Once we experience a negative emotion, our nervous systems are triggered so that we can initiate some type of coping behavior to solve the problem that has been presented. This is a very normal stress response, which is designed to be short-lived.
However, the problem arises when we don’t shift gears, and the emotion evolves into a MOOD (a more prolonged general state). There has been much research on the effects of emotion and mood on our ability to reason. Negative emotions exert a powerful influence over both perception and information-processing – what we think about, the decisions we make, as well as our creativity.
Have you ever been so angry that you can’t think straight? There is actually a biological reason for this. Without going into neuroscience, the short explanation is that the emotional and rational parts of our brain don’t work well together. The longer we stay in a negative mood, the less we are able to have good perceptions and judgments.
Perhaps this is the reason everything SEEMS to be bad when we are having a bad day. More than likely, the same occurrences on a good day would not be perceived as bad. We’d simply accept them as minor yet unlinked occurrences, versus catastrophe or as a string of bad luck. A good mood facilitates flexibility and creative problem-solving, allowing us to simply solve the problem and move on.
Learning to shift gears is directly related to the concept of emotional resilience; the ability to bounce back emotionally after suffering through difficult and stressful times. The word “resilient” itself refers to the ability to “spring back” into shape after being deformed. So think about this for a moment: If we prolong a bad moment, then we continue to dwell in the “deformed shape” created by that moment.
When bad things happen, they are only meant to affect us momentarily. Resilience allows us to experience stress, deal with it, and then move past it. Ultimately, the more times we practice resilience, the stronger we become at dealing with unpleasurable and stressful situations, and the more easily we are able to bounce back to a normal emotional state.
What helps me most in these situations is to always be mindful of the present. I try not to allow a bad moment to evolve into a bad day. I experience the emotions that naturally arise from a bad event, but I am very conscious of confining it to a small space in time, and then relinquishing it to the past. Once given the official status of “past,” I remain grounded in the present, which means not ruminating over what is now considered as the past.
The ability to shift gears is an integral part of managing overall happiness. Why? The reason is simple; because it minimizes suffering (unhappiness). In other words, bad occurrences don’t have to become prolonged anguish.
Not only does learning to shift gears promote resilience and happiness, but it also instills within in us a sense of mastery and control. The more we do it, the more competent we feel in our ability to do it, and it ultimately it prepares us to weather progressively stronger difficulties.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” ~Pema Chodron~
Growth does not occur in an environment of ease. Bad occurrences should be expected as a normal part of life, as well as an occasion to rise to a challenge.
If you accept the common metaphor that life is a journey, then perhaps you can see that learning to shift gears is simply a way of managing the traffic and detours that you will inevitably experience along the way. You shouldn’t end your trip due to a detour. Instead, learn to shift gears, point your compass toward the present, and embrace the opportunity to become a better driver.
How do you manage your bad days? Is it easy to shift gears, or do you find yourself getting stuck in them?
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