[This post is part of a series on my daily exercise and starting and keeping challenging habits. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
How do you handle miserable days?
I think today started like many people’s does. I don’t know how most people handle down days, but I’ll share a typical case that I think could apply universally.
People sometimes tell me I always seem in a good mood. I have to point to Marshall Goldsmith, his trademark phrase “Be happy now,” and his practices that back it up as having inspired me to realize how much you can take control of your emotions.
It’s not that I want to feel happy all the time, although I prefer happiness to unhappiness. It’s that I prefer consciously choosing how I live. When you’re miserable you feel out of control about doing anything you want to.
So what do I do when I feel miserable?
First, why did I feel bad?
Why I felt bad
The main thing was last night I lost a ring I had wanted to buy for two years after finding a jewelry store in Bangkok that became my favorite. I finally returned on my way back from Shanghai. Then last night, on my walk from my place to my friend’s, it fell off. I don’t know where. I retraced my steps, but it was dark and I don’t know where it could have fallen off. I walked about a mile, which is far to look carefully for something as small as a ring in the dark, and many people could have seen it and taken it.
Once I realized I couldn’t do anything about it last night, I realized the best I could do was enjoy myself, so I ended up having fun and staying out late.
I woke up about 8am. Normally after staying out so late I’d sleep in, but I had the idea to retrace my steps in the daylight, so I got up after only sleeping a few hours. It’s a sunny day, though only about 35 degrees and windy.
Meanwhile, plenty of other things aren’t going my way. Renovations mean complications in my living situation, always relationship issues with family and close friends, business is hard when I’m here and the project is in China, … I could go on.
Suffice it to say, when I get down and feel helpless, I can focus on things I don’t like as well as anyone. While I’m not worried about where my next meal will come from, I can match the life problems of most people with mine if I let my mind run with it.
What I wanted to do about it
Like most people, when I think about lots of miserable stuff I have the usual array of emotions: frustration at not being able to do anything, anger at whatever I felt caused situations, overwhelmed, helplessness, futility, lethargy, and so on.
Plus I was tired from lack of sleep.
So I wanted to lie in bed and wallow in these emotions. When you have a bunch of things to do, sometimes you can’t tell where to start, contributing to feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and lethargic. If you don’t do anything sometimes you start feeling worthless too, like what’s the point?
What I did about it
As much as I emotionally didn’t feel like getting up, I knew moving around and getting fresh air and sunshine would change things. I knew that even if I felt like I had more to do than I felt I could handle, I knew I had time to do things, I’ve felt this way before, I resolved all of those situations, some of them were worse, and if I started on something, anything, I’d at least make some progress. In the past when I’ve started at something I’d start feeling more capable.
So I knew going for a walk and looking for the ring would help.
I also knew one more thing: my daily routine helps regulate how I feel. It keeps the lows from getting me down. My morning habits include burpees, showering, and eating something healthy. Twenty burpees gets the blood flowing like nothing else.
So maybe an hour after getting up I headed outside (I browsed the internet a bit too). On the way out I spoke to my doorman too. Interacting with others tends to help. I didn’t find the ring, but I got outside, got my blood flowing, and at least got peace of mind that I did the best I could.
From then on, my day was at worst back to normal. I happened to share that I wasn’t feeling so good with a friend and she helped me feel better. People seem to like when you share you feel down without being needy or pathetic about it. I mainly just shared that I felt bad, but not helpless… just that it takes time for some emotions to pass.
It took a while to get here
I should note that it took my a long time to get to where I knew how to handle such feelings consistently, reliably, and predictably.
I used willpower to get myself out of bed and to get active. Willpower works when you know it will jump-start a process your emotional system will take over or for short projects. How did I know my regular emotional system would kick in this time? Experience. I wasn’t just hoping for the best. I knew once I got going I’d enjoy what I was doing.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees