How to Make the Most of a Bad Day

The challenge is not to perform when we are at our best but to make the most of our worst days.

Friederike Andrae
Nov 21 · 7 min read
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Photo by Pars Sahin on Unsplash

As my boyfriend likes to remind me, how we handle our bad days is far more important than how we do on our good ones.

The problem, of course, is that a bad day is, per definition, one where everything just feels meh.

It’s those days where even after 20 minutes the words don´t come. 20 minutes turn into 30, 50. An hour later, you got a mere 500 words onto the page, just to realize that this ramble will turn in no good article. You are frustrated because you´ve just wasted an hour writing -well, nothing of use.

From then on, everything gets worse. You have a hard time focusing on online classes. You make bad food choices and end up feeling bad about it. At the end of the day you did not accomplish really anything, yet don´t have the energy to do much either.

Lately, I’ve been having a lot of those days.

The semester just started again and with online classes, assignments, and zoom seminars, I don´t find as much time to write as I did last month.

But for my studies, it’s just the same. Having spent the summer break mainly focusing on writing and worrying, I have a hard time getting back into logic and Latin vocabulary.

Right now, everything feels out of place.

How does a bad day become bad in the first place?

Often, a small instance can be enough to turn any day into a bad one. You miss your alarm and sleep too long. You had a bad dream and stay upset all morning. You forget something at home or miss an appointment.

Truth is that a bad day is more than having bad luck. It is often the result of what we make of it.

According to psychology today, our expectations play a crucial role in how we are to evaluate our day and how we in turn will interpret how the day is going on. Some events we would consider neutral on a good day add to our feeling meh on days we already labeled as bad.

Yes, there are triggers but the worst part is us blowing things out of proportion. The moment I think “this is a bad day” I know it really is.

The idea of a good bad day

In psychology, the concept of a bad day is mostly used in the field of sports psychology. Why? Because this is the one main area where day-performance matters most. Or that is, used to matter most. With more areas and jobs revolving around performance on a daily basis — like freelancing, writing and anything creative — I think the idea becomes more important in those areas as well.

The idea is that a bad day can still be a good one — when we know how to deal with it.

Self-talk matters

As Sports psychologist Patrick Crohn stresses, positive self-talk is not trying to talk yourself into something positive or denying failures. Instead, it is one form of coaching oneself in reminding yourself that everyone has bad days and that they don´t mean that the world is about to end.

We all have those days where everything just does not get right. We have days where our writing sucks. Where we don’t feel creative at all and the worlds do not flow. We make mistakes and poor choices in spending too much time on social media and eating too many cookies. But you know what?

What matters most in those moments is to remain realistic.

One bad day won´t ruin your writing career — or your writing goals for the week either. One day of sloppy food choices won´t make you fat. One day unfocused won´t ruin your grades.

This realization alone won´t make a bad day better — but it is one essential prerequisite for using it as an opportunity for growth.

How to make the most of our worst days

Truth is that we can grow the most when facing adversity. Instead of beating ourselves up, we can use a bad day as an opportunity for growth.

Use it as an opportunity to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable is normal. We all experience it. Having a bad day can be a powerful practice to check in with the feelings and not try to avoid it by always pushing ourselves the hardest. It is important to get to deal with being uncomfortable, with feeling unproductive without feeling like shit, failing at our goals without beating ourselves up.

When I used to have a bad day, it would usually turn into an increasingly worse downward spiral.

  • Get distracted and not meet my goals
  • Get frustrated and try to escape that feeling, usually through social media, overeating or get busy doing minor tasks.
  • Feel even more frustrated and self-loathing, beating myself up and indulge in negative self-talk.

In those moments, the hardest part is to break through that negative downward spiral.

It is to get yourself up and write despite thinking it is crappy the whole time.

It is getting yourself to do a small workout, even when you do not feel like it at all, and feel disappointed for being slower and lacking energy.

This is not about trying to be productive at all costs. Far from it. Instead, the goal is to get comfortable with not being at your peak. To accept the low days and the bad writing and choosing it over giving in to your feelings of self-contempt.

Focus on small wins.

A bad day is often as bad as we expect it to be. Instead of letting it get us down, deflect it on others, or try to avoid it by distracting yourself through TV shows, social media, or overeating, neuroscientist Marwa Azab advises to focus on small acts that do not revolve around accomplishment.

In a success-focused culture, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of evaluating everything we do by what we accomplish, how much it earns us, or helps us build leverage.

But some of the best things in life don´t fall into his category.

The other day, I was having such a day. I got stuck in a difficult reading assignment and seemed not to get anywhere. And you know what? I went outside to do some work in the garden. It´s something I rarely do — it’s not ‘productive’ — but this time it was all I needed. The fresh ait and the smell of the leaves and the dark soil and the crisp air just got me out of my head and back into the moment.

In the end, it was at this moment where I got the idea to learn more about it and eventually write about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we don´t always have the possibility to get out and do something else. Sometimes the work needs to be finished. The point is not to walk away when we face adversity but to not get caught up in worrying about how unproductive we are, and in how much we do not accomplish.

On some days, the biggest accomplishment will be the workout we got in, having cleaned our room, or simply writing a crappy 500 words.

Bad days are reminders that no matter how much we get done, setting ourselves up to do it — anything — is the real accomplishment. Doing something when we are uncomfortable is far harder than accomplishing a lot when we feel great.

Use it as a reset.

Sometimes, those days come out of the blue. Sometimes, they are the result of something going on in my life that keeps distracting me from what I do.

I think it´s fair to say that in everyone´s life a lot is going on lately. As for me, the start of the semester just brought up a whole lot of questions, worries, and uncertainties I distracted myself from during the past two months when I fully focused on writing and learning.

With all them flowing back I was having a hard time focusing on either class or writing which in turn lead to the downward spiral of a bad day.

Those were things I needed to address sooner or later — and being busy with other things just helped me ponder them. In this respect, bad days are just reminders that there are some things unaddressed that need to be cared about — and a bad day can be the perfect opportunity to think about those problems.

Final words

When we have a bad day, it’s easy to get caught up and frustrated.

But truth is that our days are most of the time what we make of them. yes, sometimes, our performance sucks. sometimes, we don´t feel like it. sometimes, the smallest things go wrong.

at the end of the day, we have always more influence on how those days affect us and what we can still get from them.

The real challenge is no to perform when we are at our best, but how we can make the most of the worst days.

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Friederike Andrae

Written by

Philosophy undergraduate. Collecting ideas & trying to be less wrong. Let´s chat — andraefriederike@gmail.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 138,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

Friederike Andrae

Written by

Philosophy undergraduate. Collecting ideas & trying to be less wrong. Let´s chat — andraefriederike@gmail.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join 138,000+ others making the climb on one of the fastest-growing pubs on Medium.

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