How to Salvage a Bad Day at Work

Ever have one of those days where nothing seems to go right? While factors beyond your control may have gotten things off to a bad start — a puking kid, a broken-down subway train — a seeming string of problems might be more about your mindset. Once you get it into your head that you’re having a bad day, it’s hard to stop rolling down that particular hill.

“The statistics show that people who believe in bad luck will have more accidents on Friday the 13th,” says Peter J. Bentley, author of Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day, in an interview with Lifehacker. “Those who have a negative attitude are more likely to endow normal little mishaps with some mystical significance. Some psychologists even suggest that it’s a way of subconsciously avoiding responsibility for our actions. ‘It was Friday 13th, so I was bound to stick my fingers with superglue,’ or, ‘Accidents happen in threes, so after the first mishap the next two were inevitable.’ Of course it’s nonsense.”

In reality, there’s no reason why your whole day should go downhill if your commute was a little worse than usual, or why your afternoon should suck if you had a tough meeting in the morning. There’s no magical reset button that hits when you clock out for the day. You can start a whole new positive cycle, if you pay attention and act deliberately, instead of just reacting to a rough patch. Here are five strategies to help you salvage a bad day.

1. Take a breather.

First things first: Interrupt the circuit. Stop what you’re doing, and walk away for a few minutes. Take a stroll around the neighborhood. Meditate. Stretch. Call your mom. Look at the horizon for a minute, instead of a screen. Give your brain a moment to reset.

2. Choose a different timeframe.

OK, your morning wasn’t great, but there’s probably no reason why that has to carry over into your afternoon (unless you’re stuck in a terrible all-day meeting, in which case, our sympathies).

Don’t extend the bad parts of your day to the whole 24-hour cycle. Let a hard conversation with the boss be just that, not an indication of your worth to the company. Allow a less-than-pleasant email exchange with a client to be an isolated incident, instead of a predictor of future success. You can’t control every aspect of your day, but you can control how you respond to what happens to you.

3. Leave social media for a day.

What makes a bad day worse? Seeing all your friends and colleagues rack up one amazing personal and professional success after another, live and tastefully filtered by Instagram. Of course, this curated version of other people’s lives bears very little relationship to reality… but you’ll have a hard time remembering that when you’re having a hard day. Shut off your FOMO for now, and sign out of Facebook, Twitter, and the whole lot.

4. Go for a win.

Ever add something you’ve already done to your to-do list, just so that you can cross it off and feel accomplished? Don’t be embarrassed – you’re not fibbing to yourself as much as you’re boosting your self-esteem and gathering strength for the next challenge.

In a similar vein, when you’re having a tough day, it can be a good idea to concentrate on something that’s likely to go well. If you have a pending task that allows you to focus on your favorite part of your job, or work with your most fun colleague, or perhaps earn some fast praise, bump it up your list. There’s nothing wrong with needing a little validation now and then.

5. Look for an opportunity to make someone else’s day better.

Sometimes, the easiest way to feel better about your day is to improve someone else’s. Think about how much it means to you when your coworkers go out of their way to help you out. Now’s a great time to return the favor. While you’re crushing bad days on all sides, you’re also building relationships – which decreases the chances of tomorrow being as tough as today.

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