We often like to label them this way, but the truth is, there’s no such thing as a bad day.
Generally speaking, we label days “bad” for two reasons: something happens that we would have rather not happen, and/or because we tie our identities to the success or failure of this event.
A great example of this comes from jobs. I was fired from mine two months ago working at a food truck, which was the event, but the only reason I might have labeled it a failure is because of how I framed the things that led up to it and the thing itself.
Here’s what seeing this as a failure would sound like:
“I got fired from my job, and now I’m back to square one. I have no income, I can’t use them as a reference, and whatever job I find next I’ll be starting from scratch for that raise. I just wasted time and effort and got screwed over in the end.”
Now here’s what looking at it as a success sounds like:
“I got fired from my job but I basically learned how to run a food truck all by myself, and I also met some pretty awesome people. Sure, now I have to find a new job, but I’m so much better off than I was when I had to find this job!”
Notice the subtlety in the second version. You don’t ignore it and pretend that nothing happened. It’s not about flipping from upset to happy and going about your day. In the second version, I still recognize what happened, but my intention is to frame it as a learning experience.
I know. This probably isn’t news to you. “Learn from your mistakes” is a phrase you’ve been hearing since you were a small child. But it’s not that simple, because framing them as mistakes is the root of the problem. Instead, try to see it as winning and learning.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art form that perfectly demonstrates what winning and learning are all about, and what “learn from your mistakes” really means.
As a beginner, when you walk into the gym for your first Jiu-Jitsu class, you are going to be submitted and basically tossed around like a ragdoll. You’ll basically be getting “defeated” over and over, for at least the first few months. However, each “defeat” cannot be looked at as such because those same defeats are the ones that turn you into a winner.
I use the term “winner” only as a way to make a point. Winning can take on various forms, it doesn’t necessarily mean being better than everyone else. I consider achieving a goal the best form of winning there is, and I could still be the worst in the gym but I’d be winning.
I could go on and on with examples, but you get the point—hopefully.
The key is to be objective. That’s really all there is to it. Yes, I got fired from my job, or yes, I was submitted during the last round of Jiu-Jitsu. Those things did happen; do not try to convince yourself that they didn’t, because that only brings up an entirely new set of issues. But that doesn’t inherently make the things that happened “bad.” You want to look at what you can take from the experience. A lot of times you’re told to just “look on the bright side” and this is often misinterpreted by both sides. People sometimes say, “Sure, you lost your job, but at least you’re not homeless and hungry, just look on the bright side.” This doesn’t mean anything. I mean that literally. The next time someone says that to you, just let it slip through one ear and out the other.
Looking on the bright side is a great exercise for practicing gratitude, but that’s not how it works. The only thing hearing that will bring you is shame (if you let it).
So what can you take from the experience?
There’s always something to be learned from the things that happen to us. Sometimes it’s as clear as the light of day. You get in a car accident because you were texting, so you’re supposed to stop texting and focus on the task at hand. But other times it can be more complicated to really make the mindset work, and that’s when it really matters. Like losing your job.
Keep in mind that there are always exceptions. Like most rules, this one sometimes simply doesn’t not apply. My point is not to convince you literally that bad days do not exist, but rather that it is up to you to decide whether or not you frame them as such.
- If something sounds like an advertisement or a company’s slogan, it’s probably bullshit.
- Objectivity is key.
- Don’t pretend things didn’t happen; recognize them.
- “Bad” days are really only opportunities for us to learn from.