Did you have a good day today? Or a bad day? If you had a “good” day, there’s a fair chance that you didn’t even notice it. But if you had a bad day, you may even still be thinking about it. The interesting thing about good and bad days though, is that there’s really no such thing.
As a recovering addict, I consider myself to be something of an expert on good and bad days. For a long time, I had plenty of both, and often on the same day! Some days would start horribly – perhaps because of a brain-splitting hangover – and then I’d dig into the day’s activities, and things would be okay. And then later, I’d meet up with friends for drinks (and perhaps more), and things would get really GREAT for a while. A few years ago, I decided to step off that little merry-go-round though, and since then, have sort of made it a goal to have a lot of good days. I’m getting better at it, and ironically one of the biggest reasons is that I’m becoming more and more convinced that there’s no such thing. Let me explain.
Think of two of your friends. There’s a good chance you have one who is a little more easygoing and doesn’t get stressed out easily, and one who seems to flip out at the most minor frustration. Now put them both in a similar scenario. They wake up late one morning because their alarm doesn’t go off. They immediately try to call work to explain why they’re late, and drop their cell phone, sending the battery skidding across the kitchen floor. In the ensuing frantic moments, as they fumble to put the phone back together, they spill coffee on themselves as they rush to get dressed. And then, just for good measure, let’s say shortly after that, they get in their car and it doesn’t start.
At this point, there are two distinct reactions a person could be having. On one hand, a person might be well into a frustrated rage or panic that will take hours to subside. On the other hand, a person may have started laughing at the absurdity of it all around the point where the coffee was spilled.
Which one of these people is more like you? If you’re inclined to experience the scenario I described as the beginning of a “bad day,” I’d urge you to re-examine things. First of all, on a simple, scientific, and rational basis. Books like Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day and Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long both use narrative scenarios to support their explanations for what’s really going on when you’re “having a bad day.” The former focuses a lot on the physical science behind things, the latter, more on the brain and cognition. The fact is, we have so many cognitive biases to choose from, that we may as well do just that – CHOOSE THEM!
I needed a refresher in this recently, and ran across two audio books that I’ve found useful. I sort of half-listen to them while I work. One was recommended by a long-time friend. A very motivated, practical guy who – as well as being a lawyer – runs a martial arts studio, and is acknowledged worldwide for his mastery of the style of Japanese swordsmanship to which he has devoted much if his study. The book is Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
I’ve focused on the audio version. A key concept that Chopra emphasizes which I find useful is that we tend to place ourselves in an object-oriented reality, forgetting that we are literally, physically continuous with our physical reality, and that all the divisions we create are largely arbitrary. Remaining more aware of this helps me feel less at odds with things and events around me. I mean crikey. I’M PART OF THEM! He also talks about our perception of time, and the benefits of operating in the present.
Along the same lines, I grudgingly gave Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (again, the audio version) a whirl. As long as you don’t find his diction or occasional meanderings into slightly woo-woo realms of thought off putting, he offers some remarkable and simple insights into the absurdity of some of our common perceptions of time and and expectations of ourselves and reality. He reminded me that I don’t have an ego, an ego has me. But the fact is, it doesn’t need to be this complicated. We don’t need to wade through hundreds of pages of books and hours of audio. Because there are simple tools for achieving a more present-centered and acceptable life.
One of them – the “serenity prayer” – gets a bad rap because of its religious overtones, so I’m going to share a deconstructed version below. This single tool has prevented more bad days than I can count, because it reminds me of the two most essential elements of having a good day: living in the present, and working with or accepting events instead of battling them. Let’s have a little fun with this. My deconstruction is below.
First of all, the serenity prayer itself, often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Okay. Before I do my own deconstruction, let’s observe how much it resembles a mother Goose rhyme from 1695:
For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
And here’s how I re-frame it to make it not only palatable to myself, but quite useful.
“God grant me the serenity”
Let’s stop right there. I do coincidentally believe in God in a way that I won’t go into here, but I don’t necessarily find this grant-seeking useful here. So I change it to:
“Whoa. Chill out for a moment”
Okay, now I can think about what to do next:
“to accept the things I cannot change”
Still not crazy about the wording, but now that I’ve slowed down for a moment, I ask myself “wow, can I really do anything about this right now? If I can, I do. If I can’t, I put it in my little “to review” box for later consideration, and let it go for the moment. And then…
“the courage to change the things I can”
If I really need to, I just buck up a little and remind myself that whatever it is I’m contending with, it’s highly unlikely that it’s insurmountable.
And lastly, that bit where it goes:
“and the wisdom to know the difference”
Well, just by slowing down and re-assessing, I’ve already exercised some wisdom. I let it all go, knowing that if I made an unwise decision, it’ll come and bite me in the ass and I can do this all over again.So here’s my version:
Whoa, chill out for a minute. Time out!
Can I fix this right now? Cool. Let’s do it.
No? Okay, let’s take care of this as soon as we can.
We’ve done the best thing we can do for now, which is identified it for review. Let’s move on.
Damn, I’m havin’ a good day!