Cheryl’s day was not beginning as planned. She forgot to set her alarm, and so she and her husband who always relied on her to get up first were both late for work. On top of that, their dog had diarrhea on their bedroom floor. She thought “Of course! This always happens to me!” She hurriedly got into her car and looked at the time; only five minutes behind. At a stop light, she grabbed her coffee travel mug and as she took a drink, the lid she forgot to screw on fell off and coffee spilled all over her shirt, pants and phone. At this point, she let some choice words fly and declared this to be a bad day. She had only been up for 25 minutes and had at least 16 hours left.
She arrived at work late and stomped into her supervisor’s office to explain her tardiness. She summed it up with “I guess this is just one of those bad days”.
He leaned forward with a cryptic smile and responded “Do you even know how to have a really bad day?”
Cheryl responded “Uh . . . no. But I sense you are going to tell me.”
“I’ll tell you.” He replied. “You have to recognize what you usually do to make it worse and do that as much as you can. For instance, take your negative thoughts very seriously. What was the first thought you had about the bad things that have happened today? Something like ‘this always happens’?”
“Yes! How did you know?” she asked.
“Because we all do that.” He said. “We catastrophize and engage in all or nothing thinking. We tend to let discrete negative events become themes and we connect them all together. If we did that with positive events, we’d all be able to say ‘what a charmed life I live!’, but we don’t do that.”
“Oh!” Cheryl jumped in “I also think it won’t get better, and I think ‘If only I set my alarm’ or ‘It’s my husband’s fault for feeding the dog his leftovers’. I also compare myself and think ‘This never happens to Susan’. Wow, I guess I do know how to have a bad day!”
“No, you don’t.” Cheryl’s supervisor said. “You know how to let your bad day have you. Are you interested in learning how to have a bad day and like it?”
“I bet you’re going to tell me.” Cheryl replied.
“I’ll tell you.” He said. “STOP it”.
Cheryl stared at her supervisor and repeated “Stop it?”
“Yes.” He said. “Slow down, Take note, Open up, and Pursue your values. S.T.O.P. Slow down and take some calming breaths. Take note of what is happening in the present moment. Open up by labeling what is happening and how you feel about it. Give yourself permission not to like it. I mean, who would like waking up to dog diarrhea on your carpeted floor? You are not alone in not liking that. Next, Pursue your values. What kind of person do you want to be? The kind of person we want to be is almost always possible regardless of circumstances.”
Cheryl brightened and said “Hey that’s good stuff. Any more ‘sage advice’ before I go?”
“Yes” He continued. “Don’t take yourself too seriously. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. Put it all in perspective. Will you remember what you got so upset about this morning one year from now?”
“Probably not.” Cheryl laughed. “Thanks boss.”