Growing up, one of my favorite books to read was “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. I loved reading it because
A. I thought it was funny all the little stuff that drove him crazy through the day and B. here was a kid who could relate to me having bad days. When parents brushed off my complaining and frustration for the outcome of the day, this kid got me. Alexander understood. I was not alone in my feelings.
For those who have never read the story here is a brief synopsis for you.
Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair. He then trips on a skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink. He has now determined at this point that within the first few minutes of waking up that this is going to be indeed, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and wants to move far away to Australia to avoid horrible days (in the end he learns Australia will also have bad days). His day gets worse in his eyes when he is squashed in the middle seat of the car, told he is no longer a best friend, can’t get the shoes he wants, has a cavity, gets all muddy, and must eat lima beans. The list goes on, but you get the picture. He believed nothing good came from his day. He started the day with the mindset of having to survive a terrible day and as a result, every little thing that happened, he deemed as terrible or horrible. He was so fixated on the terrible that he failed to see anything positive. Take his cavity for example. Sure, he was the only one out of his siblings that had a cavity and having a cavity seems like a horrible thing, but he more than likely will get to miss some school one day to get it filled. And as a kid, everybody wants to miss school.
I used to be like Alexander. I would grasp at survival through the day when one tiny issue threw me off kilter. I’d resort to unhealthy coping, negative mindset, and avoiding any reflection on the day. If I had a bad day, I had a bad day, and I found it useless to try and find any good within the not-so-great. I refused to change the course of my day and attempt to have a better day. But drowning in the negative can be exhausting, unattractive, and even more of a burden.
This past week has been stressful, long, busy, and composed of moments with little room for breath. There were moments I felt like the weight of my stress would overtake me, and I would resort back to my unhealthy coping. All I wanted to do was run through that drive-thru and grab that large fries or cheeseburger. There were moments (not going to lie, like writing this blog) that drew out frustration, moments that exhibited fear and anxiety, moments that attempted to break me down. In these moments I caught myself saying, “Man, I could use a drink…or two…or several after today.” And I could have chosen to give in to my former behaviors, but then I was reminded why I don’t want to do that.
On Saturday I cracked a joke to a friend about “surviving” the day; I reevaluated that statement because I don’t want to just survive my days anymore. Don’t live with the mindset that the activities and life you choose to fill your day with are draining and inconvenient. Why do we want to fill our day with things that we deem as things that need surviving? I don’t want to do that; I want to thrive. So, I remembered how hard I’ve worked to get to the place I am when it comes to being successful, happy, and thriving. I could have chosen to respond to all these moments how I used to—go through that drive-thru, grab that drink, sit mindlessly in front of the tv, seek out affirmation and reassurance from people that weren’t healthy for me, but all that results from those options is an instant and temporary relief. Eventually, usually the next day, my negativity would just reemerge. Instead, I try to focus on the 3 behaviors I incorporated into my daily routine to have positive days even in the midst of stress and uncertainty.
- Clear your mind and prepare for the day: The snooze button used to be my best friend. I’d set my alarm with every intention of getting up early, so I wouldn’t have to rush getting ready for work, but most days I’d wait until the very last possible minute to get out of bed. Because I had created a life that left me miserable, broken, and angry, I didn’t want to have to face the day. (No wonder I tended to gravitate towards accepting daily negative influencers instead of positive.) So, snooze it was. This usually led to me rushing out my door, with breakfast in hand, leaving no time to process how my day would go. Most of my days I tended to focus on every little negative situation, comment, and mishap. My mind incapable of letting that go resulted in a lot of negative attitude towards my life, towards my people, towards myself. Each day was on repeat. Get up. Focus on negative. Expect a terrible day. I couldn’t get out of this cycle. However, I discovered that when I take the time to sit down in the morning processing and planning out my day, when the minor bumps hit, I tend to be ready for them. I started the habit of waking up earlier to sit and plan out my day, clear my mind of any predetermined negative notions for the day, and find time for something positive in my busy day. When we discipline ourselves to wake up early to clear our minds and prep the day, we can find clarity in those small moments that might try and hinder us otherwise. We won’t let one tiny mishap of spilled coffee on our blouse or clocking into work 2 minutes late define the rest of our day. Instead of a time loop of negative days, we can have successful, thriving days.
- Find healthy ways to cope with the stress of a busy or terrible day: Being an individual with an unhealthy relationship with food, my coping with stress or terrible days always involved food. Stressed going from one activity to another, it was simple and easy for me to hop in line at the drive-thru and get a “snack” that usually ended up being more than a meal. It was easy for me to sit down on my couch after a horrible day with an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s, devouring the whole container in no time. I’d “survive” my week then partake in alcohol to release the tension, frustration, and anxiety the week had offered me. The temporary relief from all these responses still left me feeling guilty, ashamed, and disappointed because I tried to heal toxicity with more toxicity. This is not going to make your terrible day better. If you tell yourself prior to indulging in your coping mechanism that you really shouldn’t resort to that because it isn’t healthy for you, that should be your sign that it’s not the best way to respond to the horrible day. Instead find ways to make the terrible day better with healthier options. On my horrible days, I make working out a priority and pack healthier snack options so I am not tempted to regress in my eating habits. Coping with busy and terrible days with unhealthy options is only going to drive the negativity in that day. How will the day be better if coping with it is an inhibitor as well?
- Reflect at the end of the day: If you haven’t realized at this point, I am a huge supporter of self-reflection and processing to become more self-aware to live your best life. I’ve started reflecting at the end of my day to find positive moments that I might have passed by because I was too focused on the negative. Turns out I can discover a lot more positive moments from my supposedly bad days than I thought I could. Saturday was one of those days. Since my way of reflecting is through journaling, I made a list. I made a list because already swarming in my head was the list of not-so-great things that had happened that day, negative emotions I was feeling, and the possibilities for another bad day on Sunday. I created “What Saturday Gave Me” with only positive statements to release my other lists. Had I focused on the little mishaps and issues throughout the day, I would have failed to see how much I laughed that day. I would have missed the beautiful driving weather for October. I wouldn’t have been able to fully listen to a friend speaking about his passion or embrace the gratitude of coworkers. The day is too short to focus on the things that stress us out or agitate us. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already wasted too much time doing that. I’d rather focus on those that build me up. The moment you bring light to something positive, the bad seems to drift away. Give power to the good. I cannot emphasis enough how much reflecting on my days has provided me with insight on how to address difficult days like that in my future. Maybe journaling isn’t your thing but find a way to reflect on your day and find ways to grow. Reflecting keeps me grounded in my convictions to lead a fit, healthy, and happy life.
In most situations, especially when it came to conflict or issues with my relationships with others, I tended to lead my response with the “victim mentality”. I would respond and create a mindset for myself that everything else in the universe was to blame. I was the victim. I was wronged. It was not fair. I was not responsible. Just like Alexander and his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Everything was happening to him, but he didn’t try to change it or look at it with a different perspective. Here’s the thing, sure we might not be fully responsible for some of the situations that happen in stressful and horrible days, but we are responsible for how we choose to react to those moments. My reactions should be from a growth standpoint, from a thriving standpoint. If my reactions are based on a victim mentality, I am not thriving, I am not growing, and I am not learning. When our responses only focus on the negative and finding ways to survive that, we can’t see anything positive, even when it is trying to creep into our sight. At the end of the day, you don’t want to go to sleep with the negativity of a bad day looming over you. Reflect on your reactions and responses, and if they aren’t from a thriving mentality, change it.