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7 Simple but Effective Strategies to Get You Through a Bad Day

Ever have a bad day?

Of course you do. You’re human.

As much as you don’t like days like that (does anybody?) they’re inevitable in leadership.

Someone sends you an email that sets you off.

A crisis hijacks the day you were going to spend getting a project done.

Unexpected bad news pours in.

You experience conflict with a teammate.

You simply woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

It happens.

When I began in leadership, days like that often cost me more deeply than they had to.

I would sometimes say things I regretted.

I occasionally took my frustrations out on people around me.

My family suffered if I came home and allowed my mood to ruin the atmosphere.

In fact, when I look around me, I see too many leaders who let bad days undermine their leadership again and again.

When leaders allow their moods to ricochet through the organization, a bad day can lead to several bad days for others. It can foster conflict among team members. And it can jeopardize their home life.

So how do you deal with a bad day?

Here are seven strategies I’ve adopted that can help with a bad day.

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1. Ask yourself: What would an emotionally intelligent person do? 

Emotional intelligence is all about developing a self-awareness of how your attitudes and actions impact others and leveraging that to further the team and others.

As Daniel Goleman points out in his classic book, Emotional Intelligence, emotionally intelligent people rarely let their state of mind bring others down. They’ve developed behaviours that compensate for their emotional state so they don’t drag other people down with them.

So quite literally, on my worst day, I ask myself “What would an emotionally intelligent person do?”

I imagine what they would do, then I do everything I can to do it.

Try it. It works.

2. Don’t act on your emotions

Emotionally intelligent people don’t act on their negative emotions.

Those who lack self-awareness in the moment will.

It’s a mistake.

You’ll say things you regret. You’ll do things you’ll wish you could take back.

So when you’re having a bad day, don’t act on your emotions. Don’t do anything stupid.

Don’t let anyone ‘have it’ because you’re in a bad mood.

If the worst thing that happens on a bad day is that you have some angry thoughts, at least they remained thoughts and refrained from becoming actions.

3. Don’t make any significant decisions

Actions are one thing. Decisions are another.

The worst time to make decisions is when you’re upset or feeling down. Your emotions will lead you to decide things you’ll regret.

So just decide not to decide anything that day.  

Here’s the rule I’ve adopted in life in and leadership when I’m in a bad space: Don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions.

Think about how many stupid decisions you could have avoided. The vows you might have never made. The bridges that would still be intact and burn-free.

Don’t make tomorrow’s decisions based on today’s emotions.

4. Divert to accomplish a short term win

Chances are good that you can accomplish something positive, even if you don’t feel like it. Do something mundane like cleaning out your inbox. Organize a drawer. Get some routine work done.

While your head may not be in the right space to slay any big dragons, divert yourself to something manageable so you can find at least one or two short term wins.

You still need to earn your keep on a bad day.

If you’re still struggling, go for a walk or a run or a quick bike ride. The physical change can provoke a mental shift that can also rescue your day.

5. Confide and pray

You should tell somebody about your bad day. But tell the right person. Your emotions will probably lead you to want to tell the wrong person.

Talk to a close friend or your spouse (appropriately). Bottom line: talk to someone who is willing to help you and pray for you.

And pray about it yourself.

My prayer on bad days sometimes is as simple as “God, this is your church. You got me into this. Get me through this. Help me to see my part in all this.” That’s a decent prayer to pray on a bad day.

Bad days get worse on their own. They get better with friends.

6. Call it a day

If you’re having a really bad day, call it a day, early.

Staring at a blinking cursor doesn’t help anybody.

You may have to put a few more hours in later in the week but it’s worth it. If I’m struggling, I’ll often just pack it in and start early the next day. Often, I’ll accomplish far more in two great hours than I would have in four hours on a day when I was struggling.

Feel guilty about leaving early? If you have the freedom to set your own hours, don’t. Often leaders will think of value in terms of the hours they put in. This is a mistake.

Don’t judge your work by the hours you put in, but by the output you produce.

If you can produce a better outcome the next day, do it.

6. Get a great night’s sleep.

Don’t dismiss this. Sleep is so important.

Go to bed early. Shoot for 8 hours. You will feel so much better in the morning.

Watch what happens to your emotions when you sleep for eight hours. They get healthier. 

You’ll be much better positioned to deal with lingering issues when you’re well rested. And chances are your funk will disappear.

Sleep is the secret leadership weapon no one wants to talk about.

Naturally, if your bad day becomes a bad week or a bad season, you may have something else going on. I blogged about getting through bad seasons and burnout here.

What helps you get through a bad day? What doesn’t?

Let me know in the comments.

7 Simple but Effective Strategies to Get You Through a Bad Day

5 Comments

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  3. Kevin on August 20, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    Carey, thanks for the posting. Not to be unkind in anyway, but where does the gospel come into play here? I think practical steps help, but I think the article fell short of “real help” when we all have our bad days.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 22, 2016 at 10:51 am

      Kevin…thanks for this. Love the heart behind it. I generally assume that people are praying and reading Scripture and have tried the ‘usual’ Christian responses. My blog provides additional strategies for when people are still stuck. You’re right, the Gospel is the foundation for all and for this blog too. If I talked about it all the time, every post when be the same. 🙂

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