How to Take Back Control When Your Day Spirals
We all get them.
The days that start by stepping in quicksand and end with a giant piano falling on your head.
I call these Scary Scuba days.
As in, I’ll need a professional Scuba diver to excavate me from the layers of tiny terrible tragedies and repeatedly inconvenient things that have transpired today.
Today I’m going to show you how to not just cope, but emerge victorious on these kind of days.
But first, a bit on my most recent Scary Scuba.
A fresh, thick blanket of snow covers the ground as I prepare to leave for work. The exit from my deck is not salted/paved, but I figured, NBD I have my Sorrels. I also thought it was a good idea to bring my gym bag to work. I’ll just catch the bus. Hindsight.
I struggle down the stairs with my lunchbag, purse, gym back, and big puffy coat. As I close the gate, the bus that I was hoping to catch leaves the stop. The next one arrives in 20 minutes. I decide to walk to the train.
None of the sidewalks are paved so the 10 minute walk is an exercise in how-high-do-I-have-to-lift-my-boot-in-order-to-avoid-tripping. But it’s okay, i’ll get a seat on the train. I always do. All will be well. Hindsight.
Train arrives and there are no empty seats. I stare at a few of the ‘men’ near me, to see if they will give up their seat for the lovely lady with lots of stuff. Nope. At this point my arm is tired from carrying all the bags, so I have no choice but to put them down on the floor of the train… which is coated in a slushy grey paste from everyone’s wet boots. Oh well. Atleast all of the important stuff is protected from the slush. Hindsight.
I approach my stop only to realize that my favorite winter scarf (forest green, beautiful) - which I had taken off and put in my lunch bag - had fallen out during the ride and unto the slushy floor. It is no longer green.
I arrive at my desk and expect my laptop to be present. It had crashed the week prior and the technician assured me that the part would arrive by Friday and he’d have the computer back on my desk Monday morning. Alas, my laptop was still absent.
I try to work on the loaner computer, but it’s missing a key program I need to do my work. I phone the technician and he comes over to install it. The installation is unsuccessful because the computer is too old to receive it. He has to download a ‘package’ to the computer that will make it receptive to the new program. He completes this process and still the program doesn’t open. He returns 45 minutes later with a new loaner. He installs the program, but it’s an older version that doesn’t have some of the features I need. He then has to upgrade it to a newer version.
You get the idea. It was a terrible day.
Usually by this point I’d be one giant ball of steam, which, combined with my occasional diva streak, would create a dramatic and angry ‘mess with me, I dare ya!’ vibe. But not this day. There’s a strategy I’ve been using recently to get me through the Scary Scubas. As a result, I come out at the end of this seemingly nightmarish day emotionally unscared and in surprisingly good spirits. How, you ask? I’ll show you below.
But first, we have to agree (virtual handshake, please!) on what usually happens to us during these types of days. After three or four bad things occur in a row, we get in a mental rut. We don’t think as clearly, we tend to only see the negative, and we’re predisposed to handle things poorly. We’re short tempered and more complain-y then usual. The day is soured and let's face it: it’s hard to recover. It’s as if we are a human magnet for all the bad things in the universe.
Here’s how to break that cycle and arise victorious in the midst of such days.
Think of the first 6 letters of the alphabet. ABCDEF.
Accept that this circumstance is happening to you. Don’t fight it, accept it. Usually when something we don’t like happens, we go right into anger mode (“This circumstance messed with my grand, Citizen Kane plans for the day! How dare it!"). Instead of anger, practice acceptance (“Okay. This is happening right now”).
Take a deep breath. Usually when a few bad things happen in a row, our body clenches up, anticipating the next punch. Our breathing gets short, our body gets tense. Our muscles and organs (like our brain) aren’t getting the steady flow of oxygen they need to operate effectively. Resultantly, our reflexes are poor (we get clumsier) and our brain isn’t as sharp (we make poor choices). This predisposes us to even more bad occurrences. Instead, in these moments of negative circumstance, take deep breaths. Focus on your breath. Your body will calm down, and you’ll feel more in control. Breathing will also prepare you for the next step.
Concentrate on the specific instance
This one is critical. Typically, when a slew of bad things happen in a row, the newest terrible one is seen against the backdrop of all the others. Suddenly, we’re not just battling one soldier; we’re battling an army. And every new occurrence seems like an army not a soldier. Instead we must concentrate on one instance at a time. This removes the mental cloud that tends to form on Scary Scubas. When the third bad thing happens that day, I should just focus on item #3, not also #1 and #2. If it’s just my scarf that fell on the slushy train floor, it’s actually not so bad. One thing can be easily overcome.
Decide what you’re going to do
After focusing the mind on one instance (my scarf fell on the train floor), I then decide what I’m going to do about it. Hmmm.. I’ll put it back in the bag and wash it when I get home. If the slush doesn’t come out, I’ll purchase a new scarf. Now that I have a plan of action, I’m no longer stressed or bothered by this circumstance. My feelings no longer control me.
After deciding how to respond, execute! (‘Stuff the scarf in the bag and walk off the train towards the office’). Put your plan in place and move on with your day. No more dwelling on this circumstance. Full steam ahead. Executing your decision is what puts you back in the driver’s seat. While we can’t choose what circumstance happens to us, we can execute our response to it. Execution gives us agency; agency gives us control.
Focus on any positives.
I have to admit, in the midst of the terrible circumstances of the aforementioned day, there were other moments. Glorious glimmers of kindness in an otherwise no good day. Fred, the security guard, holding the door for me so I didn’t have to reach for my badge. The woman at Walgreens who was extra sweet. Josh, my colleague, asking me if I wanted something from Starbucks. The ‘Bless you’ from 3 cubicles over after I sneezed. When you’re in the midst of a Scary Scuba day, call in the positive-sniffing dogs. Get hyper-attuned to the good things, albeit small, that are happening throughout that day. See them. Savor them. Your mood with be lifted & your outlook refreshed.
There you have it.
The next time you’re in the midst of your own Scary Scuba, remember ABCDEF.
You won’t just survive the day; you’ll come forth as gold.
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