Everyone gets down in the dumps sometimes. We’ve all been there. Maybe you didn’t quite crush that presentation like you’d hoped, or you spilled coffee all over yourself before walking out the door, or it’s just a classic wrong-side-of-the-bed morning. While bad days are unavoidable, the things that we tell ourselves about these bad days are up to us — and our thoughts are more powerful than we might think.
According to the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Aaron Beck, our thoughts about a situation impact our emotions more so than the situation itself. For example, take that presentation where you didn’t feel that you did your best. While a first impulse may be to mentally check off all the possible ways it could have gone better, stepping back and changing your perspective can make a big difference. Here are a few mental tricks that can help you reframe that not-so-great event in your day.
1. Remember the gray areas
It can be easy to consider situations in extremes, and this “all-or-nothing” thinking can convince us that everything is either 100% or 0% with no in between. For example, maybe you missed a morning workout. You may believe if you’re not crushing it at a 6 a.m. HIIT class (if that’s how you normally roll), it must be a bad morning. In reality, there’s a whole spectrum of ways to respond to a less-than-ideal situation. For example, maybe you didn’t make enough time to hustle to that studio, but you can still crush a 20-minute video workout that could leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Even if it’s not perfect, embracing those nuances can be empowering.
2. Toss out “should”
This one little word sneaks into everyone’s vocabulary from time to time. Maybe you’ve been through a breakup and thought “I shouldn’t feel so strongly about this” or scrolled through social media thinking “I should be doing more exciting things on the weekends.” Instead of motivating us, this type of thinking actually just brings us down by comparing where we are now with unrealistic expectations of ourselves that we feel we must meet. We’re all guilty of this. However, tossing out “should” can do wonders for self-acceptance. Next time you catch a case of “should,” try stepping back and asking yourself if there’s another way to see things.
3. Embrace being wrong
We’ve all heard some variation of the colloquialism “learn from your mistakes,” but no one ever said that process is fun. However, psychologist Carol Dweck, who coined the term “growth mindset,” would say that embracing failure instead of avoiding it is a helpful asset throughout our lives that allows us to grow and develop. According to Dweck, having a growth mindset makes it easier to develop new interests. Ever found yourself wishing that you had more creative hobbies or that you could gather the courage to take that coding boot camp at work? Embracing the possibility of being wrong, learning from experiences, and cultivating the growth mindset is a great place to start. To read more about this, check out Dweck’s book “Mindset.”
4. Shift your focus
Ever felt beat by the “negativity bias blues”? We all have. Psychologists such as John Cacioppo (PhD) have said that our brain naturally reacts more strongly to information it deems negative. This may have been ingrained for a while as a survival instinct (it’s probably more important to notice a bear approaching than the nice landscape), but it still affects us now. For example, let’s say you had a job interview that went smoothly, but there was one question that you stumbled over. It’s so easy to spend all day thinking about that one moment where you weren’t so confident. But what about your impressive resume that wowed the interviewers? Or when you aced that scenario question? When you notice yourself dwelling on the negative, try to remind yourself of the positive things too. They’re always there, you just might need a little self-reminder!
5. Write it out
Think back to the diary you kept as a teenager. It may have been full of worries about growing up, school and friends, but perhaps the process of journaling was a helpful outlet for you to express yourself without judgment. If you keep a journal today — that’s awesome! There’s plenty of evidence suggesting that journaling reduces stress, boosts your mood and regulates your emotions. Who doesn’t need that as an adult? Next time you’re having a down day, or even just one where you feel like you’re going through the motions, try taking a moment to write it out. Even just jotting down a few things you’re grateful for could really make a difference in your positive thinking.
Whether negative or positive, our thoughts are hugely influential on our emotional well-being. If you find yourself in a spiral of self-criticism, try taking a moment to challenge those thoughts, remember the positive and recognize that perceived failures are often not as catastrophic as they appear. When we engage too much with self-deprecation, we can more readily experience anxiety, depression and stress. However, by repeating new, more encouraging messages to ourselves, our outlook can become more holistic and positive. You may surprise yourself with how different the same day can look with a new perspective.