There is nothing personal about a bad day

I live a life of relative peace. I have no personal adversaries, no ongoing conflicts, and I don’t go looking for them. I have reached this place in my life because I’ve made a point of erring on the side of peace and remaining neutral in all of my affairs.

Although my life is nice now, this comes about from decades of personal introspection. And it all started with the notion and ultimate conviction that if I want to be happy, I have to change myself first.

From time to time, I might have what some people call a “bad day”. Stuff goes wrong like, I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas, my car doesn’t start or, God forbid, my Internet Service Provider decides to take a brief vacation. Some might call that a bad day, but I don’t take it personally when things go awry.

Murphy’s Law says that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Well, if that were true, then if everything went wrong right here, right now, I’d be dead. There is so much that can go wrong in a living organism, isn’t there? But I’m still filtering air and water as I write this. Even on a bad — I mean, difficult — day, a ton of things have gone right, but most people focus on the bad parts. And they take it personally.

While it is true that I’ve had some very difficult and trying days in the past, I avoid casting judgment upon them. I don’t call them good or bad days. I find that casting judgment on a day makes that day only the more difficult to bear. On the other hand, I have even seen the tendency in myself to take credit for a good day, when the reality is, most of what happened that day isn’t really my fault.

I usually rise before the sun and my day starts. The disposition of the sun is completely beyond my control. If the sun doesn’t rise, well, I can say that I’m having a bad day if I want to. But there is a certain implication about bad days. Bad days are about me. Bad days are for me. Bad days are my fault, just for being alive. I don’t buy into that implication because I don’t pass judgment on my days. I have no power over people, places and things, and my days are one of those things.

I can recall a day when I was standing at the counter in some supermarket talking with the attendant and she says, “Oh, what a beautiful baby daughter you have there!” In response, I’d smile and say, “It’s not my fault.” Really, it wasn’t a conscious decision. Babies are born cute for evolutionary reasons and so many other factors beyond my control. Yes, it’s a good thing she’s cute, for that ensures her survival. But I only played a tiny part in her cuteness. The rest is up to mother nature.

Groundhog Day

I am reminded of an old movie, “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Spoiler alert!!! This is the story of a man who gets trapped in the same day over and over again. At first he hates it. He’s mean to everyone. He hurts people. He tries to stop the cycle by killing himself. Over and over. Nothing works.

So he tries to make the best of it. He begins to see that at every moment of that day, he can make choices and so he starts to experiment with it. In the process of learning how to make each day a little better, he falls in love with a woman he sees everyday, literally.

Murray’s character was faced with the same day over and over again. He had a choice to make it a good day or a bad day, for himself and everyone else. In the end, he decided to make it a good day, every day. Mind you, he was working within his sphere of influence and eventually he came to know everything that would happen that day, since it repeated over and over again. He was graced with the memory of how each day passed, so he made a choice to improve himself every day as long as he was going to be stuck there.

There were extras on the original DVD, including an interview with Harold Ramis the director of the movie. Ramis explains in the interview that the original story had Murray’s character living through the same day for 10,000 days, but since the story was adapted for a movie, they had to shorten it up a bit. If you haven’t seen that movie, see it. It’s well worth the time.

But think about that. You’re stuck in the same day, over and over again for 10,000 days. That’s about 27 years. If you knew what was going to happen and you could change your response to the day with each repeat, and everyone else was the same day after day, could you still have a bad day? Wouldn’t you try to make every day a good day?

Everyone I know in my life gets the same treatment from me. I keep my side of the street as clean as I can. I don’t fire back, for they might be giants. I tread lightly wherever I walk and talk. I close doors gently, I don’t raise my voice except for imminent danger, I don’t break things in anger. I let the feeling pass before I act. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The universe is a reflection of everything that I am thinking and feeling right now. I get to choose what I think and feel because every day is Groundhog Day. I choose to err on the side of peace. I have chosen a way of life to make every day a peaceful day.

Everyone is a customer, everyone has a manager

From time to time, I find myself confronted with irritating, I mean…irritated people. I see that they’re having a bad day and I’m a handy target. They might even dig at me with a really short comment and then apologize, “So sorry, man. I’m having a bad day.” I accept the apology and move on. I don’t take it personally because I’m not the one having a bad day. I just remind myself that the person on the other end lacked the capacity to do better and that’s OK. That’s not a judgment, that’s just an observation.

My day job is customer service. I work with customers who want the job done right and I do my best to make sure that happens for them. When I’m working with customers, I make the assumption that every customer contact I deal with has a manager. They want to look good to their manager, and their manager’s manager and so on. My job is to make them look good. I don’t even worry about looking good myself. I am only concerned with everyone else, for I know that if they look good, I look good.

Even if I make a mistake I air it out and make sure that there are enough brains and eyes on the mistake to get it fixed promptly. And when I make a mistake I don’t call it a bad day. I don’t make excuses, but I don’t let myself get mired in judgment, either. Judgment is a trap that will only make the day worse. Leave the judgment about the day to others more qualified, and turn it into a challenge. That’s what I do.

When I fall flat on a difficult day, I acknowledge that I did not have the capacity to respond adaptively to the demands of my day. I make no judgment about my capacity to respond. I just admit that I may need to make improvements. What kind of improvements? I need to gin up my skills. I may need to read a book, watch a howto video, or consult an experienced friend or professional for guidance. There is always help out there. Somebody somewhere knows more about “the problem” than me, whatever it may be.

By allowing myself to admit that I lack the capacity to respond to certain demands on me, I am not judging myself or my day. When I say that I am having a “bad day”, what am I implying? I am implying that I’m not good enough since every day is the same in a relative way. So I just say that I’m having a difficult day, that way there is no moral judgment. Judgment assumes that I could do better when I couldn’t. In this small way, I can have compassion for myself.

“The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.” That’s a lyric from the song Time, by Pink Floyd. From time to time, I think of that song. Every day is pretty much the same for me. I rise. I write. I exercise. I do something spiritual. I shower. I greet my family as they rise. I go to work or we share the day together. I/we come home and break some bread. Then we prepare for sleep. I live a life of relative peace because of a hundred or a thousand decisions I’ve made each day to hold my tongue and let the feelings pass before acting. Or, I’ve already accepted the day as a challenge and make a decision not to pass judgment on anyone or anything. At all.

Routines are the antidote to decision fatigue

Many of us have a routine we follow. We have routines because every decision requires energy to complete, test and remember for use later in similar situations. Routines enable us to use our experience to order our day into simple tasks that work well for us. Routines help us to have better days by relying upon past experience.

Since every decision requires energy to process, routines help us to avoid decision fatigue — and I kid you not, decision fatigue is real. We see it in our kids when they’re toddlers. They play all day and although they have freedom to do what they want (within the confines of parental supervision), everything they do springs from a decision. Every decision requires energy. And when they get cranky and tired, even though they’ve been having fun all day, we get this: “I’m not tired, Mommy. I just have poor judgment.”

The same is true of adults. Most of us make decisions free of supervision all day. We have certain rules we follow. Some rules are imposed by others like our culture, our workplace or even our customers. But most of the time, we’re free-range chickens. We’re fine when it’s bright and early, and we have a routine for the morning to follow. Then we think we can improvise on at least some parts of the day, you know, to give us a sense that we are exercising free will.

By day’s end, we’re whacked and we want to wind down. Instead of trying to decide what to do, we follow a night-time routine to help us wind it down. We change clothes for night, read a book or watch something online, brush our teeth and go to sleep. Whatever we do for the evening, there is usually a routine so that we don’t have to think about it. We just do it and kaput!, we’re asleep.

Leave judgment at the door and have a good time

Most human suffering is caused by humans wanting other people to be different than they are. Removing the judgment, and accepting responsibility only for what is within our sphere of influence can help to mitigate much suffering. But I find that the biggest gift of all, is knowing that I never have to take anything personally again. When someone else is having a difficult day, I don’t assume that it’s my fault. That way of thinking allows me to have compassion and offer help.

When I’m having a difficult day, I can more easily ask for help by relinquishing the need to judge myself. Without judgment in play, I can consider the difficulty of my day in the context of my capacity to respond, rather than my motivation to have a better day. Everyone is motivated to have a good day. Not everyone has the skills or capacity to make the day better when things aren’t going their way.

Most of the time, I’m just an observer, watching my day go by. I’m not completely passive, but I’m more interested in observing than judging. In this state, I’m collecting information about myself and others, to note how we interact. Throughout the day, I check in to see how I feel. If I don’t like the way I feel after I do something, I cut it out and do something else. I repeat that process until I have peace. My days tend to go better that way.

Write on.

Originally published at on September 22, 2017.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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