How to turn a bad day around (even if it’s 8 pm)

Want to turn around a bad day? It's possible! Even if it's 8 pm! Click through for ideas about how to get back on track, no matter what happened this morning.

Have you ever played that super fun game called “Well I Already Screwed Up So I Might As Well Really Lean Into This Mess”?

I bet you have. I spent most of my twenties and my early thirties playing this game several times a month! Here are the rules:

  • Set some unrealistic expectations for yourself
  • Do something slightly out of bounds
  • Throw your hands up in despair, decide this day is a waste, and you’ll start over tomorrow
  • Double down and spend the rest of the day doing dumb, self-defeating things

Ate three donuts for breakfast? Welp, I guess I might as well eat this whole pizza and wash it down with a tube of cookie dough!

Missed that deadline? Today is officially dedicated to blowing things off, watching my entire Netflix queue, and ignoring my inbox.

Since I started the day by gossiping about my coworker’s divorce, I’ll throw myself headlong into some celebrity gossip and then I’ll call my best friend and complain about my partner for 45 minutes!

How do you get back on track? How do you turn a bad day around? My answer is going to sound suspiciously easy and succinct. I’m telling you anyway.  No matter what happened during the day, you can spend 10 minutes at night setting it right.

How to turn a bad day around

If you spent all day talking trash, waxing negative, and snarkily gossiping

  • Drop an email to a friend, telling them what you like about them
  • Give your partner, roommate, or child a sincere compliment
  • Ask your partner, roommate, or child to give you a sincere compliment
  • Make a list of your annoying coworker’s positive traits (even if it’s just “always brings great breakroom snacks”)
  • Send a text to that person you were snarking with and say “Oooof! I really unloaded today! I’ll keep it more positive from here on out.”
  • Review your smile file

If you procrastinated, avoided work you know you should be doing, and were generally problematically unproductive

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes and reply to as many emails as you can
  • Update your LinkedIn profile
  • Invite a friend or colleague for a mutually beneficial brain-picking phone call
  • Clean off your desk – bus the coffee cups, wipe things down, throw away the pens that don’t work
  • Organize your desktop (even if a lot of it goes into a folder called “Misc Imp.”)
  • Follow ten industry leaders on social media
  • Spend just 10 minutes working on that project you’ve been avoiding

If you went a bit wild at the mall and spent more than you can afford

  • Double check that you’ve invoiced all your clients 
  • Take a photo and write a listing for that thing you’ve been meaning to sell on Craigslist 
  • Check your bank statement and make sure Centurylink hasn’t raised the price again
  • Pack lunch for tomorrow so you don’t have to buy it
  • Print out your bank and credit card statements so you can do the highlighter exercise I teach in my free More Money, More Happy bootcamp
  • Dig out all those gift cards you haven’t used so you can spend ‘em next time you feel like treating yourself
  • Use those expired Groupons; you can apply the face value of the Groupon towards a purchase at that business

If you spent all day eating and drinking in a way that’s unhealthy for you and makes you feel bad in the long run

  • Drink two giant glasses of water
  • Eat some raw vegetables 
  • Lay out a healthy breakfast for the morning and pack a lunch that will make you feel great
  • Take a shower and put yourself to bed at a reasonable time
  • Give yourself and your body five kind, honest compliments

Why this works

It gets us away from all-or-nothing thinking

Every time we commit to ending a bad day in the same shitty manner we began it, we’re reinforcing the belief that this is “how it goes.” We’re making it more likely that next time things go off the rails, we’ll behave in exactly the same way.

But when we commit to righting our ship and truing our wheels – even if it’s just for 10 minutes at the very end of the day! – we’re reminding ourselves that change is possible. When we put in the effort to turn things around, we start to break the “in for a penny, in for a pound” mentality that one mistake deserves another.

We remember that life isn’t all or nothing; this morning’s decision doesn’t have to be tonight’s mistake.

It reminds us that most ‘mistakes’ are correctable

Obviously, one person’s “mistake” is another person’s “I did this joyfully and with intention.” (I’m talking about my careful, considered decision to watch 45 minutes of Kesha music videos, to be clear.) But regardless of what your “mistake” looks like, it’s easy to allow it to ruin your mood and steer your day.

It doesn’t need to be like that! When we put in the time and effort to get ourselves back on track, we’re teaching our pesky, obstinate brains that mistakes are correctable and that we’re in control of our lives.

Just because I watched 45 minutes of Kesha videos in the middle of my work day, doesn’t mean I can’t finish that big project this afternoon. If you made a choice you didn’t like this morning, there’s no rule that you have to repeat it for the rest of the day. Click To Tweet

It sets us up for success tomorrow

Taking tiny steps towards the good things in life – supportive relationships, a healthy body, a fulfilling career – is one of the big secrets to getting what you want.

And you can take tiny steps no matter how the rest of your day went! Even if you took 15 steps in a not-particularly-awesome direction today, you can still take two tiny steps towards what you want.

Think of it as planting seeds for your future self. No matter how the rest of the day went, we are all capable of ending it on a high note. Your Tomorrow Self will thank you.

I want to hear from you! How do you turn bad days around? Tell us in the comments so we can learn from you!

P.S. ‘Better’ probably takes less time than you think + How to not give up on your goals when you ‘screw up’

Photo by averie woodard on Unsplash

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  1. Stephanie

    My problem days are usually me being generally unproductive, so I try to do something that’s productive, even if it’s just doing the dishes. It’s not much, but it makes me feel a tiny bit better.

    I try to prevent those days by actually using my to do list. It’s fun crossing things off.

  2. Sheila

    I often have some success with doing a quick mindfulness meditation when a bad day is happening: I stop ruminating on the negativity and just allow myself to just “be”. I look at my surroundings and notice the slant of light playing across the picture on the wall, I inhale deeply and note the remnants of my favourite perfume on my scarf, I feel the softness of my sweater on my arm . . . After a few moments of this I find a smile on my face, a ping of gratitude in my chest, and I plan something to look forward to in the immediate future – stopping for a favourite beverage on the way home, watching a favourite show, going for an unplanned walk in a wooded park near home, calling an upbeat friend and making plans for lunch tomorrow, etc. You get the idea!

  3. Lizzie

    Love, love, love this. My version of needing to turn a day around involves going full speed all day, not doing anything to decompress, and only thinking about the next thing I need to do. The tiny reset that works for me is stopping where I am for just a moment and taking several deep breaths, which I likely haven’t done all day. Kind of like Sheila’s mindfulness meditation idea. It won’t fix everything but it’ll slow the descent into chaos.

  4. Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    Sometimes I’ll try and get what I can done in the little time I have left, but sometimes I’ll just write out a checklist of what I need to tackle the following day so I know I won’t wake up and procrastinate again. It makes me sleep a bit better!

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

  5. Tangerine Meg

    I adore the concept of Tomorrow Self and try to think forwards to her appreciating the actions of Today Self as much as I can!

  6. Rishi

    Awesome blog post. Whenever I’m in bad mood or stressed throughout the day. I love to party after 8pm and drink with friends. Friends are the real laughter, they make you happy and stay healthy..

  7. kristin

    thank you for this post. i think the key is breaking the cycle, like you said, and especially cutting off the guilt and shame. it already happened – no sense dwelling on it. take one step in a positive direction. 80s music playlists also help 🙂

  8. Julie Friedman

    There are some great suggestions here. I will definitely be referring to this when I’m having a bad day.

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