So you've woken up feeling awful. Here's one thing you can try. . .

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Emotional Explorers! Graham here. This issue:

How to handle a bad day

So. You’ve woken up feeling really awful.

And yet, there are things to do. People to avoid. Plans to wish you hadn’t foolishly made in a fit of past optimism.

Maybe there’s a reason for how you’re feeling.

Or maybe there's no particular reason (or at least nothing new). You just feel awful, and the fact that there’s no obvious cause only serves to further entrench the feeling.


So then. What do you do with yourself on a day like this?

First order of business, how bad is it?

There are bad days, and then there are bad days.

There are days when your insides feel like they are literally on fire at the mere thought of leaving the house. Then there are days when you simply feel like a crab without its shell -- tender, soft, but hopefully capable of getting on with your usual plans, as long as you can wrap yourself up in your usual protective pieces.

(Noise canceling headphones. A particularly floofy jacket. That cap I wear with increasing regularity lately that means I don’t have to do my hair.)

Somehow, this cap helps me face the world. Also I just started drinking coffee again and HOLY HECK HAVE YOU GUYS TRIED COFFEE??!
Once you’ve assessed how bad this particular bad day is - whether clothing choices and caffeine are going to make a dent or miss the mark completely - you’re left with the following question.

Should I push myself? Or take it easy?

We’ve looked at this question once before, when exploring the different big feelings life phases you can find yourself in from month to month. Some months you're in 'pushing yourself' mode - getting outside your comfort zone on the regular. Other months you're in 'taking it easy mode', recovering from all that personal growth.

But bad days can come out of nowhere. They can upset your regular programming.

And to make things even tricker, this stuff is all relative.

If your last month has been pretty good, then one mediocre day can feel like a real kick in the guts. So you may reasonably choose to take it easier than usual that day.

But if you’ve spent the last month feeling like every day is a kick in the guts, ironically you may actually be more ready to deal with yet another mediocre day. Because it's what you've come to expect.

Likewise, if you’ve been taking it easy for a few days in a row, but that shell-less crab feeling hasn’t shifted yet, you may have reached the point where you just have get on with whatever’s on your to do list regardless.

So this question - should I push myself or take it easy? - it’s not an easy one to answer. It depends on where you’re at more generally, and what’s on your plate right now.

What happens when the answer is, “I don’t know”?

Some days you will have an answer to this tricky question. You will know, deep down in your guts, that today is a day to clear the decks. To cancel that work thing and take the dog to the park.

Or you’ll know that no matter how you’re feeling, you can’t cancel that particular thing, so you’ll do it anyway. You’ll dress up in your office drag, and drag yourself to work.

And in each of these scenarios, you kind of know what to do, more or less. The parameters are clear, at least.

But what about when the answer to this perennial question isn’t clear? Should I push myself or take it easy? I dunno. Maybe both?? Is "neither" an option?

So for the purposes of this newsletter, let's assume your answer is somewhere in-between. On a day like that -- not the worst day you’ve had, but far from the best -- I have something you may want to try.

Bodie: 'Is it coffee?'
Me: 'Wait, who's been giving you coffee?? This explains *a lot*.'

A pretty bad day in recent memory

I woke up a few weeks back, feeling awful.

I can’t even remember why. But I can remember how it felt.

Like I had no emotional skin between me and the sharp lines of the world. Like my guts and heart were one clenched fist. Like my soul had emptied out overnight while I’d slept - the plug strewn hastily on the floor.

This was not a ‘tend to my regular to do list’ sort of day.

But neither was it a day to stay home feeling progressively more uncomfortable. I wanted to get up and do something. I just had absolutely no idea what that something might be.

There was nowhere in the world I could imagine wanting to be at this particular moment -- but that included right here where I was lying. So, may as well start moving?

Three big rocks for the day

There’s this idea I really like from Leo Babauta, whose Zen Habits blog offers simple tips on how to plan your life without having to buy a giant filing cabinet and learn how to operate a three-hole punch (just ask Honor about this particular adventure).

Babauta says that each day you should have “three big rocks”. Three things to do that day. If you do these three things, you’ll know it’s been a productive day.

You can always do more than those three things, if you happen to be on a roll. But if they’re the right three things, doing just those three big rocks is enough to call the day a Total Success.

It’s a great system that I’ve found hugely helpful in the past couple of years. When things are going okay, bring on those three big rocks!

But on this pretty bad day I was having? No thank you, not this day. Get those big rocks away from me. They are crushing my soul.


Three little rocks

So on this particular day, I did something slightly different instead.

Instead of three big rocks, I wrote down three little rocks. Pebbles really.

Three things that weren’t at all what I thought I “should” be doing that day. Three things that had nothing to do with my calendar alerts and self-imposed deadlines.

And most importantly, three things that didn’t seem like huge priorities, but still felt meaningful.

Here were my three little rocks for the day

  1. Call my friend who needed help with something

  2. Write and send my mum a birthday card + present

  3. Do my tax return

(Okay so maybe doing my tax return is more of a boulder than a pebble… but we’ll get to that.)

Remember, this wasn’t a total ‘throw my hands up and do nothing’ day. Each of these pebbles still took considerable effort, especially given how I was feeling, but that was kind of the point. And each one took slightly more effort than the one before it, building on the momentum I gained as I went.

To start with, the phone call was unexpected. My friend texted saying ‘if you have a minute, I could use some advice.’ My inside response was ‘not today, I AM FEELING THINGS’, but for some reason I just called him right back. And I ended up being very helpful. Hearing the words of advice come out of my mouth as we spoke I thought ‘huh, this is funny. I don’t *feel* like I have anything useful to offer the world today, and yet here we are.’

Encouraged by that exchange, the birthday card was something I wouldn’t normally do. My mum lives in another country, so I usually would send her something online, and simply ask them to add a little note. I’m usually doing this just a day or two before her birthday (also hi Mum who’s on this mailing list! I’m sure this isn’t new information!)

This year I wanted to do something more personal, so despite my strange nervousness about the postal system (they’re wizards! I don’t trust them!) I decided to pick out a present in an actual shop, and buy a nice card. I spent time writing it out, and posted it. All in less than an hour, right in the middle of this pretty bad day. I was genuinely shocked at my ability to be so efficient while still feeling like a slug with self-esteem issues.

Feeling further encouraged by this unexpected proof that I was, at least for today, a pretty good son, I then decided to sit down and do something I’d been putting off for a month. My tax return.

A tax return? When you’re already feeling awful??

Hear me out. What better day to do something mind-numbingly boring than on a day you already feel shit? Especially when that boring task is one with a clear answer, and a clear and objective end-point. (Unlike almost every other piece of work I ever do.)

Something useful, something kind, and something you’ve been putting off

As the day wore on, I found myself feeling more and more cheered by these little achievements, even though they had nothing to do with what I woke up thinking I should be doing that day.

And I realised I’d stumbled into an interesting template.

My three little rocks fit a pattern of sorts, accidentally designed to gently nudge me out of the ‘I’m an awful human’ spiral I’d woken up with.

Stated more generically, my three little rocks were:

  1. Do something useful (help a friend with something small)

  2. Do something kind (send a heartfelt card to my mum)

  3. Do something I’d been putting off (the dreaded tax return)

In turn, each of these small achievements helped gently challenge the internal monologue that’s usually running through my head on crappy days like these:

  • That I’m not much use to anyone when I feel like this

  • That these big feelings are just another sign of how self-obsessed and cut off from humanity I am

  • That I’m not doing what I’m supposed to, that I’m wasting my own time.

These three little acts didn’t directly address the crappy feelings themselves - whatever thing it was that meant I was having such a bad day in the first place. Instead, these three little rocks simply stopped me feeling crap about feeling crap. They formed a little internal blockade between the overwhelming feelings and the judgements that would normally follow those feelings.

I even managed to get some work done later that day, because I was feeling significantly lighter.

When I went to bed that night, I thought over those three little rocks, and felt oddly satisfied.

Try this yourself, next time you’re having a pretty awful day

Next time you wake up feeling unexpectedly tender, and you can’t decide whether to push yourself or take it easy, feel free to give this a go.

Write down:

  1. One thing you could do to be useful to another human (or animal, or garden-based plant matter)

  2. One random act of kindness (to someone else, or to yourself)

  3. One thing you’ve been putting off (make sure it’s something you can achieve in less than half a day)

Then do those three things.

You’ll need to fit the tasks to whatever time you have available. If you are able to carve out a few hours, you’ll have room for grander gestures, like hand-written cards. If you’re just grabbing short bursts of time between your various unavoidable life responsibilities (including unscheduled but important bouts of crying) that act of kindness might instead be a short text message of appreciation.

I suspect the more time invested, the bigger the payoff, but see how you go. Sometimes something hugely meaningful can take no time at all once you actually do it. Like, say, replying to an email you marked as unread three weeks ago and keep feeling more and more guilty about.

(Not that I would ever do that shut up stop looking at me)

If you try this yourself, let us know!

If you give this a go, we’d *love* to hear what you did.

So we made a lil' three pebbles catcher (aka, "a survey") where you can tell us how you went. Click here (or the button below) to put your pebbles in our catcher!

Put your pebbles in our catcher!
Or simply hit reply and tell me what you did!

Got something else you do on pretty crap days that tends to help? Hit reply and SHARE YOUR SECRETS WITH US!!!

Other stuff

That's all for now folks. If this newsletter gave you The Feels, hit reply and tell us. And you can share it using these wee buttons:


If you have a friend who's having a bad day, you can forward them this email by clicking here! If you are that friend, hi! You can sign up to this fortnightly newsletter here. It's pretty much this, every two weeks.

The Big Feels Club is Honor Eastly and Graham Panther

Yours in feelings,


Copyright © 2019 The Big Feels Club, All rights reserved.

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