How snakes and ladders can help you conquer bad days

A very elderly neighbour used to say: “There’s always tomorrow, and if there isn’t, it won’t matter anyway.” It’s a fatalistic view of any bad day, but think of the truth behind it; that everything passes, even your bad day. But what do you do in the midst of it? Don’t be helpless, for a start. Our 15 life hacks will help you towards greater optimism. Ready to fight back? There, you’re probably feeling better already!

Face it; life is like the yin and yang of a game of snakes and ladders. Some days you’re getting ahead by climbing up the ladders, and on others you’re sliding down the snakes.

Once you realise that a bad day isn’t for ever, but will eventually pass just as the good ones do, you’re on the way to overcoming the downbeat feeling delivered by a bad or snake day – and our list of 15 life hacks will give you even more of a lift to put you back on track towards your next ladder day.

Sure, there are bad days and really bad days, with the latter group including those awful life milestones like the loss of a loved one or the diagnosis of a really bad disease, and we don’t want to minimise the effect of those – but even then, when things seem at their darkest, our hacks might help, even if it’s only a little.

1. See the bigger picture. OK, today’s bad, but it doesn’t mean that everything in your life’s bad. What about the special people around you, like life partners your children, or even your dog. They’ll always be pleased to see you. What’s more, just because today’s a bad day doesn’t mean yesterday was, or that tomorrow has to be too – unless you decide that it’s going to be. Find some positives; rejoice in them and plan to do them again.

Simplify your life2. Get some perspective. You have a home, a talent, maybe even a job. How much worse would today’s bad day be if you didn’t have those things? Be proud of what you’ve achieved, and try not to be hard on yourself. Are you good at what you do? Bet your life you are. Go shout it to yourself in a mirror.

3. Build a praise file. In the early days of email, whenever someone thanked a colleague for his input, he’d always ask them to pop it onto an email, printing out and filing the note when it arrived. When things went wrong, or someone challenged his work, he’d get the file out and say: “All of these are thanking me for a job well done. Have you got a file like this?”

4. Help someone else. Doing a good turn doesn’t have to cost you anything, and will take hardly any time at all. A random act of kindness will release endorphins into your body, triggering a positive feeling. (And who knows, you could lift someone else’s bad day at the same time).

5. Curse the bus. When you’re having a bad day, be careful whom you tell. Having a good yell at the bus in front or the world in general won’t hurt, but no individual wants to hear you grumbling. They may be having a bad day of their own, and really don’t want to hear about yours – especially if you’re in the habit of sharing such information. They’ll start to avoid you.

6. Walk in the woods. This opportunity is denied lots of city dwellers, but anyone with access to a bit of woodland can put things in perspective by walking amongst, and touching the trees. Think about this: they were there long before your problem, and they’ll be there long after it’s resolved. Even city dwellers can find a tree or two, and they can have a calming effect.

7. Sing loudly. Who cares if you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, and don’t know the words? Turn the radio volume up, and belt out some classic tune. Dance along with it too. Can’t dance? Who cares what people think? Do it anyway; it’s your bad day and yours to deal with as you see fit – and no doubt better for them than having their ears bent by your grumbling.

8. Exercise. Not necessarily a violent workout, but a good brisk walk in the fresh air will work wonders. On the other hand, pull on some boxing gloves and set yourself against the punchbag; imagination is a powerful thing, and who knows who could be in your head as you crash in flurries of hooks, jabs and uppercuts. Any form of exercise will help you dispel frustration, and release endorphins to improve your mood.

9. Put the kettle on. Good traditional English advice, especially if your mug bears the text: “Where there is tea, there is hope.”

10. Breathe deeply. Long, deep breaths are good, and help to dull the stress response. While you’re doing that, take yourself back to Tip 1, and think about that for a few minutes.

11. Find something to smile about. OK, you might not feel like laughing on a bad day, but even when things are bad, someone will be pleased to see you. There’s a story about the man who told a friend he never knew who was most pleased to see him when he got home – his wife or his dog. His friend suggested shutting both in the boot of his car, waiting five minutes, and letting them out. “Then you’ll find who’s most pleased to see you,” he said… (But don’t go shutting anyone in the boot of a car; it’s intended to be a funny story, not practical advice).

12. Remember Desiderata. Max Ehrmann’s poem includes the line ‘be gentle with yourself’. Self-criticism is no bad thing, but only if it’s balanced with self-praise. Ehrmann also wrote, in the same poem, ‘Be careful, strive to be happy.’

13. Try some bad language. You must be careful about what you say and to whom, but taking yourself to one side and uttering a few profanities can have a strangely calming effect. It’s one of Dame Helen Mirren’s regrets, shared with the New York Daily News that she didn’t tell people to ‘f off’ more often earlier in her life. She’s quoted as having said: “I love the fact that girls are so much more confident and outspoken than my generation were.”

14. Don’t take it personally. Scarlett O’Hara didn’t, in the 1939 film Life Hack TricksGone With The Wind, when she said: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It’s the same as saying ‘it’s not the end of the World’, highlighted by the other line from the same film: “Tomorrow is another day”; another day in which you can try again, and which might turn out to be the best ladder day you’ve ever had.

15. And finally. Let’s leave the last word to our blogger Stuart Pearcey, who always told his children: “It’ll be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end.” They say it back to him now, apparently…

Picture: Panita Saripongse via Dreamstime