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Go With the Flow of an Unproductive Day

Bad day!

Recently I had one of those days when nothing went smoothly.

The chores I’d planned to do before going to the office were thwarted by unexpected circumstances. Clients didn’t show for appointments. I found myself aimlessly checking for emails that never came. I couldn’t get behind anything on my To-Do List to salvage some productivity out of the day. All in all, the day was a complete dud.

At some point I realized that I was having a frustrating, unproductive, boring, wasted day. It was decision time. In a flow chart, this would be symbolized by a diamond with the words, “What now?” inside it.

As I saw it, I had two choices.

1. Try to push on with a positive attitude, or

2. Go with the flow

Option 1 presented me with the promise of further pain. Putting a positive spin on something you’re experiencing as negative means ignoring your actual feelings. And doing that seemed unkind after the morning I’d had.

I chose Option 2 and decided to go with that day’s “flow.” Of course, to me the day had all the flow and none of the charm of a smelly bog; nothing seemed to be moving, and I kept thinking, ‘This stinks.’ But that’s only because my personal plan for the day conflicted with reality.

The Power of Surrender

Nothing important, enjoyable or satisfying would happen that day; I would feel stuck in it until it was over. I allowed for this possibility while going about doing the things that had to be done. Nothing changed on the outside, but mentally I let go of the need to make the day something other than it was shaping up to be.

I know I’m supposed to be able to shape my own reality, and turn a bad day into a good one. But while I believe whole-heartedly in personal responsibility, I’m not actually omnipotent. If I were, vegetables would taste like candy.

On this particular day, I felt like a small twig being carried along on a big river. So that’s what I decided to be. And in making that decision to act as if I were a twig, I took responsibility for my experience; I chose surrender over struggle.

To Ebb is Human

Call it personal biorhythms, the alignment of the stars or karma; some days are simply not as enjoyable as others, no matter how you slice them. What helps me get through these is to trust in the larger flow of things, and know that better days always follow the worse ones.

There’s a phrase, “ebb and flow,” which refers to the movement of the tide. When it ebbs, it’s on its way out. It’s such a weird word, many people just say the tide “flows in and out.”

It’s worth remembering that Nature’s patterns repeat in all things, including  human lives. We too have our natural ebbs and flows. We don’t need to fear the ebb; it always gives up its hold eventually. Far from being stuck or going backward inexorably, when the tide goes out, it’s just part of the momentum of the whole process, the flow of the tide.

Disappointing days are like that for us, I think. They’re part of the in-and-out, up-and-down flow of our lives.

Once I gave up the need for the bad day to be a good one, my expectations lowered all by themselves.

I had to keep deciding to go with the flow at various points throughout the day in order to remind myself that it was okay. But eventually it was.

A couple of days later I was bursting with ideas and energy, and had an exceptionally productive, enjoyable and satisfying day. It was as if I’d come out of a mini-hibernation. That good day made up for the bad one.

Photo credit: photostock

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Go With the Flow of an Unproductive Day"

  • A. Isabel Spradlin
    October 23, 2012 - 8:47 am Reply

    I LOVE this post! Not just for the stinky, charming bog of it but because it’s so true. I always feel so weary when I try to fight the “bad” days with “good” feelings. I remember the first time I tried surfing, I was almost out of the water and got caught in an impossibly strong tide going back out. I was standing there holding my surfboard and I had this sudden realization that if I tried to take another step toward the shore, I was going to get pulled back into the ocean. So on instinct I bent my knees and ground my feet into the sand below the water and just held on with all my might to where I was – and then when it was suddenly over, I finished the walk back to shore. But what I remember most was the guy standing on the shore who saw me “just standing there” and he knew what was happening (though it looked like nothing) and we laughed together. I guess we all know what it’s like to have to wait it out rather than to fight the tide. . . geez, that turned into a long comment. 🙂

    • Tina Gilbertson
      October 23, 2012 - 10:30 am Reply

      Thanks for sharing this great analogy, Isabel. If we all followed our instincts like you did, we wouldn’t have to suffer so much.

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