The Potential of Bad Days

Good days may not always provide the opportunity to show how good you are at your job. It is a well-handled bad day that could show your full potential and value.

We all have bad days. Horrible days when nothing goes as planned, and every worst-case scenario seems to be happening at the same time. As lyrics to a popular song by John Mayer goes, ‘bad news never has good timing’.

While all that is true, what is also worth thinking about is the bad days are also wonderful opportunities.

Bad days have the potential to be turned into a very good day.

Opportunities? Bad to good? How?

What is so opportunistic about that sale going to the rival company? What is so good about multiple clients giving ultimatums? What is so good about all tech glitches during important presentations? What is so great about multiple crises happening on the same day?

As a blogpost by Farnam Street points out- you are only as good as your worst day.

It is very easy to be calm, collected and feel like you have made it in life when things are going well. It is only during the times of crises, big or small that you truly get to display your skills, competence and experience. It is only during one of those days when you truly learn how much you can handle, how much pressure you can take and the incredible potential you have to overcome any obstacle.

Those bad days are the days when all the skills and wisdom you have developed over the years come in handy. On smooth sailing days, we are mostly on the autopilot mode, and in a way end up doing very monotonous and ordinary work. The bad days shake things up and force us to up the game.

Take for example this article by a writer on Medium. She was in the middle of an important presentation when the projector decided to give up. Technical glitches are out of our control at times, and can bog and demoralise even the most prepared speakers. What did this person do? She had to show some charts and graphs about quarterly profits. So, while she did the talking and added some humour in the situation by simply acknowledging the bane of a technology-dependent existence, she passed on her laptop to everyone, and by the end of her ‘presentation’, everyone had a personal view of the profits ‘thanks’ to the glitch.

It was the glitch that enabled her to be resourceful, use her wit and deliver. A smooth sailing presentation would have enabled her to simply show the quarterly profits and how good she was at her job. The glitch enabled her to show how she is not only good at her job, but how she is also good at handling unpredictable situations, how resourceful she can be and how quick-thinking she is. All those soft skills that must have been listed on the resume got their live demonstration and justification, right there.

Horrible days are not only great opportunities to showcase your true full potential and find lessons for ourselves, but also times when a shared humanity is on display, leading to lessons for others as well.   

Take for example someone, say, a fresher who may have been sitting in the audience of this person who handled the projector issue well. By acknowledging and overcoming the issue, the presenter not only showed her skills, but also showed that it is very human to encounter these issues, and there is nothing that can’t be figured out. This must have been an important lesson for the fresher, and the presenter must have proven to be a good role model. As we say, the best way to teach someone something is to model that behaviour ourselves.

It is also the worst days that enable us to value ourselves more. When we end up being productive on a day when we thought it would be impossible for us to be productive, we gain a new sense of self-respect anda rise in self-esteem. We realise what we are capable of.

So, the next time you realise that you are having one of those days, instead of getting bogged down in a pit of resentment and frustration, consider it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Consider it as an opportunity to explore the depths of your potential, resilience, and resourcefulness. Consider it as an opportunity to renew your self-belief. You might be pleasantly surprised.

How Dealing with Difficulties is Easier than Thinking about them

Accepting the reality of difficulties, and taking it one moment at a time can be a better strategy to deal with it than thinking about it constantly.

The past few years have taught us two crucial lessons which balance out each other in a harmonious way. Lesson one being: things can definitely take a turn for the worse, and the immediate lesson two being: we are resilient and stronger than we think.

Whether we are dealing with global events, or day-to-day situations at work, it is worth keeping in mind that thinking about a difficulty gives us a harder time than actually living through the difficulty. That is not to say that personal and collective losses, difficulties shouldn’t be taken seriously or that they don’t impact. The gist is that dwelling on a difficulty takes a greater toll on us than accepting the reality and doing something about it. Consider these scenarios.

-A candidate seems to have ghosted on an offer and now you are wondering how you are going to undertake the process all over again, and what are you going to tell your client! Now what?

-The person who was supposed to be your flat-mate has suddenly cancelled and now you are left with the burden of paying the entire rent. You can’t stop thinking about what you are going to do and how you are going to manage with your time of financial crunch. Having the flat-mate was part of the plan to share the burden in the first place! Now what?

-Your workload seems to be increasing progressively through the week, you don’t ever see it reducing. Plus, a colleague has fallen sick, and their part of the workload is soon going to fall on you as well. As if your own workload wasn’t overwhelming you enough! Now what?

We can go on with endless scenarios of this sort. In situations of uncertainty and difficulty, dwelling on those situations is almost never something that makes things better. Instead, what can be done is to:

Accept the reality: We are often living on edge about perceived negativity of a situations. We often feel like something truly horrible cannot ever happen to us. The truth is, it can. Situations can turn horrible and uncertain. But that is part of being a human, and we are all gifted with resilience. The sooner we accept the reality, the sooner that resilience can come to surface.

Be kind to yourself: Perhaps you think it is because of you that something went wrong. Maybe you didn’t communicate well enough, or you were a poor judge of something. Maybe yes, maybe no. Only hindsight can give us answers to such dilemmas. Whether something was your fault or not, it is worth reminding yourself that it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them. While holding yourself up to a high standard and work-ethic is a good practice, being accountable and the best version of yourself should overlap with being kind to yourself.

Take the present, one moment at a time: On the other spectrum of dwelling on what has happened, is thinking about the future (often the worse-case scenario). Living in the present, practicing mindfulness is the key here to finding the solutions. As uncertainties and difficult times fall upon us, it makes sense to pause, and think only about what the immediate next step should be. The rest, we do not know. Step one, step two. Step three and four would soon unfold and we would eventually know how step five looks like. We don’t know it yet, but we would. Soon. The beauty of living in the present, and embracing that we don’t know is that step ten might surprise us pleasantly!

Difficult people, difficult situations, uncertain times and exasperating times of ‘oh here we go again’ might follow us wherever we go. But the key lies in adapting a growth-mindset. Meaning? To embrace that reality, have a willingness to learn and grow, and to take it one moment at a time, knowing that we don’t know. Knowing that living through a difficult situation is a lot easier than thinking about it.

Align Your Actions to How the World Works…

….and the world will do the work for you!

Question! What is that one tiny but major, basic but elusive secret to being a happy, successful, level-headed professional and human being?

Answer: According to research and this article by Farnam Street, it’s by working with keeping the basic principles of how the world functions in mind, and aligning one’s actions in that direction. Now that might sound confusing, generic and somewhat vague. Let us delve deeper into this.

Universal Principles:

 We will start by taking a very general example. We have all heard truisms like ‘health is wealth’ since ages. We know being healthy is a basic step to living a good life- everything else comes secondary. We know that without good health, we can’t enjoy the fruits of our labour. And yet, if we were to be honest with ourselves, how many times do we neglect our health in the day-to-day life? We forgo little chances of leading a healthy life. We scroll endlessly on our phones late into the night, or decide to keep the homecooked lunch on the side and opt for that vadapav.

Or consider waiting. Investments, be it financial or personal, take time to show results. We must wait a bit. We know this. But do we have the patience or willingness to wait?

Or how kindness leads to kindness, and fire leads to more fire.

Do you find yourself thinking of similar universal principles? Think principles around return of investments, savings, compounding, effort-reward, reciprocity of actions and so on.

Our peculiarity as human beings is that we tend to ignore these basic universal principles a lot of times. We know that we are ignoring, but we continue to ignore, and sometimes only follow them when we are forced to.

No one is an exception to these rules. Everyone needs to put in effort to live a healthy life. Everyone needs to wait for their investments to come to fruition. Everyone needs to put in effort to maintain and improve the status quo, whether we are talking about our professional or personal life. There are no exceptions to these universal principles of effort and returns.

Instead of aligning our actions to these universal principles, we tend to steer away from them, even when we know it’s not a good idea.

Where the Magic Lies:

The magic of universal principles and sticking to them is that once we start aligning our actions to them, the world will do the work for you.

All you need to do is align your actions to these universal principles. Nothing complicated. Whenever confusion arises, all we need to do is remind ourselves of these universal principles and align our actions to those, the rest would just be noise.

Nervous about an interview? Just think about the universal principle of effort and returns, and work on it accordingly. The rest will fall into place.

Confused how to approach a supposedly difficult client? Just think about the universal principle of reciprocity of behaviour, and approach them with a behaviour that you’d want them to reciprocate. The rest will figure itself out.

Wondering why a project seems stuck? Just think if you have waited long enough for the investment to show, and if you have waited long enough, think about the alignment that we talked about in our older article about working hard easily.  

One could also think about this in micro terms. Consider your office or field of work as a world. How does this world work? What are some ‘principles’ that seem to be embedded in its functioning? Find those out, and align your actions to those principles, and chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised by how perfectly and easily it all fits.

‘Alignment’ is the word to keep in mind. As we align our actions to how the world (and the multiple ‘worlds’ we inhabit) works, and stay true to ourselves, the world will do its magic for you.

Lessons in Prioritising and Persistence

Seemingly obvious prioritising choices can take a backseat as our quest for something to ‘show’ takes the priority. Read on.

You have been asked to train a monkey to sing and dance on stage. We know, it is highly unlikely someone is ever going to ask you to do this, but let’s just pretend for a few minutes. Hypothetically.

What is the first thing that you will prioritise? Obviously, the monkey, right?

While this is an obvious answer, it could happen that you also want to make the stage look nice and spectacular. So, you spend some time building and decorating the stage. In fact, you spend a lot of time building and decorating the stage.

While building and decorating the stage seems like a silly thing to prioritise and you are pretty sure that the major chunk of energy and priority will go to the monkey to be trained, human nature suggests otherwise. Teaching a monkey how to sing and dance on a stage can teach us a lesson or two.

A common peculiarity seen in most of us is that we like to have something concrete. A tangible result is what we aim for. As this article which acted as an inspiration for our write-up points out, we like to have something to ‘show’. Building and decorating the stage is a much easier task than training a monkey to sing. It is also a result that will be visible more quickly; it will be more noticeable. It’s a faster to achieve job.

We often end up engaging in a similar error in prioritising our tasks. We also end up doing something similar to our larger goals and dreams. We want to have something concrete to show. Having something concrete to show is a practical strategy, of course. But we also want to have that concrete thing now. That is where we tend to lose focus from the bigger picture, and we end up over-prioritising things that can are easier to do and will take less time. When the audience comes, we want the monkey to be able to sing. A well-built and well-decorated stage makes no sense if there’s no performer there. A false sense of working hard might set in. Harder work is to wait for the results to show.

We will go back to training our monkey now. Training the monkey to sing and dance will be difficult. It will cost one patience. More time, more energy, more skills to be developed, more training required on our part. (I mean, most of us aren’t equipped with the skills to train animals, forget teaching them to sing and dance, right?)

Again, something difficult often requires more time and effort, but just because a concrete result isn’t there yet, doesn’t mean that there is no result in progress. Learning something difficult, prioritising something difficult could mean that we may not have much or anything to show for some time. Skills take time to develop. Behind one single achievement, there could be months and years of work. A performance might be fun and enjoyable to everyone else, but the one who has trained and the one who has been trained have put in immense work, invisible to everyone else.

So, the next time you want to think about your priorities, think if you need to focus on training the monkey or decorating the stage. The next time you feel frustrated in a project, think if you are frustrated because you haven’t found something concrete, or frustrated about the time it is taking to ‘show’ something. It takes both, prioritising and persistence.

A Little Stress can make you More Productive

Most of the times we are told about stress and its downfalls. By now we know the kind of risks and diseases that a chronically stressed lifestyle can lead to, thanks to the tons of coverage about how stress is bad. But what if stress could be used in a good way? What if we told you that there’s a good kind of stress too. Read on.

Psychology calls it the ‘eustress’. Eustress is the kind of a positive stress one feels and something that can propel us to do a job well. How does the good kind of stress help us?

Gives the Push:

The good kind of stress can push us out of procrastination. Often, we do really good work around deadlines because the push of the stress makes us come up with really good workable ideas. We may wonder why we do our best work when there’s an outside pressure and the reason is that the outside pressure works as the ‘good stress’ that makes us get up and do the work needed. Say for example, a little nervousness, just a little, can lead to a good meeting as the nervousness will ensure we try our best, instead of taking it lightly and not giving our best. 

Being stress-free all the time can lead to stagnation:

While we are encouraged to live in a stress-free state and chronic stress should definitely be avoided, living on the other spectrum of absolutely no stress is not only unrealistic but also not very feasible. Some ‘tension’ is a good thing. Feeling a sense of lack, or feeling a sense that there is more to be achieved is a good thing. It ensures we don’t remain stagnant and continue to find ways to move forward. Or think of it this way: things that are just lying around, not looked after, not stressed after gather up dust. That little stress is needed to brush up the dust.

The little inkling of stress that we are not living up to certain expectations, whether our own or someone else’s ensures we assess our situation and options. If the little stress compels us to invest in a side business, or that little tension that we may fall behind lets us undertake upskilling tasks, then that little stress, the little tension is a good thing, isn’t it?

Being stressed means that we care:

And caring about something is a great quality to have. Again, only if we care about something, whether it is our finances, our career, our family or our personal growth, will we be stressed out about it, and we will take steps to make things better. Or else, it leads to, as we mentioned before, stagnation. The opposite of care is apathy, and apathy not only leads to insensitivity towards our fellow human beings but also a sense of pessimism. ‘Why bother about things, they have always been like this’ isn’t an attitude that can lead to progress, industriousness and the urge to make things better in our own way.

Being stressed is a sign that we care, and instead of running away from the stress, or sweeping it under the carpet all the time, it might lead to something good. Whether it’s a push to come up with great ideas, or the push to change one’s life for the better, one step at a time.