The Bad Day – Motivation & Enthusiasm

By | July 22, 2009

Yesterday was very strange.

Do you ever have those days where you just can’t get anything done? Where all of the things you know are important just seem silly and pointless? Where a Herculean effort is required even to force yourself to put your laundry away?

Of course you do. Everyone has bad days. If you don’t, please comment and tell me your secret.

The thing is, there wasn’t anything actually wrong yesterday. I was in palpably good humour, the weather was pleasant, and nothing went particularly wrong, with the exception of me leaving my gym gear at home, thus being unable to go to Kung Fu practice, my last chance of salvaging the day.

OK. So I get that bad days sometimes happen. But here’s the weird thing. When I finally went to bed late that night, I picked up my notebook and started thinking about the things I needed to do the next day. As I looked over the notes for my various projects, the scrawled to-do lists, and the barely legible Awesome Plans, I felt enthusiastic, organized, and in control. “Huh, that’s funny. I guess the bad day is over”, I thought to myself. “Maybe tomorrow will be better”. A few minutes later though, I got to thinking back on the day, idly wondering which of my many tasks I could have got done had I been less out of it. Those same tasks, which had seemed interesting and important a few minutes ago, suddenly become lackluster, and even painful to contemplate, merely by me having placed them in the context of the bad day.

While I’m sure this has happened to me before, this time I noticed it clearly, and had the presence of mind to play with it a little. By switching back and forth, I could discern that framing tasks in the context of the bad day made them awful, while framing them in the context of the next day made them seem exciting. It was like there was some unholy taint associated with the bad day that spread to anything I contemplated, and even though this was all in the past and there was no way I could make myself perform those tasks in that context, they still felt horrid!

This makes no sense!!

The perception that a day is bad doesn’t seem like it should affect my perception so much. But moreso, I never thought I could manipulate my own enthusiasm and motivation in such a way. Of course, this was a special case – while I could try to avoid thinking of things within a negatively loaded context like this, I don’t really grasp yet how I could use this to positively motivate myself. The experience has opened my eyes to this as a possibility, however.

For the moment, then, the lesson I’m taking is that context plays a much larger role than I ever realized in determining the desirability of things.

Just another way in which we humans aren’t entirely rational, I guess.