Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dealing with a bad day

We all have them: A client strings you along and then drops a project he or she promised. You do a lot of work on a project and then the higher-ups decide to go a different direction, etc. It's enough to make a self-employed person tear her hair out.

The key is a few things:

1. Adapt the mantra: It's not personal.

It can feel very personal: It effects your work, sometimes it effects your wallet and often it effects your serenity. The only way to make it worse on yourself if you take that moment and use it to feed your monkey mind, the part of you that's always looking for a place to stash your most corrosive negative thoughts.

Now, of course it's normal for it to feel personal, but take good care of yourself by not wallowing in that thought. Every time it comes up again as a personal attack on you or your business, just repeat the mantra: "It's not personal."

2. Check in with yourself.

When I have a bad day, sometimes I'm not capable of checking in with myself until the end of the day, by which time I am so worked up and so reactionary that I'm no fun to be with, even for me. My brain is not a safe place to be in those instances.

The venerable yogi B.K.S. Iyengar in his seminal modern yoga book Light On Yoga writes about his two kinds of anger:

There are two types of anger (krodha), on of which debases the mind while the other leads to spiritual growth. The root of the first is pride, which makes one angry when slighted. The prevents the mind from seeing things in perspective and makes one's judgment defective. The yogi, on the other hand, is angry with himself when his mind stoops low or when all his learning an experience fail to stop him from folly. He is stern with himself when he deals with his own faults, but gentle witht eh faults of others. Gentleness of mind is an attribute of a yoga, whose heart melts at all suffering. In him gentleness for others and firmness for himself goes hand in hand, and in his presence all hostilities are given up.

Sound like a tall order?

It is, if you try to simply will yourself into that state of mind. I'm sure there are many ways of getting to that kind of clarity: prayer, yoga, meditation, etc. But one of the ways that work for me, because I'm a writer, is to write it all down.

The key in Mr. Iyengar's concept of yogic response to anger seems to me to be a few things:

* When you're reacting to others our of pride (i.e., taking things personally) you aren't seeing clearly. So any business decisions you make in the face of such a reactive mind are bound to need correcting later--and bound to send your serenity ricocheting all over the room.

* The yogi's heart "melts at all suffering." What that means to me is that it melts at *your* suffering as well. So his charge to you, I believe, is to find a way to be "firm" with yourself/take responsibility for your part without subjecting yourself to suffering. If you're prone to perfectionism, it's easy to take this edict as a sign that you need to beat yourself up. That's not yogic in my mind because it's full of pride. It's all about you.

So how do you separate pride from firmness? Write it all down: Your fears, your resentments, your beliefs about yourself, and what you can learn from the situation.

Then just sit with it for a bit. The thing about having a bad day is that you can't right it in an hour--at least not in my experience. If something rocks your core or your bottom line, it's going to take time to go through the feelings and feel steady again. Let it be, and continue to work on the work in front of you.

3. Reach out for support.

I write a lot about support in this blog--for good reason. There's nothing worse than gritting your teeth through a bad day and then vomitting all your fear and anxiety and resentments all over your mate when he or she returns home.

We've all been guilty of this, but here's a promise: You don't have to wait till the end of the day to get the support you need. If you set up a system of people who support the sane and serene operation of your business, you can call through that roster until you start to feel a little better. That way, if your partner gets home and he or she had had a bad day, too, you aren't adding to your own or anyone else's stress by forcing that person to be everything for you.

One warning about support, though: It's important to clear out what's your side of the street and what's out of your control before you pick up the phone. Otherwise, you run the risk of simply ramping yourself up and feeling more anxious, fearful and caught by the monkey mind.

No comments: