Your mom may have told you once that "bad days" only happen because of your "bad attitude". As Steve Schwartz (via Lifehacker) discovered, psychology backs her up!
After he and his girlfriend had two bad days in a row, he did a little research and found:
1. Our brains process the gobs of information we receive by categorizing and drawing conclusions from them. As a result, we can draw the wrong conclusion from certain events. For example, I could drop a bowl of cereal in my lap first thing in the morning, and I can (falsely) conclude, "Oh, geez, this is a sign that I am going to have a bad day".
People tend to like to believe in "bad luck" so they don't have to feel like negative consequences are the result of their actions. The person becomes a "victim" of random cosmic events instead. In the cereal example, believing in bad luck takes away my responsibility in the mess (ie. maybe if I ate at the table instead of at the couch, it wouldn't have spilled so easily)!
Once a person "decides" that the day is "ruined" and it's out of his or her control, the day is much more likely to go badly, according to Schwartz.
2. People's expectations directly affect their reality. This is commonly known as the "placebo effect". In studies where patients were given a fake pain killer, for example, researchers found that "the brain regions that interpret pain actually show far less activity when subjects have lowered expectations for the pain they will experience."
This is a double whammy now - first you've given up control of your day to "bad fate" and then, since your expectations are so low, you're more likely to see and feel bad things happening, when otherwise the day might look quite average from any other point of view.
3. Knowing this, bad days can be nipped in the bud! Schwartz offers the following tips:
-- Reflect on the negative feeling you have right now. Is it stress? Anxiety? What caused it? Once you've labeled it, do not think about the feeling or events anymore. Move on and only refer back to the label if necessary. Matthew Lieberman, an associate professor at UCLA, has shown that the simple act of putting our feelings into a word or two can dramatically reduce the effect of those feelings.-- Re-evaluate the situation or events that lead to this stress. Find some conceivable positive outcome. Figure out why [it happened], and you're left with a powerful experience from the school of hard knocks, which you can use to your advantage in the future.-- Remember that the outcome of the previous minute is not indicative of the outcome of the next minute. Likewise, the last hour has no bearing on the next hour, and this morning is no indication of what this afternoon will bring.
For more details on the science behind these findings and how to reset your brain, read Steve's blog entry here.