It's a mystery to me, but there is something about the Perfect Day exercise that utterly stumps my clients. They'll do everything else for me, from handling bags of wet trash to sorting stacks of dusty papers to opening boxes that make them cry. But when I ask them to imagine their version of a perfect day, they can't do it. What do you like best? What do you want the most? What's your idea of fun? Nothing. No idea. It finally occurred to me that maybe we should try a more oblique approach. What's your most imperfect day?
We don't want to call it the Worst Day, obviously, because that brings up connotations of calamity, grief, and disaster. My people have always had plenty of that. In fact, it's far easier for them to imagine horrible things happening than pleasant or kinda okay things. Much less perfect or exhilarating or delightful things!
It's really the difference between pessimism and optimism. It's the indicator of depression and anxiety. Imagining a positive future is extremely difficult from these positions.
As an optimist, I reflexively find the positive spin on everything. I woke up one day at 6 AM, while I was still really tired, but then I looked out my back window and saw an Audubon's Oriole perching in my yard! First and only time in my life, and it was only a few yards away! Then its mate came and flew around! Another exhausted person with a parasomnia disorder might not have bothered to look out the window, or might have seen a brown and yellow bird and not cared. Most people in that situation would definitely have complained about their tiredness for the rest of the day. I am sure I was just as tired as anyone else would have been - but I really, really loved seeing those orioles. It made me feel lucky for waking up too early. If I was going to talk about my morning with anyone, that would have been what I talked about. For me, any day that involves a rare bird sighting is a Perfect Day. Optimism involves looking for the bright side. It also involves curiosity, awe, and wonder.
What did you get out of that story? Crazy birdwatching lady. There were no details in there whatsoever about: what I looked like or what I was wearing. My house, what it looked like, where I lived, or what stuff I had. How much money I had. Who was with me. What kind of car I drove. What job I had. That story was about me loving something that is easily available to most people: observing nature. It was about my EMOTIONAL STATE. Awe, delight, and gratitude. THAT is what makes a Perfect Day.
Okay, now that we've got the spoilers out of the way, let's get back to the Imperfect Day exercise. What makes an imperfect day?
There are so many more negative emotional states than there are positive emotional states!
The thing about the Imperfect Day exercise is that you don't have to imagine something beyond your experience. You don't have to make anything up. My 'Perfect Day' always seems to involve room service breakfast, an infinity pool, and a hot stone massage for some reason, which is bonkers because I've never experienced a single one of those things. BUT, everyone has had an imperfect day. A day when we wish we'd just stayed in bed. A day when we are so miserable we want to change our names and enter the Witness Protection Program just to get away. When was that?
Waking up almost too exhausted to hit Snooze again
Stepping barefoot on something sharp or wet
Realizing you're out of something: coffee, gas, toilet paper
Getting dressed and then immediately spilling on yourself or tearing your tights
Not being able to find your keys, your phone, your shoe
Showing up late to work and getting a dirty look or a comment from someone
Oh my gosh. That's just the morning!
Getting a headache at work
Thinking a bag of microwave popcorn and a diet soda qualifies as a "lunch"
Being too busy to stop and pee
Two hundred emails
Dealing with rude customers, rude coworkers, a mean boss
Feeling resentment, annoyance, discouragement, fear of layoffs
All that before even commuting home.
Having an altercation
Eating cereal for dinner
Feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about everything that needs to be done
Just wanting to escape
Staying up too late trying to get some High Quality Leisure Time.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Problems have solutions. They're not always the solutions we would want, and they're almost never the solutions we would have thought of. Recognizing our problems, though, is the way we know where to start. We have targets. A list of problems can be a to-do list of actions that can make our lives noticeably better - or at least less annoying and disappointing.
Many of us make goals like 'get organized,' not realizing the true transformative power that this has. We think 'get organized' means something like 'put all our stuff in little modular bins' or 'wear a stopwatch around our necks like Flavor Flav.' What it really means is that we learn to think strategically and avoid the most predictably frustrating parts of our daily lives. We look for patterns. We take charge. We spend at least a few minutes every day doing something nice for Future Self.
Dear Tomorrow Me, I stopped after work and filled up the gas tank so you wouldn't have to do it in the morning. I started a shopping list so you'll have something for breakfast and lunch every day this week. I looked at the weather report and laid out something for you to wear to make your morning easier. Have a great day! - Love, Today Me
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.