Pigeon of Discontent: “It’s Hard For Me To Think Positively.”

Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by those small but pesky Pigeons of Discontent.

This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “It’s hard for me to think positively.”

What about you? Do you have strategies to help yourself stop a cycle of rumination?

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…

Do you fall into the trap of overthinking?

13 tips for dealing with a really lousy day.

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I’ll make a special call for suggestions.

You can check out the archives of videos here.

  • The book give-away continues. If you’d like to win a free copy of Happier at Home, I’m giving away one book each day until publication.Enter your name and email in the sign-up form here, and every day, a name will be picked at random. U.S.Canada, and U.K. only–sorry about that restriction on the give-away.

    If you’re wondering about the book, you can learn more about it here or…

    –-read a sample chapter on the subject of “time” here

    watch the new one-minute book trailer on “Ten ways to be happier at home”

    pre-order the book here (buy early and often!)

  • Jill Q.

    I’m not commenting on this person’s particular situation (b/c I don’t know it!), but sometimes if you are really stuck in negative thinking, it can be a sign of a bigger problem and not a “pigeon of discontent.” There is no shame in getting extra help if you need it. Just a thought I wanted to throw out there. 😉

    • gretchenrubin

      Absolutely, good point. The things I’m talking about are for moments when you know you’re stuck on something that you should let go of. But you’re right, negative emotions like guilt, anger, resentment can be important signals that something isn’t right, and needs closer examination.

      • Lynn

        I have been receiving help for negative emotions, as they have been a family pattern for years, but I appreciate your hands-on ideas as another method to help me move through the days that can be especially diffiicult. I have the hardest time remembering to do for others even though I believe it is absolutely a mood lifter!

    • Rachel

      Thanks. I was thinking the same thing. Sometimes rumination can be extreme enough that it falls into the category of clinical depression or an anxiety disorder.

      • gretchenrubin

        Yes, a very good point.

  • peninith1

    OK. I’m an ‘expert’ on this: I’m a lifelong worrier, and I think I can say I have achieved some level of self control over this nagging, painful problem. I definitely feel that this is more like the myth of the eagle that constantly gnaws at Prometheus’ liver than like a mere pigeon of discontent. It can make your whole life horrible.

    Gretchen’s ideas for self-distraction are great in the daytime. Also, I have learned, every time I start to go down the road of anxious scenarios, to repeat the mantra “YOU DON”T KNOW” about the future. It’s hard to live with not knowing, yet this is the truth, and it is way less destructive of your peace than spending all kinds of effort on imagining the 99,000 worst things that can happen. YOU. DON’T. KNOW.

    Middle of the night? When my now-37 year old son was in his late teens and out goodness knows where doing goodness knows what in the night, I got a Rosary and a leaflet that taught me how to use it. I am not Roman Catholic. But I can tell you that repeating those prayers over and over got me to sleep (eventually) on many a night, and blotted out the horrible car wreck scenes I was playing in my mind. When I began using it, I had to say the whole Rosary three times to calm down and go to sleep. After a while I would drop off after about three prayers. Or just repeat a simple prayer or mantra over and over, bringing your mind back to that every time it wanders.

    In the daytime, doing something absorbing that requires your focus is good. I love to work on a sewing project. Gretchen’s suggestion of watching something funny is ESPECIALLY good–it is in the ‘take the action that is OPPOSITE to the emotion’ category of healing behavior.

    You CAN bring this problem under control. If I did, anyone can.

    • rackb

      Helpful comments – thanks!

  • Alysa Stewart

    I love that you mentioned writing it down, Gretchen. That works so well for me. Last year I kept ruminating on how horrible the winter was going to be (winter is my least favorite season). It just seemed like there were a million reasons this particular one was going to be the worst ever. So, finally, after weeks of occasional but intense rumination, I wrote down absolutely everything I could think of that would make this winter horrible. Turns out I could only think of about a dozen things! What a relief. 🙂

  • This is a great tip, Gretchen! I find that distraction really helps, at least for awhile. I am finding it harder now to find things that truly distract me, though. When I was younger I would always read when I was upset. Somehow immersing myself in another world allowed me to step back from my problems and come back to them refreshed. Now, though, the anxiety is sometimes so bad that I find it hard to even concentrate on reading.

  • Wendy Merron

    Gretchen, I agree, breaking that pattern is the best thing to do in the moment.

    Here is something that might help your reader to know: There is a right way to use positive affirmations, and a WRONG WAY!

    If an affirmation doesn’t feel right, toss it away immediately! It will only make you feel worse. When it feels bad, this means that you have come up against a limiting fear or belief that must be dealt with.

    Instead of using regular affirmations, I use “Powerful Personal Statements” which are always believable.

  • RBO

    “Cycle of rumination” is such a wonderfully apt phrase! (And
    so much more graceful than “cycle of negative thinking,” the catch phrase around our house.) I, too, am one of those Worst Case Scenario worriers,
    reminding myself sometimes of those characters from the Lemony Snicket books
    who warn the children of ridiculously unlikely negative outcomes to be suffered
    as a result of utterly innocuous actions.
    The quick fixes Gretchen offered for breaking a cycle of worrisome
    thoughts work well for me too – except that I can tell Gretchen hasn’t worked
    in the corporate world, because watching
    The Office, far from providing comic relief, awakens ‘Nam-like flashbacks in me, ha ha!

  • Erin

    I can’t get the Greatist link to work. Even when I go to their home page and try to click through to yours, it doesn’t work. But the photo of you on Greatist is fantastic! Really stunning. I really want to know what the Routine is, so hopefully it’ll work for me later.

    • gretchenrubin

      Hmmm. That’s odd. Now it’s not working for me, either. I’ll see if they can fix it.
      Thanks for the kind words about the photo! The mighty Maggie Mason took it. She Is a genius.

  • Rachel

    I do two quite different things. One is to challenge the thought. For example, asking myself what evidence I have for that awful thing that my mind is telling me is going to happen. The other is just to acknowledge the thought and try to refocus on what I’m actually doing at that moment.

  • Karen

    I find music helps me reset my mind (during the day anyway). So, if I’m in the car, stuck in traffic, I turn on some music I can sing to — and sing, really loud :-). If something’s bugging me after work, I stop by the gym and do a 30-minute hard workout to loud music (this one works especially well if I’m annoyed about something and can’t let it go).
    Also, I’ve taken a mindfulness course, and in the middle of the night, I use one of several variations of the “body scan” technique. I just pay very careful attention to each part of my body, starting with my toes and working up (you can find online guides for doing this one to listen to). Or, perhaps I imagine I’m lying on a beach, and slowly being washed away by the incoming tide (again, starting at my toes and working up). This also works well for anxiety during the day. If I’m too tired for the meditation techniques in the middle of the night, I count slowly to 1000 — just give my mind something else to do until I fall asleep. I rarely make it to 1000.

  • kinesita

    Many years ago, I picked up a bumper sticker that read “Don’t believe everything you think!” Very few of us have a problem with “Don’t believe everything you read!” or “Don’t believe everything you hear!” but this little bumper sticker (it’s not on my car, it’s on my desk, front and center) has been a tough and steady reminder of how unreliable and unhelpful our thoughts can be.

    • gretchenrubin

      I LOVE this.

  • Jannine

    I have two ways of dealing with it, I act on it, if it is a person, I contact the person and let them know what I feel (except if I am angry, then I wait three days) it usually puts a stop to the worry/rumination. If it is a thought on any other thing that can not be act on. I acknowledge it and keep doing what I am doing. I am forever grateful Gretchen introduced me to Therese of Lisieux (even though I am catholic I did not hear of her before…shame on me) I read her biography immediately after the Happiness project and this is a quote I have on the wall in front of my sink, every time I do dishes I read it, I am never tired of it, and it has helped me so much with being patience and dealing with rumination. “If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.”

  • rackb

    This was so helpful-I am an expert at over-thinking and I have read
    everything I can find to try to stop the madness of worrying. You
    captured the problem and offered a solution that is concrete. It IS so
    difficult to change the thoughts—your suggestion about changing focus
    is simple and logical, which appeals to my thinking, thinking, thinking
    mind. I can do that. It helped me that you put the key elements all in one place connected with reasons why they help.
    I needed the reminder and maybe the “permission” to just watch a tv
    show. Writing it down is something I’ve done, too, and it helps– and I
    see the reason it helps now: it is taken care of; I often do keep
    ruminating because I’m afraid I’ll miss something and making a record of
    it lets my mind know that it’s being dealt with. In reality, I hardly
    ever need to refer to the notes because it is not my perceived problem
    that is the catastrophe; it is the ruminating and getting trapped in
    that loop and believing thoughts that become increasingly scarey and
    unrealistic, while under the illusion that they are reasonable.
    Stepping away when all my thoughts say to stay, that’s difficult; your
    advice helps me take that step. Thanks!

  • Rochelle

    Dear Gretchen, love your blog and have been a long term subscriber. I am wondering though, if there might be too mentions of the book now. So many of my favourite blogs have become totally focused on plugging books and it seems a pity.

    • gretchenrubin

      I appreciate your kind words and your candor! The book comes out September 4, and this is crunch time, so please bear with me. Many people who visit here come rarely, or this is their first time, and I want to make sure they know about “Happier at Home” (!).

      Promoting isn’t my favorite part of being a writer, but these days, it’s an important part of the job.

      I try to walk the fine line between getting the word out broadly and not driving people crazy.