Why you’re frustrated, confused and stuck plus one fast way to make it better

Updated to Habits, Productivity on June 28, 2023.

Maybe it’s the colder Fall weather or the state of your bank account, but you’re feeling frustrated, confused and stuck. Don’t worry you have lots of company AND there is a way out.

In this post I’ll share one nifty way to get out of a funk, but before I do let’s take a minute to get real.

All modern approaches to positive psychology start with the same thing.

What’s going on?

When you’re in a funk and it seems the universe is conspiring against you (instead of with you as Emerson promised), you need to take a minute to get real with a clear, objective list of what’s working and what isn’t.

I use the plus/delta method.

Fifteen years ago I put on a little conference at Silver Star Mountain in Vernon, BC. At the end, one of the presenters suggested we debrief using his “plus/delta” method.

I’ve used it ever since and it goes like this:


In the left-hand column of a piece of paper make a list of everything that’s working. Maybe your list includes:

  • got out of bed when alarm went off. Check.
  • client sent nice thank you email. Check.
  • meditated for 20 minutes. Check.
  • made appointment to follow up with an enquiry. Check

After five minutes you should have a nice long list. Don’t skip this step—awareness includes recognizing the good stuff.

In the right-hand column make a list of what could be better. I use the Greek symbol “delta” to signify change, as opposed to broken or bad.

This is where you get to go to town:

  • I haven’t had a sale in two weeks. Yup.
  • My last attempt at marketing was a dismal failure. Yup.
  • I haven’t had a workout in three days. Yup.
  • I still haven’t gotten a response to my proposal. Yup.
  • My car is making weird noises, again. Yup.

Whew! Now that you’re thoroughly mired in the muck of disappointment it’s time to move on.

That’s where the trick comes in.

When you switch gears, even for a moment, to what IS working, your energy, feelings, and optimism improve. Duh!

Of course, you knew that right? Cool, you also probably know the chance of you winning on a lottery ticket is like one in 175 million, but you still waste money on them.


In a study led by Richard Petty, Ph.D of Ohio State University, and published in the journal Psychological Science, people were asked to write one thing, positive or negative, about their body. One group was asked to think about what they wrote and then trash the paper.

The other group was asked to check what they wrote for grammar and then keep the paper with them (in their purse or wallet). The people who wrote something positive rated their bodies more favourably than before the test. You might have expected that. The surprise is that if they wrote something positive and then trashed the paper there was no benefit.

“When they threw their thoughts away, they didn’t consider them anymore, whether they were positive or negative,” Petty said.

This experiment was repeated numerous times, including positive or negative thoughts about the Mediterranean diet, which is generally consider good for you. In all cases, whether the subjects wrote their thoughts on paper or in a text document on their computer, the act of writing and keeping positive thoughts led to feeling more positive about the topic.

“At some level, it can sound silly. But we found that it really works—by physically throwing away or protecting your thoughts, you influence how you end up using those thoughts.” Richard Petty, Ph.D, Ohio State University.

The lesson?

When we objectify (write down on paper or create a text document) what is going well – small wins, or positive results – we feel better. In other words, positive thinking ain’t going to cut it (bad news for The Secret fans).

As the authors of the study concluded, in part “…these effects were stronger when the action was performed physically rather than merely imagined.”


To steal a great line from Chicken Soup for the Soul co-author Mark Victor Hansen, “Don’t think it, ink it.” Journaling, making lists, creating text documents and then keeping notes on what’s working will work for you.

It’s easy to fixate on what’s broken – that scratch on your car door, over due bill, or mysterious bulge above your belt. Don’t. That’s primitive wiring and it doesn’t serve you.

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” Willie Nelson

Create your Plus/Delta list, trash the parts you don’t want, and keep the parts that ARE working.

That’s the list you want to keep.