Breaking through Chronic Frustration Patterns using Agile Emotional Processing Strategies

If you experience frequent frustration you are likely to also  think of yourself as “impatient” and/or perhaps hooked on “instant gratification”.  If you get intensely frustrated, you might also “have a temper” or explosive frustration.  Chronic frustration can also look like “panic” and can lead to depression and / or procrastination.

Why? because when something frustrates you often, you inadvertently learn to have an avoidance reaction to it.  You learn to avoid it.  When you can’t avoid something that continuously frustrates you, all sort of complex emotions become associated with the person, technology, process or activity that frustrates you.

If you don’t figure out how to shift the situation in some way or change the way you are triggered, you may start feeling like something is “wrong” with you, or with the other person. You may also lose hope for changing the pattern of frustration and give up.  This is what happens when people give up on believing they can:

  • become more organized
  • let go of clutter
  • learn math
  • learn to use a computer, etc.

This article is about sharing how I learned to overcome chronic frustration and have helped my clients do the same.  I define “overcoming” as this:

  •  I am no longer a victim of my own emotions.
  • I am no longer an “emotional hostage”.

I have reduced the Frequency, Intensity and Duration (FID) of my frustration outbursts significantly.

I do not seek to “eliminate” frustration because, after all, frustration can a very valuable and useful emotion. It’s part of my inner alert and warning system.  It lets me know that I need something to change.  Usually it’s my own expectations, standards, beliefs, processes or assumptions that need to adapt to the reality of the current situation.

If something is repeatedly frustrating I now see it as a creative challenge to design the source of the frustration out of my life – which most often means starting with my own perception of the situation.

Here is my attempt to describe the process of how I ship.

1. Become conscious or aware of the automatic or “default” thinking habits and triggers that predictably result in  frustration. For example, one of mine was to have a little tantrum every time my browser or computer crashed. I would get so angry, especially if I lost work.  It often cost me the rest of the entire day and sometimes I would be upset or even become depressed for multiple days.  Instead of just rewriting it like I do now, I would say “why do I even bother?” “what’s the point?” “what a waste of time” I can’t rely on anything.  Why didn’t I save this document? Now I have to do it AGAIN.  I should just use pen and paper.  Etc. etc. Once triggered, it was really difficult for me to recover.

2. Notice the root expectation or “rule” that is not being lived up to. (Frustration can only occur when you have an expectation that is not matching what you are actually experiencing or a rule that is not being followed by someone or something. A “should” thought is a type of “rule.”)

In my case, I was used to the computer working 95% of the time so I had acquired the “expectation” that it “should” always work the way it was “supposed” to.  My hyper-systemizing brain is a natural “rule” maker.  It observes patterns and LOVES to codify the patterns into “rules” based on experience patterns. When harnessed, this is an exceptionally powerful and valuable asset in life. Noticing patterns quickly is a huge asset in solving a problem or discovering a pattern that you can use to improve a situation. The greatest philosophers, inventors, scientists, engineers and programmers have extraordinary systemizing talents.  But without developing the “agility” to use it flexibly, this asset can lead to stubbornness, being very judgmental and critical of self and others, and you guessed, can lead to chronic frustration and anger.

Because I consciously worked on cultivating mental and perceptive agility I become able to notice my own thought patterns.  I learned to challenge my own  ”shoulds” and “rules” and redefine them. I learned to question my own assumptions and design them: that is to update, clarify or shape them into more useful and productive strategies.  I become more comfortable with malfunctions, disappointments, and anything that didn’t live up to my expectations.  In fact, I began to embrace them as opportunities to master the skill of objectivity – being able to see my own patterns without harshly judging myself.  That empowered me to transform my own “stuck” emotions and unwanted behavioral habits much more easily.

One of the marvels of the human brain is that it is capable of becoming aware of it’s own thinking and perception processes.  This is technically called “metacognition” and also “insight” or “mindsight.”   (See Book “Mindsight” by Dan Seigel.)

My belief is that people who have a natural aptitude for cultivating mindsight tend to also have very strong systemizing or even hypersystemizing ability.  They are capable of re-training or re-inventing themselves in ways many people are not.   However, this is a raw talent that must also be cultivated for it to serve you.  Uncultivated and unappreciated, this trait can be a source of great trauma or injury to one’s self-concept.

SIDE BAR: When a person has very strong systemizing traits, it is often accompanied by less strong social skills.  Social skills require a trait called “mentalizing” which I won’t go into depth about right now.  For now, you can think of mentalizing as a key ingredient in being able to get along with people.

 

3.  Look for the Gratitude.  What is there to be grateful for in the situation?  I remember how blessed and lucky I am to be one of the minority of the earth’s population that can take computers, internet service and electricity for granted most of the time.  But nothing works reliably 100% of the time.  When something stops working as expected, I remember how truly spoiled I am that most of the time I’m so used to it working that it’s a shock when it stops!  To me I now call all problems like that “my Luxury problems.” That causes me to completely shift my energy from frustration and anger to gratitude so that I can start using my creative brain to design a work around strategy.

4. Strategize Alternatives – With the emotionally calmer energy provided by gratitude, I have designed new alternatives into the way I think about my computer and how I expect it to function.  This is analogous to how you program a computer to handle exceptions or decision points.  You must design or program subroutines to handle the exceptions.  You can’t just yell at a computer and call it stupid to get it to do something different. You need to give it new sets of instructions along with criteria to know when to use which subroutine. Our brains are the same way.

5. Shift Expectations / Realign to a “new normal” – Expect the Unexpected and Prepare a “Back up Strategy”  or at least be prepared to design a new strategy or approach to the situation. This is a form of being prepared to improvise.

I reprogrammed my expectations and now “expect” that at any time the computer might not work for a variety of reasons. Instead of debilitating frustration, it feels more like a minor inconvenience that becomes a “challenge.”  I can use any of my pre-designed backups and workaround strategies or start improvising – using my creative mind to figure out a new work around using questions.

Essentially, I now use my frustration as a kind of smoke detector.  Instead of getting mad at the smoke detector for going off, I now thank it for giving me an alert that I need a new effective strategy and a new set of subroutines for investigating what’s needed. Instead of trying to take the batteries out so the detector never goes off, I made it my friend.  Frustration is not the enemy, it’s full of meaning and messages when you learn how to speak its language and really listen to it.

When the smoke detector of “frustration” goes off, I retrained myself to investigate first, then choose an appropriate path of response using my strength of creative strategizing instead of beating my self up and getting even more angry and frustrated at myself for feeling frustrated – that only leads to sinking into the frustration and sometimes it would even lead to a depressive episode and ruin my whole day.  Not anymore.

_____________________________________

This video is an excellent and humorous reminder of how you change the way you think about things, and things will change.  As C.K. Lewis states, “remember the wow factor” – this really helps me remember that most of my problems are actually LUXURIES in disguise – especially when technology is frustrating me!

 

 

BLOG POSTS FROM PEOPLE WRITING ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH FRUSTRATION (Want to add yours?  Write about your experience and link back to me…then I’ll link to yours – as long it’s G-rated and not a spam or sales site.

  1. IXIS – A Possible Insight Addict too?
  2. An example of someone using frustration as a “guide” to develop criteria and solutions.  Patterns of frustration are a possible sign that you need a “system” to remove the source. In this writers case I would suggest reframing the source of frustration into a need.  e.g. I can’t find my keys when I need them.  Becomes I need to be able to find my keys within 1 minute when I need them.  Then comes the solution criteria.  I need ONE place to put my keys so I always know where they are.  One place in my entry way, and maybe also one place in my purses.
  3. A Nameless Blogger writes about failing and frustration from a more conventional viewpoint than mine.

 

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Chronic Procrastination and Resistance: What it really takes to get on the same page with yourself and get things done.

[Editorial Note:  This post is not a finished article. It is a Stream of consciousness that will probably become a chapter or 2 in a book. Read more about my approach to this blog as a THOUGHT GARDEN here.]

We are waging a cultural war against procrastination and inner resistance as if they were evil itself.(1)

In reality, procrastination is your life and your soul trying to get you to pay attention and LISTEN. Something isn’t working – but it’s not YOU.  If you are procrastinating, there is a reason, there is something that your heart, body, or soul is telling you it needs.  And the part of you that wants you to “just do it” isn’t listening and isn’t negotiation. It’s not because you want to be that way, but in our culture, most people are never shown how to listen to their own hearts and minds.  And certainly, from school age on, we are taught to “do what we are told” not to how to communicate and stand up for own interests and needs and negotiate.  In our culture we like to say that everyone has a right to their opinion, but in reality, if you express an opinion that the dominant don’t like or that doesn’t fit their world view, it is rarely received well.  You are expected to either keep your thoughts to yourself or “get with the program” and do what either your parents or teachers want you to do.

Thus you learn to stop listening to yourself.  You learn that you “should” be or think or do what most others do.  Like always be on time and you have no right to say “but that is so freaking hard for me, can’t we compromise?”   Or maybe, you are expected to just do the homework assignment as it given to you.  No questions asked.  But you do have questions.  And you don’t know where to begin. Who teaches you how to deal with that?  And so you start learning that if only you procrastinate, somehow you will gather the ability to FORCE yourself through the assignment.

And so you learn to use this strategy in lots of areas of your life. You learn to keep trying to force yourself to be like others and criticizing yourself when what you think SHOULD be easy isn’t. I’m hear to tell you there is a way to unlearn this pattern.  To see chronic procrastination through a completely new set of eyes.  To see it with compassion.  It’s your soul literally screaming to get your attention and be deeply heard and understood and to have it’s needs taken into consideration.

People like us often feel chronically misunderstood, by therapists,  teachers, spouses and even by others with the same traits. So many of us think we deserve to feel guilty when we disappoint others.  Or that we have to over-explain or over apologize for every little thing we do that is not what others expect or want – like when we get distracted, or have difficulty following instructions.  We think we should “make” ourselves JUST DO IT when we feel resistance to a project.  I could scream sometimes when I hear that phrase.

You can’t “just do” something that you don’t know how to do or that is extraordinarily difficult for you – even if most people think it is easy or “effortless” (like being on time.)

Imagine if 90% of the people in world could play piano by ear.  And they all run around saying “just do it” expecting you to do it too.  No amount of wishing or trying is going to make it happen.

If you can’t play by ear, you must learn the notes and practice. And those 90% need to stop being so assuming and so pushy about it.  And by the way, you’ve got to stop pushing yourself so hard, too.  Start showing some compassion for yourself.  (and yes, you probably need to learn how to do that too because it feels so unnatural and even wrong to you –  like “you are giving in to your evil self” or are like you are going to get “out of control” and make everything even worse. I know – been there, done that.)

The inevitable truth is that you’ve got to slow down, give yourself a little more time. Allow more mistakes. (I know – this feels completely wrong, and yet, it’s the only thing you haven’t really tried, right?)  Our culture is so speed obsessed that we often feel like slowing down would be some kind of mortal sin and that people would die as a result.  We act as though if we did not respond to our phone or emails instantly or at least within 24 hours that whoever we did not respond to would hate us forever.  Seriously.  We all need to get a grip on this obsession with speed. That is what will LITERALLY kill us.  It’s a no-win goal.  The high cost of high speed obsession is an unsustainable foundation for life.  You can’t speed up the gestation or delivery of a baby without paying a very high price.  Well perhaps YOU don’t, but boy that baby does.  Speeding up the way we eat has made us a culture of overeaters.  Speed eating is SO unsatisfying.  Fast financial success, like winning a lottery, also has lots of unintended consequences and is ultimately so unsatisfying.  If there was just one thing you could change in your life to impact every area of your life in a positive way, it would be this.

SLOW DOWN.  PAUSE, LISTEN, AND SCAN

Take a minute to just notice of where you are, and what needs need fulfilling.  Listen to your body, your heart, your soul.  Listen to the needs of the people in your life.  Does your spouse or child need a few minutes of your attention to notice something about them that you value and appreciate?  have you taken a minute to acknowledge yourself for the simple small things you do every day?  Just because you it’s your job to take care of yourself, doesn’t mean you don’t need to be recognized for doing it.  great that Even the mundane areas of life benefit from this. Are you hungry? tired? need to go to the bathroom? need to move around a little?  Look around you, what needs to be picked up and put away? what needs a quick cleaning?

Listen to your life and your life WILL change.  You don’t even have to try.  The very act of noticing something changes it.  It’s a Quantum Law of physics.  I’m not making this up.  HOW you notice is what determines whether it change in a pleasing way on whether it will change in a way you won’t enjoy.  Keep noticing only what’s “wrong” not what you want and guess what you’ll get more of?  More dissatisfaction, more frustration, and ultimately more procrastination and resistance.  More depression, more anxiety.

If that not what you want, start noticing the little things that you are grateful for.  You don’t have to try harder at anything.  Just use your ability to see and listen and notice.  Change what you are looking for when you look around and when you look ahead, and everything else will naturally change accordingly.  If you look for what you can be grateful for, what you like, what you are taking for granted that you don’t want to lose and what will naturally happen is that you will feel more satisfied, more relaxed, more energized and more willing to do the work to take care of what you have and to have more of what your heart and soul really want.

It’s not easy to change your thinking so fundamentally…but that’s what it takes.  And it is possible.  And that’s a big part of what I help people figure out how to actually do.

People can’t just say “you need to love yourself” and expect it to just happen. No amount of positive affirmation will ever make that happen if you don’t really have the skills to notice yourself with gratitude and compassion.  If you don’t know how to cultivate respect for yourself in all levels, in the very smallest things that you do every day that you now take for granted, you will start only seeing what’s wrong with you and will stop cooperating with yourself easily.

(1) Books that portray resistance and procrastination as though they are “evil” “enemies” or signs of “bad character” drive me crazy.  They literally feed the idea that you should be at WAR with yourself.  As if listening to yourself would make you a weak or bad person. I’m so sick of this mentality.  It ruined my life for over 40 years.  We cannot WIN a BATTLE with ourselves.  Fighting only begets more might.  Even Sun Tzu in the Art of War said the best way to win a war is to UNDERSTAND your enemy better than he understands himself. Understanding happens through paying attention and listening without judging.  The more you understand, the more information you have to design a game plan that gets all parts of you in alignment toward a common goal.

Here are books I invite you to reconsider through this lens.

  • Are they perpetuating your internal war?
  • Are they truly helping you understand yourself with deep compassion and make peace with yourself as you are?
  • Are they asking you to change your “innate” self?  or your “learned’ self? .

 It’s taken me years to “deprogram” my “learned” self that had taken on the value system of very same culture and people that “traumatized” me in the first place.  it’s like the “Stockholm Syndrome”  when you are being held captive by a dominant person or group of people, you are a hostage of sorts. Hostages often start to “identify” with the captors and start to seek their approval.  it happened to Patty Hearst, she started to act like a terrorist after being captured and dominated by terrorists.  The same thing happens to us in school.  It’s called Peer Pressure.  It works the same way. But there is more than just peer pressure happening.  We are also being pressured by the “school” culture.  We are being pressured to put aside our natural love of learning about all things and learn according to their agenda, doing their homework assignments and doing what it takes to “earn” their approval “grades”.  We are systematically being programmed that thinking for ourselves, and learning about things we WANT to learn or need to learn is not good enough.  We are expected to learn whatever THEY want us to learn, even if they don’t bother to MOTIVATE us to see how what they are teaching applies to our lives and our unique needs and situations.  When I was in grade school for instance, I was being abused at home, and I wanted to understand and learn how to make that stop.  What they wanted me to learn about was “mesopotamia”.  Really?  So I was punished when I would daydream not do the homework.  No one ever investigated to find out the real reason i didn’t do homework.  They didn’t ask me if my mother had been put in the hospital that night by my father.  And I sure as hell didn’t tell.  Why?  because I would have been outcast.  Because no one ever talked about it. My example is extreme I admit, but how does this happen in smaller wayys every day?  A kid is being bullied, or is feeling depressed so can’t think about math problems.  Who’s really listening to that kid and teaching the kid to listen to herself and speak up for her needs?  

It’s taken me years to develop and apply filters so that I can read some very popular books and realize that the authors are not GODS sent to earth to share the truth about life.  They are just people who think they discovered some aspect of the truth about life. They are FALLIBLE.  Their truth may work for them and make their lives better, but that doesn’t mean their truth applies to me and my life. Even it does apply to 60 or 70% of people it’s still only a PARTIAL truth.  ALL books should have warning labels that say.  This is my truth.  it may not be yours.  If I could I would pass a law that no book should be able to say things like “Anyone can do this.  Just follow these simple 5 steps and do it exactly like I say and your life will be better.”  At the very least, we should all be taught from early age that our books and textbooks are all just part of our evolution of understanding the truth.  They are all written by human beings.  Experts are NOT gods.  Anyone who knows more than you will call themselves an expert.  Even people who know less than you call themselves experts.  And by the way, YOU and ONLY you have the potential to understand your personal TRUTH.  Even though humans do have similar needs and patterns, just like the weather, we all different variations and intensities of needs, different abilities, strengths, and needs. We all need to learn the fundamental skills of noticing our needs, how they often conflict with each other, and with other’s needs and how to resolve those conflicts peacefully.  Conflict cannot be resolved peacefully without listening and understanding with an open heart and mind.  THAT is the real unspoken truth.  The minute we feel not only “certain” that we are right, and that our “rightness” is not subject to change when we learn new information, when we think our “rules” “beliefs” and “thoughts” are absolutely and forever correct in all circumstance, and that is no room for exceptions, that is the moment we become stuck, stubborn, and lose our agility.  It is normal for us to need a certain amount of certainty.  But becoming too attached to our “truth” is the very core of what creates fanaticism and even terrorism.  The most forceful and powerful warriors are those who believe their personal truth is the “right” truth for all.  It is the foundation of religious wars, and it is the foundation of all ideological warfare.  It is the foundation of all unresolved conflict.  From our own cultural divide between democrats and republicans, to our own marriages that end in divorce because of inability to resolve conflict peacefully, the moment we stop listening with an open mind to other people’s version of the truth is the moment we start laying the foundation for war. The moment we expect the truth not to change, we set ourselves for disappointment.  Trust is not about expecting things to go as planned, or not to change.  Trust is about having faith that you will be listened to and respected and that a mutual agreement will be reached.  Trust is about having faith that you won’t be forced against your will to live up to an expectation that would cause you to pay too high a price.  Trust is feeling confident that you can change your mind, or change your “truth” as you learn more facts about something.  Feeling that you can express yourself without being put down or ignored.  Even if the person disagrees or gives you consequences for changing your mind in a respectful way.  Trust is about feeling like you can negotiate with someone as needed and knowing they won’t pull the rug out from under you without at least giving you notice if they can – and even more importantly, it’s about know that even if someone (or you) does deeply disappoint, YOU will be able to deal with it effectively.  Without this basic skill of being able to process disappointment and frustration in an agile way, your sense of personal security will be fragile. 

Dealing with resistance is fundamentally about learning to trust yourself to listen, negotiate, design or redesign a solution and gain commitment to the new solution as well as design terms for not living up to agreements or for exiting from an agreement gracefully.  And it’s about understanding how to renegotiate every part of the agreement and commitment and consequences as needed – with an AGILE mindset.  In fact – as needed – is a great term for understanding the AGILE approach to life.  As needed is the core of all great relationships, including the relationship with yourself.

Granted, this AGILE approach is not the easiest way to overcome resistance and get what you want, it may be slower, but the rewards are FAR greater, and last MUCH longer.  It’s a far more sustainable way to live. AGILE is not as predictable in terms of what the specific outcomes will be, but is far more predictable in producing outcomes that Actually Work.

BOOKS

Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

This book was helpful to me in learning to listen better and not interrupt as much. It is excellent in understanding delegating responsibility and for parenting ideas. Covey is truly a though leader.  But there is an undercurrent of bias against people who are “reactive” or “sensitive” like me.  Reading his made me feel like I was defective.  I was able to make a really nice long list of everything that was so wrong about me that I had to change.  Things that despite years of inner warfare, therapy and more self-help books that reinforced how defective I was led to me to have periods of greatness as I was able to FORCE myself to fight my inner nature.  But then the next depression would come and it would be worse than ever.  I would be great for a while…lose weight and do everything I “should” be doing, but the energy I did it with was not natural to my brain biology.  It was draining me on so many levels to keep up the image that I was like other people and could easily conform to being on time, eating right, exercising at the gym, etc.  And so after a period of what I thought of as “sobriety” I would crash so hard it scared me to death sometimes.  The depression and anxiety were inconsolable.  I felt so alone and misunderstood. When I finally released the brainwashing of our “war” culture and found true radical self-acceptance and learned to make peace with myself instead of fighting or even calling myself names like “addict” or “depressed” I was able to finally see the inner wisdom that my resistance was trying to share with me.  I was finally able to become truly healthy using my own Natural strengths.  I did not have to “control” my every move, meal, or daily routine.  I could negotiate my rights to be different from the norm.  I could negotiate schedules, I did not have to schedule everything and still get everything done well enough.  I could write, in fact I self-published a REAL book!  And I did it faster and easier than the “controlled” and “scheduled” approach that I tried to use for years.  It simply isn’t natural to me to live or work like that.  By listening to my resistance and seeing it as an ACCESS POINT to my deepest self understanding and wisdom, I was able to use my creativity to come up some ingenious strategies to get things done MY WAY.  You can do it too.  I promise you.  NO ONE is born trying to sabotage themselves.  We learn to do that from our mainstream culture that wants everything to function like machines.  Even people.  We get this idea that self-control is like some super power that everyone must have to be happy.  Control is what people who don’t know to facilitate resort to because they want to get their way instead of take the time to listen and cooperate with people.

Control is when teachers expect kids to just sit and listen because they are told to. Not because you have motivated them to WANT to.

Control is when parents want their kids to eat on a schedule because it’s more convenient for them than to teach their children how to recognize the signs of hunger and learn to eat when they are hungry instead of by the clock.  God forbid we trust the wisdom of our own bodies right?

Control is when you expect people to follow orders without questioning them, like in the army right?  So you can fight a war.

Control is what dictators use to run goverments because real democracy is harder.

Well guess what.  People who are hard to control are NATURAL democratic leaders. We naturally question the leader.  We naturally want to have a right to express our concerns and interests.  We want to be listened to even if we are disagreed with.  We want to have a thoughtful honest discussion where we are “safe’ to express ourselves and either be convinced and persuaded to follow someone’s plan, or design a new negotiated agreement that everyone buys into.

When we return to this natural human desire to cooperate and reach consent, to design creative solutions to resolve conflicting needs, we can cultivate it to balance out our competitive, forceful nature (which we also do have) and become far more effective leaders of ourselves. And by the way, seeking consensus rather than using the “just do it” mentality in relationships is by far the healthiest and most satisfying kind of relationship to be in with anything.  Unless of course you are biologically a “dominant” or “submissive” personality.  I suppose there are people actually LIKE to be “forced” or “raped” or punished without their consent.  But I am NOT one of them.

Chronic procrastination is an expression of an “aversion” to something.  And usually somewhere underlying it is a nonverbal expression that if it had a voice, it would say

“stop trying to make me do this without my consent.  I don’t know how, or I don’t really care about what you are trying to make me do.  Either convince me why I should care and want to, and / or show me how to do it and enjoy it more, or give me a new strategy that takes my needs into consideration. Oh wait, FIRST you would have to LISTEN to my needs.”

Can you see how “just do it” is exactly what rapists are saying to their victims?

If you have ever been a victim of abuse – incest, rape, domestic violence, bullying, punishment for expressing yourself honestly, being outcast by the dominant cultural group, racism, gender discrimination, and even sexual preference discrimination, you understand deeply how the forces of coercion work.

The truth is that force is an easier way to get things done, for the person DOING the forcing.  Not for the person being forced.  The other truth is that results gotten by force don’t last.  Eventually there will be an uprising.  And abused child will run away from home, a wife forced and controlled by a dominant husband instead of being listened to will leave. An employee not truly encouraged to do their best and to have a say in what gets done will leave. A student not allowed to have input into what they are told to learn, or into designing their own homework assignment, or who is graded on mistakes instead of on the quality of the thought processes in their work may very well drop out, or find other ways to rebel.  A country led by a dictator will have an underground of rebels who resist and eventually rise up.

Resistance is not evil.  It is the natural and inevitable response to force or pressure.  You cannot have resistance unless there is pressure.

The absence of resistance means there is flow.  Resistance is an interruption to flow.  And any interruption of flow is an opportunity for creativity. An opportunity to design a new way to get back to flow.  When you notice listen to resistance before it has to scream at you to get your attention, life is SO much smoother.  The interruptions are shorter, easier to work out, and in the process, you usually get a much more satisfying, easier result.

 

BOOKS THAT I BELIEVE PERPETUATE INNER WAR

  • The War of Art
  • Do the WorK

 

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