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.
- IXIS – A Possible Insight Addict too?
- 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.
- A Nameless Blogger writes about failing and frustration from a more conventional viewpoint than mine.