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45-minute talk—Turning Frustration into Positive Action
Frustrations are so annoying, aren’t they?
Seems like they always hit us when we’re not in the mood or when we don’t have time for them. The goal of this article is to give you some new insights into frustration so you’ll realize that staying frustrated about something is a choice within your control. We’ll review the causes, the costs, the surprising benefits and some alternatives to feeling unavoidably frustrated. Then I’ll offer some new ideas to try next time frustration knocks at your door and tries to ruin your day.
An old tale: What’s the difference between a good and a bad day of fishing? It’s clearly NOT how many fish you catch or the weather. The difference is the attitude and intention of the one fishing. Catching a spare tire, three cans and a log can be very frustrating and ruin your day or the same set of circumstances can become a favorite “fish tale” for years to come. Once we realize we’re in charge of choosing how we’re going to feel about something, we can see that there are many different ways we can feel about an event or action or thought. It’s an eye-opener that we have more control over our feelings than we may think.
Back in the 70’s, I watched Phil Donahue interview two daughters of an abusive and alcoholic father, one became an alcoholic and the other one had never had a drink. As they had taken two extremely different paths he asked them, “Why did you make the choice you did?” I found myself stunned for a moment when they answered the same way. “With an alcoholic father, what did you expect?”
Wow! That really hit me. They each thought they were making the only logical choice and yet they made two completely different choices under the exact same circumstances. That’s an example of the impact and the power of our choices. What we think and how we feel about what happens to us everyday shapes our lives. Becoming frustrated is part of being human. Staying frustrated is a choice. And that’s the good news about all human behavior. We can make new choices at any time.
What is frustration?
The dictionary tells us it’s, “a state of mind or being when prevented from accomplishing a purpose, fulfilling a desire or solving a problem.” The intensity of frustration is often related to the degree of control we have to change things. This is why children and senior citizens often get so frustrated at situations where they have little or no control over what happens to them: the less control, the more frustration.
Why do we STAY frustrated when things go wrong?
Upon reflection, some people find they’re kind of addicted to being frustrated. When people are addicted to something, they don’t continue doing whatever to feel good, they do it to stop from feeling something worse. When we’re frustrated it can distract us from our own feelings and we can justify making someone else responsible for our situation. Feelings of frustration can mask our own guilt about something we’d rather not face and help us legitimize non-action. In the business world, people prefer frustration because they think if they take action to solve a problem, someone might think they’re to blame.
On the other hand, some folks seem to have perfected frustration to an art form. They’re actually good at it and seem to be comfortable in a state of frustration. Why do they do that? What are they getting out of being frustrated? What are the benefits of being frustrated?
The 7 Benefits (pay-offs) of Staying Frustrated:
1. When you’re frustrated, you become an automatic member of the “Ain’t it Awful Club.” This is a very big group. They meet in coffee rooms and restaurants worldwide. Everyone gets lots of morale support and that feels good. Feeling good is a pay-off.
2. You get to feel better about yourself by focusing on how bad or stupid something or someone else is. You know, the blame game and all that. Out of this comes a short-lived and false sense of improved self-esteem. It doesn’t last long but it can feel good in the moment.
3. When you’re frustrated you get to compete in the, “I got it worse” competition. Remember that scene in the movie Jaws, in the hull of the ship, when the Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfus began to talk about their wounds? It was hysterical and a good example of how much fun people can have topping each other’s tales of misery. Fun is a pay-off.
4. Expressing frustration can be a great way to generate sympathy and love from friends and family. “You poor thing” can feel real good after a long day. It doesn’t fix anything but it can feel good in the moment.
5. Staying stuck in frustration is risk-free! Avoiding the risk of taking action feels very good to some.
6. Frustration can be viewed as an image booster. “See how important I am to be so stressed out?” Society really supports the nobility of struggle.
7. Frustration can foster self-pity. The distracting and numbing effects of feeling sorry for ourselves is often favored over taking action or responsibility for situations.
The 7 Costs of Frustration
1. Frustration is an energy zapper.
2. Frustration robs us of our productivity and wastes time.
3. When we’re frustrated, we give “power” to another person or situation. That can make us feel helpless and out of control. And that’s enraging.
4.If frustrations are ignored or unrecognized they can ferment into depression, anxiety or boredom.
5.Being frustrated can sour relationships. Venting our frustrations on those we care about most (because we assume they will forgive us) can have a sad and negative impact on everyone.
6. Feeling frustrated lowers our self-esteem and self-respect, since a part of us knows we could change things if we took some action.
7.Frustration taints our view of the world. It’s like looking through a muddy distorted lens.
Some people handle frustrations better than others. Why is that? They seem more focused and confident, less blaming and more committed to dealing with the sources of their frustrations so they can get on with it—whatever “it” is. They act as if they hear the Rocky music in their heads when frustration hits. More times than not, they fix the situation and get back to feeling good about things. What are they doing? How do they resist the alluring pay-offs of feeling frustrated? What is it that makes them decide to take positive action?
In general, it’s because they have a strategy, a plan or an approach that works for them. They also tend to be optimistic that a solution is doable. The following is an alternative to staying frustrated. Next time you’re feeling frustrated make a new decision to “deal with it right away.” As soon as you recognize that feeling in the pit of your stomach, stop everything and ask yourself these questions: How am I contributing to this situation? What can I do differently to make myself feel better? Who could help me with this? These questions will open up new possibilities and disengage any negative cycle of blaming and avoiding.
Alternatives to staying frustrated. What are the options?
If you’re willing to do something about the source of your frustration, what’s next? What are your choices? This is where creativity and possibility thinking becomes powerful. Ask yourself these 3 questions: “How can I accept the situation and reframe my view of this situation so it no longer bothers me?” “What can I do to change this situation so it will no longer be frustrating?” “Do I need to stop doing something or leave this situation?”
Let’s go through each question with a simple example.
How can I accept the situation and reframe my view of it so it no longer bothers me? Ex: If you’re frustrated by the long, morning commute, could you begin to listen to books on tape? Create a car pool? Splurge on a CD player for better music? If you can find something else to do during that time, the commute will stay the same but you’ll be enjoying the time and therefore the frustration will lessen or disappear.
What can I do to change this situation so it will no longer be frustrating? This calls for some creativity to come up with new choices that could work. Ex: In the same commuting frustration. If you can’t reframe the situation, what other possibilities could you create? Change the route? Work from a new location? Work from Home? Get a car you love to drive? If you find a choice you like, create an action plan and get busy.
Do I need to stop doing something or leave this situation? Unfortunately society can judge stopping or leaving something as quitting. For those of us with that internal or external critic, stopping or leaving a situation, even after you have done all that you can do, takes courage. Sometimes this is the healthiest and best option.
Can’t figure out what’s frustrating you? Start a frustration log, no kidding! Every time you feel any level of frustration, write down the time, the place, the circumstances, the way you felt and how you dealt with the situation. Within two to four weeks, you’ll see a pattern emerge. You’ll begin to realize the relationship between certain activities, certain people, certain times and these observations can lead to great improvements in the quality of your day and in the happiness you feel.
An example: A guy noticed he was always coming home from work on Fridays in a bad mood. That didn’t seem right and he couldn’t figure out what was making him feel so badly. He kept his log and upon reflection, he noticed a couple of things. He was in a good mood when he woke up and left the house on Fridays. He was cranky by the time he left for home at the end of the day. He was still feeling good during his am coffee break but by lunch he was usually annoyed and frustrated.
OK, what happened between coffee and lunch? He held a weekly status meeting, originally intended as a time saving tool to prepare for the week to come. He realized, it had evolved into a review of all the problems and unresolved situations that required his personal attention but that couldn’t be handled until next week. Upon realizing that he was carrying a tremendous amount of stress home for the weekend, he changed that staff meeting to Thursday afternoon. He spent Friday taking care of the critical issues so he could leave on Friday knowing the status of each situation. He arrive home feeling relaxed. See how creating new choices can help you use feeling frustrated as a clue that its time to do something differently?
Once you interrupt the frustrating feelings by making a decision to do something about it, you’ll usually feel the excitement that results from knowing you’re taking responsibility for your own well-being. With all these possible obstacles to taking positive and creative action steps there are also many rewards.
It’s much more fun.
Creative problem solving can create miracles.
Being creative and resolving problems is genuinely energizing and naturally motivating.
It feels good to be doing the right thing. Both the decision and the actual process of taking positive action makes us feel more powerful & more valuable.
Your self-respect will increase & your self-esteem will genuinely improve.
Sometimes…your actions will dazzle the people around you. (That’s always fun!)
We can’t eliminate the causes of frustration in our lives but we can surely manage and minimize their negative impact on our health, our relationships and our happiness. After reading this article, I hope you will make the choice to turn your frustrations into positive action. One way to get started is to make a list of all the things that are frustrating you today. Go through the list and pick at least one alternative for each frustration. Do I accept it and reframe it? Do I change things by creating a new choice? Do I want to end or leave this situation?
Start with the small annoyances and distractions. This will help you gain some experience and confidence while you’re eliminating irritations…all at the same time.
Copyright 2002 Cathryn Bond Doyle.
Revised 2012 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All rights reserved