October 06, 2016

Grow Your Grit: How to Deal With Frustration

How to Deal with Frustration
Photo: Greg Raines | Unsplash

 How can we use frustration to empower rather than disempower us? How do we take such an uncomfortable feeling and use it to help us to become stronger, more resilient, and more confident?

We all know the feeling of frustration. How it can make us feel flustered, restless, agitated, and at times—even tormented. It’s a feeling that many of us experience all too often and an emotion we allow to get the better of us. Yet, as helpless as it can make us feel at times, it’s a feeling we can learn to control. Better yet, frustration can be a ‘means’ we can use to our advantage to empower ourselves rather than to let it disempower us. The question is: how do we turn such an uncomfortable feeling of frustration into a something we can use to help us grow and make us better? To help us become stronger, grittier, more confident, and more resilient? If you want to know how then buckle up. In this post, I share with you 9 practical and effective ways on how to deal with frustration that you can start using today. Sound good? Then let’s jump in!

Unpacking Frustration

The very feeling of frustration is a complicated emotion with a lot to unpack. Therefore, in order to be better at handling frustration, we need to first start with why we experience it. So let’s briefly highlight a few scenarios that might be causing you to feel frustrated.

You are:
  1. Trying something entirely new but it’s just not working out the way you want it to fast enough.
  2. Facing a demanding task and have become overwhelmed by it all.
  3. Being challenged to accomplish something but you feel like a failure.
  4. Struggling to catch on, catch up, or create change, but reality is being stubborn.
  5. Trying to achieve something but it’s not meeting your expectations.
Can you relate to any of the above? If you can relate to any of the above, you’re not alone. These are just some of the most common triggers for frustration. See, the reality is, you might have tried something and failed. But, all that needs to happen for frustration to strike—is a lack of easy and immediate success. The problem is, we live in a growing global culture of instant gratification. We have instant noodles, instant access to TV shows, and drugs that instantly change how we feel. The trouble is, such instantaneous devices aren’t doing us any good in the long-run. If anything, instant gratification has caused us to become perpetually impatient and more prone to becoming frustrated!

Manifesting Frustration

Frustration can even arise before anything even happens. For instance, you may even feel frustrated just thinking about attempting a problem that seems utterly unsolvable. Take, for example, the classic Rubik's Cube. Imagine, for a moment, holding one in your hand for the first time. You see that all the colors on all sides are mixed up and your task is to solve it (without taking the colors off). Where do you start? How long do you think it would take you? Would you have the patience and perseverance to solve it completely? Chances are, you would give it a try right? The trouble is, for most people, it wouldn’t take long before the face of frustration would turn up. And, understandably so. Besides, the Rubik’s Cube isn’t as easy as it looks.

Now, take the example with the Rubik’s Cube and apply it to your own life. When faced with a new and challenging task, how do you approach it? Do you sit back and evaluate your options and make a plan, or do you jump in and try to figure it out as you go along? Do you follow through on what you say you are going to do? And, do you find a way to muster the courage and perseverance to take hold of your frustrations and work through them? Or, do you bow out at the first sign of defeat?
Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success. — Bo Bennett
Without a doubt, learning how to deal with frustration is one of the most valuable life skills anyone can possess. In many ways, it can be the defining factor between our success and failure, happiness and misery, and discovering our purpose as opposed to feeling lost and helpless. To illustrate the power of managing frustration, this is Jenna’s story.

Jenna’s Frustration

Jenna has been a top student for most of her time at school. In her English class last year, she and her classmates were given the opportunity to correct their mistakes and resubmit their papers. While other students submitted their papers two or three times, Jenna’s papers were awarded top marks right from the get-go! While Jenna works diligently at all her academic assignments, she is almost never confused about what it will take to do well. And, rarely does she find the tasks too difficult. This year, however, it didn’t turn out quite the same. Jenna attended her first honors chemistry class for the semester and listened to the expected introductory lecture.

The issue was, by the beginning of the second week, the problems on the board seemed gibberish, foreign, something Jenna just couldn’t seem to understand. As Jenna looked around the class, she noticed everyone around her working through the problems, frowning and tapping their pencils, but only ever pausing for a second or two before moving on. After a few minutes, Jenna gives up and throws her pencil down. It agitates her to watch everyone else keep working their way through the problems. An impossibly long stretch of pencil-scratching continues while she sits, cheeks heating, feeling more and more disturbed and helpless wondering what it is her classmates know that she doesn’t. Jenna is feeling the heat of frustration.

The Frustration Learning Curve

Why is Jenna more frustrated than her classmates? We look to her past for answers. Earlier, when Jenna’s classmates struggled to turn in their papers a second or third time, they somehow learned to build up resilience in the face of failure and frustration.

The difference? Mentally and emotionally, Jenna’s peers are already familiar with the embarrassment (and anger!) of seeing their mistakes pointed out on paper. The struggles inherent to frustration in correcting their mistakes as they learn, but as they learn, the satisfaction of being awarded a better score as a result of their hard work and persistence. In the face of disappointment and frustration, even the great Albert Einstein believed in hard work and perseverance as he once said:
“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Use Frustration as a Teaching Tool

For Jenna, she hasn’t had as much experience dealing with frustration as her peers and as a result, finds the uncomfortable feeling difficult to manage. In Jenna’s situation, however, she needs to understand she is being tested. Life is dealing her a challenge. A small but an important one that if she can learn and grow from—will be invaluable to her future successes. Clinical Hypnotherapist Caroline Brown, in her blog post 'Building Resilience — Tolerating Frustration', supports this notion stating even the small frustrations can train you to cope with larger ones, and the difference is just that.

Jenna’s friends have more experience dealing with small frustrations which have in turn helped them to build the resilience they need to combat the feelings of frustration. For Jenna, struggling in class is a new experience. In the past, she has worked very hard in her classes. Working hard and being successful the first time is, however, a very different feeling from working hard, failing, and having to work through the feeling of frustration to try again.

Jenna’s struggles with frustration are common amongst academically gifted students. In fact, in an article by Peters, 'Building Persistence and Resilience in Gifted Children', published by the Davidson Institute, studies confirm that “gifted” students often have a lower tolerance for frustration because they aren’t used to experiencing it as often as their peers. While Jenna has more difficulty dealing with frustration, it’s important to note, it doesn’t make her any better or worse than her friends. For Jenna, it’s that she doesn’t have many learned strategies in her emotional ‘toolbox’ to manage the feelings of intense frustration.

So, how did Jenna deal with her frustration and go on to be a top student in all her classes?

How to Deal with Frustration

Whether you consider yourself as “gifted” or not, there are practical and effective techniques you can use to immediately improve your ability to deal with those unexpected feelings of frustration.

1. Identify the Source

Just like seeing your doctor, it’s important to first and foremost identify and recognize the symptoms of your frustration. As trivial as it may seem to ask, negative emotions can leave us feeling so overwhelmed that we may mistake them for other negative emotions. Not only that but we may even reframe them so that, to others, they seem more socially acceptable. For instance, you could be furious, but saying you feel frustrated is easier for others to handle. To identify what is actually making you feel frustrated, ask yourself the following 5 questions:
  1. What am I upset and/or annoyed about?
  2. Why does that upset and/or annoy me?
  3. What about that makes me feel frustrated?
  4. Why does that make me feel frustrated?
  5. Why does that make me feel frustrated?
Here’s an example from Ben of how to follow through using the questions above.
  1. I’m annoyed that I’m not making enough money.
  2. That annoys me because I can’t buy the things that I want for me and my family.
  3. It makes me feel frustrated because I want a better life for me and my family.
  4. That makes me feel frustrated because I would like to spend more time with my family.
  5. That makes me feel frustrated because at the moment I don’t have the time, skills, and energy to create the life that I want for me and my family.
Questions 1 to 3 should help to flesh out what you are feeling frustrated about. And, while they are the same, questions 4 and 5 should help to identify the sources of why you are feeling frustrated. The final two questions are, essentially there, to dig deep down to the core of what it is that is really frustrating you. As you can see from the example, by digging down to the source, we identified that the actual source of frustration. isn’t money but rather lack of time, skills, and energy. In order for Ben to best deal with his frustration, he is, therefore, going to need to acknowledge that his time, skills, and energy are key parts to the cause of his frustration.

2. Own Your Frustration

One of the easiest things to do when feeling frustrated is to point blame at others, or the situation itself. For example, in Jenna’s experience, it would be very tempting for her to determine that the class is too hard for anyone to do well in and that the paper should not be so difficult. By thinking this way, it means that Jenna is not taking responsibility for her own frustrations and that she believes her teacher is responsible for her frustration. Jenna, therefore, believes it’s not on her but rather on her teacher to fix things.

Pointing the blame may seem easier to cope with in the short-term. However, over time, it could prove to be a costly mistake in the long-run. A mistake that could lead to Jenna ultimately failing the course entirely. So, if you are one to quickly point the blame or not to take ownership of what frustrates you, it’s time to look in the mirror and own your frustration.

3. Acknowledge and Accept

When in the heat of frustration try to take a deep breath and remind yourself, it’s okay to feel like this. You are human—and humans get frustrated! It doesn’t matter who you are, what your background is, what you are good at, or what you think you’re particularly terrible at. We all experience frustration at some point during our lives. Remember, just like Jenna feeling frustrated; it doesn’t make you better or worse from anyone else. The sooner you can acknowledge and accept that you are feeling frustrated, the sooner you can move on. And, the sooner you move on, the more time and energy you can put into working on a solution.

4. Make the Call

When you find yourself in a situation around a group of people that are only fuelling the fire of your frustration, it’s often a good idea to remove yourself. In most cases, it won’t do you any good if you hang around. So, do your best to excuse yourself and leave before you end up doing anything you might regret. If, for whatever reason, you can’t remove yourself—do your best to stick it out. If you can get through it without losing your lid, you will grow your grit and build resilience to such types of situations in the future.

A behavior you don’t want to get into the habit of doing is removing yourself from every frustrating situation you find yourself in. For instance, if your ‘go-to’ response is to always leave a difficult situation, you will never adapt and develop the skills you need to persevere and succeed. Falling into this trap could mean difficulties with keeping relationships in the future which would be problematic to your social life. After all, the reality may be, in some situations, you won’t have the option to leave. Therefore, it’s important to know how to deal with frustration, particularly with others, when it happens.

5. Breathe

Take a deep breath. As simple as this might sound, this technique is extremely effective. I can’t tell you how often taking a deep breath has kept me from imploding. So the next time you find yourself about to implode from frustration—breathe through it. You might just be amazed at how a few deep breaths can help you stay calm and focused in intense, frustrating situations. Another useful tip that I use when taking a deep breath is to remind yourself that the feeling is only temporary and that the situation itself is too.

6. Redirect Your Attention

Do whatever you can to get your mind off of whatever it is. Rather than focus your attention on what is frustrating you focus, intentionally, on something else. Do this by focusing on something positive, exciting, humorous, uplifting, or relaxing. The trick is to redirect your attention to something other than what’s frustrating you in the moment. Instead, redirect your focus towards something that will put you into a better state-of-mind. Remember, even your mind and your emotions both need a break now and then.

7. Seek Help

I remember the day my college sweetheart and I broke up. I thought we were going to be together forever, but it was complicated and didn’t work out. It was a period of many mixed emotions, one of those being—frustration. I was frustrated because I wanted to talk to someone about it. The thing is, at the same time, I didn’t want the world to know. I felt ashamed and as if I had failed an important relationship. For months I somehow managed to keep it all bottled up and to myself. But, deep down I felt the need to talk to someone about it. After months of internal deliberation with myself, I finally decided to talk about it with family and few close friends and as difficult as it was—I felt much better about myself and the whole thing.

My point is, no matter how much you want to keep your frustrations to yourself, talk to someone about it. Someone you can trust and someone who will listen to you. I learned that talking to someone about your frustrations can help to reevaluate your experience. Find the courage to open up about your frustrations. I believe if you do, you will find talking through your frustrations with others can have a “magical-like” ability to put your frustrations into perspective, even if the listener doesn’t actively offer up a solution.

8. Act on it

Whatever you do, don’t give up! It can be tempting to turn away from problems or situations that are frustrating. Life events that seem to threaten your sense of self (like Jenna’s picture of herself as a top student). Whatever you do, resist the temptation to give up and instead act on it. Better yet, take action in a positive way. Life has an interesting way of bringing about situations where everything feels out of control. When this happens, take a deep breath. Know, there is always something you can do to make things a little more manageable.
Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.
In Jenna’s situation, for example, she could talk to the teacher after class, get a tutor, ask a friend to help her, or devote more time per week to learning the subject. If you were to ask Jenna what she might do when she is feeling frustrated, Jenna might say “there’s just nothing I can do”. If you ever hear these words, know that frustration can lie to you.

The feeling of frustration is inherently good at making us feel helpless. When you’re frustrated, giving up seems easier than finding a new way to look at the struggle. Instead of giving up, be the kind of person who looks for new ways to act. Learn to face the challenging times ahead with more optimism and some heavy duty perseverance.

9. Let it Go

More than just the name of a Disney song, “let it go” is some great advice. So, give yourself permission to just let it go. We have the choice of whether or not we want to feel frustrated. If we allow frustration to get to us—it will. However, if we choose not to be consumed by frustration—it will quickly cease to exist. Only you have the power to allow or disallow frustration into your life. So, if whatever had you frustrated has passed, continue to move on. Don’t, even for a moment, allow yourself to think about it. Instead, refocus your attention to one of: “what can I do?” rather than “why can’t I do this?"

10. Be Thankful

In most cases, we’re frustrated because we don’t (yet) have what it is we want. When we are feeling frustrated, we only tend to see what we don’t have. We say things like: “I’m frustrated because I don’t have enough time”, “I don’t have enough money”, “I don’t have the skills”, “I don’t have the credibility” and the list goes on. What happens is we think about all the things that we don’t have and forget all the great things we do have. Many things, we take for granted! If you want a sure way to get yourself out of a frustration funk—be thankful. It’s as simple as that.

Practice gratitude by being thankful for something right now. What’s something that, right now, you can be thankful for? Is it your health? Your relationships? The weather outside today? When you open your eyes to all the things you can be thankful for in the moment, it’s difficult to feel frustrated. Perhaps even remember what you were frustrated about.

11. Change Your Perception

Your perception, the way you look at things, plays a big role in how you interpret and therefore internalize matters. For instance, are you the type of person that sees the glass as half-full or half empty? If your answer is to see the glass as half-full, it indicates that you are the type of person who tends to view life with optimism. Conversely, if your answer is to see the glass as half-empty, it indicates that you tend to view life with pessimism. Perception is the mental faculty that enables us to assign meaning to something.
Perception is the mental faculty that enables us to assign meaning to something.
Your perception, the lens which you view life through, therefore plays a significant role in how you interpret and internalize life matters. The same can be said about experiencing frustration. Because the source of frustration stems from how we perceive a certain situation or event, this means, if we change our perception about it, we will effectively put ourselves into a better frame of mind to deal with it.

See also: The 5 Key Aspects to Forging a Winning Mindset

Wrapping Up

In the article, 'Success Requires Grit and Resilience', published by the Huffington Post, leadership expert Jane Shure suggests that dealing with major frustration and disappointment early in life can lead to greater success and happiness down the line. Angela Lee Duckworth supports this notion stating in her empowering TED talk, “The keys to success? Grit” making the sentiment that:

Resilience, not IQ, is the best predictor of success.
-- Pam Sterling

In other words, it’s not pure smarts that dictate success, it’s resilience or in other words—GRIT! The earlier we learn to identify, handle, and accept difficulty, the better equipped we are to deal with future events. While we may not think it at the time, overcoming emotional challenges helps us to become stronger, smarter, grittier, and more understanding. Equally important, it also helps enable us to better face new challenges with confidence.

Final Note

If there's one thing we can all learn about frustration, it's that it can be an overwhelming emotion to negotiate with. Hopefully, however, from what you have learned here, you will have come to realize there are simple and effective ways you can learn to quickly take hold and steer it in the right direction. In my own personal experience, I’ve been through a fair amount of frustration. Some more difficult to deal with than others. But, despite how infuriatingly frustrating things made me feel—I got through it. We all do. Eventually. And, regardless of how ‘unfair’ and ‘unjust’ life might seem, you will get through it too!

So, if you’re feeling the heat of frustration and don’t quite know where to go or what to do, try one of the techniques you have learned here. Put into practice these techniques on how to deal with frustration should it strike again in the future. Which it, inevitably, will. So go out there and face your frustrations. Go at it head on and grow your grit.