How You Can Use Frustration To Improve Your Effectiveness

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a weatherman named Phil who travels to a small town in Pennsylvania to cover local festivities. It is an assignment he isn’t happy about and despite his eagerness to leave it behind, he gets snowed in and wakes the next day to find he is in some kind of time warp, doomed to relive the day over and over again until he gets it right.

Most of us have experienced the frustration of having to repeatedly relive a situation we would rather not have to experience at all. Often frustration appears to be imposed on us from an unfriendly universe, something we have been unfairly doomed to live through. But more often than we would like to admit, frustration is self imposed. And when frustration is self imposed, it can be even more painful.

But as unpleasant as frustration can be, it comes bearing gifts — gifts that are often overlooked. And today, we will cover three of those gifts — gifts than when embraced can transform your frustration into freedom.

The three gifts of frustration are:
• Fuel
• Insight
• Possibility

Let’s talk about how you can use frustration as fuel.

“I’m so tired of feeling unorganized and scattered all the time,” Bob told me in our last meeting. “I come into the office and there are papers flung all over my desk, half started projects buried in piles with new requests heaped on top of them. But I never seem to have time to go through them because by the time I get there, a line of people waiting to talk to me has already formed outside my door and I have no choice but to spring into action. And my days are full of requests that add new papers, projects and action items to a pile that grows faster than it shrinks.”

Bob was understandably frustrated. He felt like he was pushing a big rock up a hill only to have it roll back down as soon as he got near the top.

“What do you think I should do about it?” he asked me. I knew he wouldn’t like my answer.

“Move into it,” I told him. “Tell me more about how starting your day like that affects the quality of your life.”

He was perplexed. “Why would I want to move into something so awful? Shouldn’t I be figuring out how I can move away from it? Rise above it?”

That is the reaction most of us (including yours truly) have when faced with an unpleasant predicament. But rising above an unpleasant predicament often requires us to change habits or patterns that are ingrained and comfortable. And initiating and sustaining a change like that requires fuel — fuel that will allow us to break through our obstacles and limitations at the very moment when it seems most difficult.

Change occurs when the pain of the current state is greater than the perceived pain of making a change, and the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.

Often we aren’t ready to make a significant change until things are at their worst. Many of us can tolerate an enormous amount of displeasure until things are at their breaking point. And even when the pain has really come to a head, we often make small little adjustments that take the edge off, but don’t really solve the problem.

When you truly move into your frustration, you begin to open your eyes widely to recognize the impact a problem is having on your life. You allow yourself to accept that this pain will continue until you do something about it. And until you are truly ready to do something about it, you will continue to do what you’ve always done and suffer as a result.

The flip side of pain is pleasure. And once you have moved into your pain, you can begin to envision what the pleasure that a lasting solution would bring.

This can be done long before you know what that solution is. And just as you can move into your pain, so too can you move into the pleasure of what life would be like without your problem. This too, serves as fuel that will ultimately allow you to do what it takes to create and implement a lasting solution.

Let’s move onto the second gift of frustration: insight.

Insight is an understanding of the true nature of something. It begins to be cultivated when you move into your frustration and recognize the myriad of ways that it is not serving you. But that is only the beginning. Moving into your frustration illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate that problem.

Most of us instinctively move away from pain, firing shots over our shoulder at what we believe to be the antagonist without really recognizing or locking onto a target.

In an attempt to alleviate Bob’s problem, he could have hired an assistant to come into his office and go through the piles on his desk, organize and create file folders for his papers, and straighten everything up. But until Bob identified and addressed the factors that led those piles to accumulate and grow, it would only be a matter of time before he was right back where he started.

To really know what needs to be done to slay the beast, he needed to take a closer look and recognize what it eats, how it grows stronger, and how he might unwittingly be feeding and nurturing it. That’s exactly what moving into the frustration with a spirit of curiosity does.

When Bob got curious about his predicament, he began to notice that he had a tendency to book his appointments back to back starting first thing in the morning and say yes to more things than he could realistically accomplish. He realized that he didn’t have a clear sense of what was truly a priority and that in the absence of that clarity, he was making everything number one — except his own sanity.

The more awareness he cultivated in the presence of his frustration, the more he began to identify and understand what was really causing it — and to recognize that while he may have initially felt like its victim, he was far from powerless in overcoming it. This led Bob to discover and embrace the third gift of frustration.

The third gift of frustration is possibility.

Insight opens the door to possibility. Once you have an understanding of the factors that cause or contribute to a problem, you begin to recognize a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution. These possibilities reveal themselves in the presence of curiosity.

“What could I do to regain control of my schedule?” Bob asked himself. In the days and weeks that followed, Bob identified a number of strategies that could potentially work for him. Among them were designating a day to sort through the pile of issues, projects, tasks and commitments that were tugging at the edges of his mind to determine what was of most importance, and what could be delegated, deferred or dropped.

Bob also recognized that he could better deploy his time, energy and resources into projects that were aligned with his priorities if he got into the habit of saying, “That sounds interesting — let me think about it and get back to you,” instead of committing to requests on the spot. And he realized that he needed to carve out time in his schedule on an ongoing basis to plan, prioritize, strategize and execute — and honor that time with the same fervor that he would honor meetings with his most important clients.

Let’s review…

(1) Despite its unpleasant nature, frustration is actually a gift — and something we need to move into rather than away from.

(2) Moving into frustration generates the fuel necessary to initiate and sustain lasting change. It allows us to get to the point where the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of making a change, and also where the pleasure of making a change is greater than the pleasure (or payoff) of staying the same.

(3) Moving into frustration with awareness and curiosity yields insight. It illuminates not only the problem, but also the underlying factors that contribute to and exacerbate the problem.

(4) Insight opens the door to possibility, which yields a multitude of options that can lead to lasting resolution.

So the next time you feel like you are living the life of Bill Murray’s character in the movie Groundhog Day, remind yourself that frustration comes bearing gifts. Reliving the same experience over and over again isn’t so bad if it ultimately yields fuel, insight and possibility. Move into your discomfort, pay attention, get curious, and connect the dots. And you too will find a way to transform your frustration into freedom.

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