Way #22: Conquer Frustration
It's a tough world and we have to be persistent. Accept the frustration as a challenge - and love it!
Imagine you've just bought a brand-new sports car, and are taking it out for your first drive. As you approach a traffic light, it turns yellow, so you slow down carefully and stop. Suddenly someone bumps you from behind. As if this was not angering enough, the same driver backs up and bumps you again. Now, you're furious! Your beautiful, shiny sports car that cost a year's salary!
You jump out in a rage, ready to let the guy really have it... when all of a sudden, a 6-foot-10 linebacker steps out of the car.
"Gee, sir," you begin in a much softer tone than originally intended. "It seems that you've hit my car. Are you okay? Do you have insurance?"
How did you shut off your anger so quickly?
On an intellectual level, we understand that anger is counterproductive. We possess the power to control our emotions. No matter how infuriating a situation is, we can put the anger aside and act civilly. Especially when standing up against a 6-foot-10 linebacker.
Erech apayim literally means "long nostrils." Do you see how someone's nostrils flare up when he gets angry? A tool for healthy living is to conquer that frustration.
An angry person is acting like a wild animal. He's given up all restraint. He may slam the door and shout obscenities. He is blind to the consequences of his actions; hence the expression, "blind rage." He has given into frustration.
A first step in controlling anger is to recognize how counterproductive it is. When you feel frustration building, and a little voice inside of you says, "Let's yell that guy off the face of the earth," ask yourself, "What benefit will there be? I'll only embarrass myself and come to regret it."
If we could see a videotape of ourselves getting angry, the humiliation might well cure us of anger for the rest of our lives!
Never Quit Out Of Frustration
Did you ever undertake to learn a new skill – like a foreign language or musical instrument – and then quit?
"Quitting" is another form of giving in to frustration. Appreciate that this is a tough world and we have to be persistent in order to accomplish. Never turn back in midstream. Follow it through to the end.
Consider how many projects you began – and then gave up – because you became frustrated and lost patience. Make a list of things you started and quit because they seemed too difficult. Now calculate the disappointment and loss you suffered by not accepting the frustration.
How do we repair this fault? Look at the list of things you've quit. Choose one and resolve to see it through. And for the rest of your life, once you undertake something, resolve never to quit. (Unless you are objectively sure that it's "not worth it" – i.e. you initially misjudged the amount of effort required relative to the final payoff.)
Every night before going to sleep, check yourself: Where did I gain and where did I lose?
Loss of Confidence
Beside the obvious result of quitting (i.e. not fulfilling your goal), there is a terrible side effect: A loss of self-confidence. If we quit once, then the next time we plan a project, we won't trust our ability to carry it out.
To see how destructive this pattern can be, make a list of the projects that you have thought about, but never even started, because you didn't believe you could accomplish them. See how little credibility you have in your own eyes. After a few failures, you expect that more will keep happening!
When someone stops trusting himself, he's hit a critical impasse. He begins to accept the idea that it's okay to be "mediocre." That's a self-destructive attitude.
Resolve that from now on, whenever you consider a project, you will sit down and figure out how much time, energy and effort it will take. Then decide whether or not it's worth it. If you conclude that it is, then begin with confidence – and don't allow yourself to quit unless something happens beyond your control.
When the going gets tough, and a little voice says, "It's not worth it!" tell yourself "It is worth it!"
When you follow through, it not only gets the job done, but it builds self-confidence – which is reason enough to stick with the task.
Just Five Minutes More
Frustration can result from not making progress as fast as you'd like. At times like that, it's important to monitor your success, even if it's only in microscopic increments. Accomplishment will make you feel good about yourself.
To overcome quitting, trick yourself. A 3-hour marathon may be nearly impossible to run, but 10 runs of 18 minutes each is more reasonable. Break things into small, achievable goals. Then, when you're in the heat of a project and feel yourself coming undone, just tell yourself, "Another 5 minutes, and then I'll quit!"
When the 5 minutes are up, you can bargain for another 5.
Frustration is much easier to bear in small doses. If you're struggling with a diet, decide that for "today" you're going to stick with orange juice and granola; tomorrow you can treat yourself to a greasy steak with fries! This will help convince your body to hang in there until the job is complete.
In spirituality, the Sages say; "If you work and don't succeed, it means you didn't work hard enough." Even though there is no guarantee of success in any other area, there is a guarantee of spiritual success. And that knowledge helps build confidence.
Accept pain and accept frustration, because anybody who can sit on nails has got a sense of freedom. He knows he can do whatever he wants.
No matter what the outcome, each successful step improves your self-confidence and keeps you on the road to true success.
The Frustration of Wasting Time
People may say: "All I want to do is to take a vacation and soak up the sun." But what happens after a few hours of lying on the beach, thinking blissfully, "Ahh... this is the life..." You start to feel restless and uncomfortable. You start looking to do something constructive. After two days on the beach, you're going out of your mind!
The greatest form of frustration is wasting time. When you're standing in line at a bank, watching your day tick by when you've got so much to do, that's one big frustration.
Quitting is also a major source of wasted time. If we invest in a project, and then don't see it through to completion, we've wasted a lot of time.
God created frustration in order to motivate us to accomplish something with our lives.
Life is a Challenge
Is it reasonable to assume that your life will always be frustration-free and a smooth ride? No way.
In the Book of Proverbs, King Solomon said: "The righteous person falls seven times and gets up. The evil person falls just once." We see that the righteous person is not defined as someone who never makes a mistake. Rather, the person who achieves greatness is one who keeps trying again and again. He sees frustration as only a passing nuisance, and therefore never gives up. In fact, his falling seven times may be precisely how he became great!
You have to distinguish between what you "hope will happen," and what "will probably happen." Life inevitably has its ups and downs – its moments of relaxation and times of tension. When you learn to accept this reality, you come one step closer to being able to deal with frustration in a healthy way.
The next time frustration pops up, just remind yourself, "That's life!"
Take Things in Stride
Joy is one of the greatest tools for eliminating anger and frustration. If we're sad, then we have less patience and tolerance for everything and everybody.
Yesterday when someone stepped on your toe, you may have snapped at him, "Watch where you're going!" But let's say that today you won the lottery and someone steps on your toe. "No problem, friend," you say with a big smile. "Have a nice day!"
Why the difference? Feeling relaxed, confident and upbeat keeps frustration and anger in check. Plus your physical health will benefit as well – less ulcers, high blood pressure, etc.
But don't wait until you win the lottery to do this!
Being able to bear frustration is one level of dealing with it. A higher level – often characteristic of those who achieve greatness – is the resolve to love frustration and work with it!
If you think about it, you'll see that deep down you really do "love frustration." Imagine going out to buy a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. You bring it home, open the box and discover that all the pieces are in numbered order! It's infuriating! Why? Because you paid good money for a box of frustration and they've taken away the challenge!
Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. When you have a complex problem, first try to build the framework, an overall sense of how you want this to ultimately resolve. Then set about solving the puzzle... one piece at a time.
In everyday life, too, derive enjoyment from the resolution of frustrations. So many things only get accomplished through struggle. Whether childbirth or career advancement, we accept certain pains as a worthwhile price to pay for pleasure.
In truth, the greater the challenge, the taller we can rise to meet it. Consider a very sick person whose suffering is unbearable. He can decide not to let the suffering rob him of any more quality of life than it must. He can resolve to work with the pain, rather than against it. At that moment of decision, he greatly reduces the suffering – if not physically, at least emotionally.
Believe You Can Do It
There are two types of problems: Those which you know can be solved, and those which you're not sure if they can be solved or not.
The first type is obviously much easier to handle. When you know it can be done, you have greater willingness to fight the frustration.
Always try to move your problems into the "known" category of frustration. When you first rode a bicycle, you probably feared you'd fall off and break your head! But you looked around and saw the other kids staying balanced. Seeing others succeed gave you the confidence to plunge in. (And if you'd never seen anyone ride a unicycle, you'd think that was totally impossible!)
Get rid of the attitude of "It can't be done." That's defeatist and an excuse for not even trying.
Wisdom is one of the hardest skills to achieve, and is thus subject to the greatest frustrations. Next time you get stuck, look around at all the others who've succeeded. We know if they can do it, so can we. And believing we can get there is half the battle.
God Provides the Challenge
There is a deeper metaphysical aspect to frustration: God never gives a person a challenge he cannot handle. This effectively puts every challenge into the category of the "achievable." Like a good track coach, God will not raise the hurdle higher than we can jump, because that would doom us to failure. And God desperately wants us to succeed.
Similarly, for those who believe that God spoke to mankind at Mount Sinai, and gave the Jewish people the Torah, all problems automatically move into the "known" category of frustration. If God told us that we are obligated to help humanity, to work together and to love one another, that means it can be done. God is not a sadist. If it couldn't be done, He would not have told us to do so.
That's why Judaism says that frustration and anger is the equivalent of idol worship. Because saying "I can't do it" is like saying that God is not involved in guiding our lives. "I can't" means I don't believe God can help me. That's idolatry.
Life has no problems, only opportunities.
Why is "Conquering Frustration" a Way to Wisdom?
- Quitters never win, and winners never quit. Losing your temper means you're a quitter.
- When you quit because of frustration, you lose credibility and self-confidence. Adopt the motto: "I will overcome frustration."
- The best way of dealing with frustration is to accept it as a challenge – and love it.
- Focus on your progress and take pleasure every step of the way – even if it's only a small amount.
- Anger is called idol worship – because we're taking marching orders from the wrong boss.
- Life is difficult and the path to greatness is paved with frustration. You can't get to heaven on roller skates.
- When we know that God provides the challenge, then we know we can succeed.