I think many of us spend the majority of our lives feeling frustrated and we don’t even realize it.
It happens. You’re sitting at your desk and you want to slam your forehead on the table because you can’t find the solution. Then - four hours later when you’re walking the dog - the solution hits you. Finally, after all that struggle!
Sounds like a familiar cycle, doesn’t it?
When we consider how much time we waste feeling stuck and frustrated, it’s easy to say I wish I never felt frustrated, ever. What I’ve learned is that frustration (in small amounts) is actually a helpful tool. That’s why I came up with the 5% rule.
It turns out that frustration is a really key part of any learning and growth process. Frustration is when our instinct, intuition, or experience warn us that we are doing something the wrong way, and that’s a really good thing. Frustration only becomes problematic when we stay there for too long. If you keep ignoring frustration’s signals, it just becomes a demotivating noise that drains your energy.
You may say, “it’s not like I’m trying to stay frustrated,” and you're right. No one wants to stay stuck. We’ve gotten used to feeling frustrated, though - in fact, we’ve been encouraged to stay frustrated. From a very young age we are told to suck it up, and to just get through the day: “Tough it out, it won’t kill you.” Honestly, that’s not great advice. Frustration is our brain’s way of saying that there is a better way to accomplish our goal. That’s valuable information, and ignoring that signal for the sake of being “tough” is wasting your time and energy.
So what’s the 5% part?
I think the most beneficial way to approach frustration is to view it as part of a learning cycle. You start a process, complete a few steps, and inevitably something goes wrong. It doesn’t have to go badly wrong, but something inside you says “This could be better.” You problem solve, adjust, and keep going. Struggle is part of the process. In fact, if you aren’t struggling you're probably not learning from the experience. In her book Mindset -The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck states that we can’t learn to fulfill our potential if we aren’t struggling to learn something new. The key to viewing the struggle as positive is to recognize that frustration is not a sign of failure, but a signal to listen to.
After you start to view frustration as part of your process, your goal is to shorten the time between the moment you start feeling it and when you find the solution. Remember, it’s not frustration that makes us miserable, it’s staying frustrated for too long. That’s why I like the 5% rule. On your personal scale of frustration, you can handle 5%. That is when you are aware enough of the frustration to keep improving your process, but you aren’t stuck deeper in the frustration zone and draining your energy.
How do you shorten the cycle and keep your frustration from getting beyond 5%? Start by recognizing the signs. Practice listening to the very first alarms of frustration:
After looking at this list, you might think, “by these standards, I spend my whole day being frustrated.” That could be true. Many of us don’t realize how much time and energy we lose by being frustrated.
Now that you are a little more familiar with the signs of frustration, how do you quickly move from frustration to solution? There are several approaches you can take:
Make a 180: Try something completely different. Start over. Use a different program. Write a whole new outline. Sometimes taking a big step in another direction can help us get a task back on track.
Find a Friend: Listen to your frustration. Are you missing information, experience, or skills? It might be time to ask a coworker to collaborate with you.
Clarify Your Plan: Do you often feel overwhelmed or tend to procrastinate when you’re frustrated? Our lead facilitator, Kevin Patterson, shared that it’s probably because you are unclear on what to do next. Take a moment and write down the three next steps. Seeing just a few steps ahead will usually clarify the task at hand.
Take a Break: Sometimes you just need to give yourself a break. Go get some water, stretch, or take a lap around the building. (For an in-depth look at this powerful approach, CEO Paul Brown recommends The Breakout Principle by Herbert Benson and William Proctor.)
Lastly, Take a Long Break: Sometimes you need a longer break, and that’s ok. This usually happens when you’ve spent too long in the frustration zone. So put aside the project and pick it up tomorrow or the day after.
The next time you feel frustrated, try out one of these approaches! Remember to give yourself some grace, and you might be surprised how quickly the answer comes to you.
Remember, when you’re not struggling, it’s not likely you’re learning and growing from your experience. So stay 5% frustrated!