By Leo Babauta
Pretty much all of us experience frustration on a daily (or even hourly) basis.
We get frustrated by other people, by ourselves, by technology, by work situations, by small crises that come up all the time. You know you’re frustrated when you find yourself sighing, or complaining about people, or fuming about something that happened, or going over why you’re right and they’re wrong.
Frustration is normal, but holding on to frustration is not so fun. It’s not even helpful: if the situation isn’t great, adding frustration on top of it just makes it worse. Often frustration will make us not happy with someone else, and worsen our relationship with them. Or it will cause us to be less calm, and handle a situation less than ideally.
How can we calm ourselves and let go of our frustrations so that we’re not so irritated and angry throughout the day? Let’s talk about why we get frustrated, and how to address this problem.
The Origins of Frustration
Where does our frustration come from? It’s from not wanting things to be a certain way or not wanting other people to behave a certain way. Not wanting ourselves to be a certain way.
It’s a rejection of how things are. From this, we start to tell ourselves a story: She shouldn’t act that way, she should do this. And she always does this! Why can’t she just see that she’s wrong? She’s so irritating!
We tell ourselves stories all day long, and we get caught up in them, and this is where we dwell in our frustration.
A Guide to Overcoming Frustration
You can’t help frustration coming up, no matter how zen you’d like to be. It’s natural, and so are the stories we tell ourselves. However, you can develop an awareness of it. Are you mad or irritated with someone right now? Do you find yourself clenching your jaw because of a situation? Sighing? Complaining to someone, wanting to vent? Are you fuming? Arguing your case in your mind?
When you notice yourself experiencing frustration, pause.
Just sit still for a moment—even just a few seconds—and notice your frustration. Notice how it feels in your body. Then start to notice the story you’re telling yourself. What are you telling yourself is wrong with the situation? What are you saying the other person should or shouldn’t do? How are you characterizing the other person or situation?
Now ask this: Is this story helping me?
Is it making the situation better or worse? Is it helping your relationship with the other person? Is it making you happy? If it’s not helpful, maybe you’re creating your own unhappiness entirely in your mind. Instead, perhaps you can see this frustrating situation as a lesson in mindfulness, in letting go, in acceptance, in finding happiness no matter how other people act, no matter what situation you’re in.
Every moment has a lesson, if we’re willing to look. If we open up ourselves to this situation, we can learn a lot about how to see other people not as we want them to be, but in the glorious messy beauty of how they actually are, without needing them to change.
If you’re learning from this situation, you can also see that the other person is suffering. Not in the sense of “life is simply miserable and I’m suffering in agony,” but in the sense of “something is making me unhappy.” Something is causing the other person to act “imperfectly,” because they’re conflicted about something, they’re frustrated themselves (as you are). In this way, you are both experiencing the same thing. You are connected, and you can understand how they feel because you’re feeling it too.
They are behaving imperfectly, yes, but we all do that. That doesn’t make it right, but perhaps you can empathize with them, maybe even try to understand their story, where they’re coming from. Try to see how the way they’re behaving makes sense to them from their perspective.
It does, you just can’t see it.
Now perhaps you can let go of your way. You want things to go your way, want people to behave the way you want them to. But you don’t and can’t control the universe. You aren’t entitled to getting everything your way. Other people get to act imperfectly, behave their own way, and it’s true that you don’t have to agree with them or love the way they’re acting, but insisting in your own mind that things go your way or people act the way you want them to won’t work, and will only make you frustrated.
So let go! So “c’est la vie” and loosen your grip on the way you want things to be.
Finally, say “yes” to this experience. It’s perhaps not ideal, but what is? Say “yes” and embrace the way this moment is. Practice this saying “yes” on a regular basis, and you’ll loosen up on your clinging to things, you’ll start to appreciate what is beautiful about the present moment, and start to be frustrated less often.
Leo Babauta is a regular guy, a father of six kids, a husband, a writer from Guam (now living in San Francisco). He eats vegan food, writes, runs, and reads. He is the founder of Zen Habits which is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness.
Editor: Dana Gornall