Frustration is a common emotional response related to anger, annoyance or disappointment. It often occurs when we face obstacles to fulfilling a goal and is likely to increase when a goal is denied or blocked altogether.
For the sake of argument, I am talking about dealing with external causes of frustration - such as a new or very challenging physical task (although the same could apply to a cognitive task). When trying to learn a new and/or difficult physical skill, our bodies and minds struggle to process the unfamiliar sensory input. As a result, we fail. Again and again.
Our resistance to this failure is what causes frustration.
Unfortunately, we are generally conditioned to believe that failure is distasteful and a sign that something is wrong. This starts from a young age and can come from many sources, including the media and education system. As a result of experiencing failures, we may label ourselves. We may say things like, 'I am not a maths person', 'I'm not creative'. When it comes to physical practice, we may say things like, 'I am not flexible', 'I’m not strong’. As well as labelling ourselves, many of us will give up altogether.
Newsflash: Failure is also one of the best learning devices there is.
Giving up potentially means robbing yourself of the opportunity to grow physically and mentally, while learning something new about yourself (the main exception to this would be stopping the process due to injury, but we’ll cover that at a later date). One alternative strategy is to learn to distinguish between what you hope will happen, what will probably happen, and then, what actually happened.
In this age of social media superstars, it’s really easy to get into a trap of comparing yourself to people who have achieved impressive physical feats. Jordan Peterson says: 'Don't compare yourself with other people; compare yourself with who you were yesterday.' He's right, except I would add that progress is not always completely linear, so let's not take 'yesterday' too literally. If you had a crappy yesterday, then look at last week or last month and focus on the progress you are making overall. If I am pretty bad with something today, it’s often the case that I am actually slightly less bad compared to yesterday or last week. Tomorrow or next week, that bad might even become mediocre.
Let's take handstand practice as an example. Even with the right teacher, if you practice regularly you will experience failure so many times - especially at the start. You will get familiar with frustration.
Rather than letting frustration completely define your way of thinking, just notice it, allow it, reflect on it or even make a joke about it. If you stick with it, you'll achieve the handstand one day and it'll feel great. Then that'll wear off and you'll find a new goal and be met with another load of failure and frustration. This stuff doesn't end! And it shouldn't.
Embrace the failure. Befriend the frustration. The process is what is really valuable.
Dan coaches Movement on Saturday mornings.