A Coaching Power Tool By Heather Fife, Health Coach, UNITED STATES
Changing a Frustrating Situation Into Fun (Fun vs. Frustrating)
Working on homework can be extremely frustrating, especially if you are a 7-year-old boy who can not sit still. Even though it is frustrating we still need to do it. On a recent homework night with my 7 year old he needed to practice his spelling words for the week and wouldn’t do it. So I asked him “If this was fun, would you want to do it then?” of course he said yes and so every time he spelled a word correctly we would all cheer and yell and get super excited. He had so much fun he wanted to practice last week’s spelling words as well. Changing a frustrating situation into fun allows us to let go of the barrier that is causing us to not do something.
The emotions of frustration can be debilitating or productive. Frustration is experienced when the goals or results you want do not fit the effort or the action. It can occur from minor irritations like losing your keys. It can also occur from major problems like not receiving the promotion you wanted or failure to attain a goal or a desired outcome like losing weight. Frustration can be good because it can persuade a person to change their behavior or can induce creativity to solve the issue at hand. For example, when you constantly lose your keys and you get frustrated, you realize you should have a specific spot you should put your keys in every time, and therefore it helps you become more organized. However, frustration can also result in anger, irritability, stress, resentment, depression, resignation, and rage which can be very debilitating and not productive. It can cause resistance in accomplishing the task or goal or conversation you need to have. It’s important to handle the frustration appropriately so that you can accomplish what you intend to.
The reason this is important is that it can cause you to be counterproductive when you are frustrated. It can cause you to say or do things that you do not intend and thereby can ruin relationships and opportunities. Changing the Frustration into Fun can create a pause and therefore give you the ability to mentally see what is happening and allow you to make a decision using the Neocortex part of your brain instead of the reptilian, or impulse, part of your brain. It also helps you dissociate the negative feelings with that situation and instead creates a healthy way to handle something that may have caused you to be counterproductive, disconnected, and not deal with the issue appropriately.
What Is Frustration?
Frustration is common. Generally, it is an emotional response to opposition. It can arise from anger, annoyance, and disappointment. When we experience frustration it comes from two types of goal blockages: internal and external.
Internal frustration comes from disappointment when we don’t get what we want from real or imagined deficiencies. An example of such deficiency is a lack of confidence. Internal frustration can also stem from goal conflict, for example attaining a better GPA, staying in shape, or being healthy. By working hard to get a better GPA you may end up putting fitness and your health in the backseat.
External frustration comes from events outside of yourself. An example of external frustration is sitting in traffic, waiting in a long line, waiting on someone, a flight delay, or being on hold. Sometimes we can avoid the frustration by taking a different route to avoid the traffic, get someone else to wait in line for us, or some other option. However, sometimes the frustration is unavoidable.
Frustration can cause the reptilian brain to take control. The reptilian brain is the first level of the brain response which is better known as the survival brain. Using this part of the brain increases our cortisol level and we are not thinking it’s instinctive and the fight or flight mode kicks in. Instead, we need to take a moment to feel and understand what is going on and then make a decision from the Neocortex part of our brain which allows us to use our ability to respond instead of reacting to situations.
What Is Fun?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary fun is defined as “light-hearted pleasure, enjoyment, or amusement; boisterous joviality or merrymaking entertainment.” Fun can be integrated into every day or big trips and events. Some people discover the fun in sports, media, and anything that brings a smile to their face.
The Physical Benefits Of Fun
Fun produces more energy than it requires. Many people believe having fun is a selfish act. However, the fun builds our self-esteem and gives us a chance to blow off the negative feelings that may be surrounding us. Fun or laughter also decreases stress levels which give us increased oxygen and blood flow throughout our body. It also relaxes our muscles. The physical benefits of laughing are to relieve pain, improve the immune system, and improve our mood. All of these things will support us in making better decisions and our connections with people.
How to Identify and Overcome Frustration
When I have felt frustrated I tend to be unable to think clearly and it is difficult to deal with the situation. The times I have had the most success is when I have added some light-hearted fun to the situation. In turn, it calms my stress and I can handle the situation better. For example, when my kids and I were involved in an accident. It terrified my kids and caused us to be delayed. Instead of being frustrated, I decided to talk about what we had just experienced. I checked to make sure no one was hurt, and then made it a fun experience for the kids where we decided to play a game with the cars that were passing us by. Not only did this pass the time but we ended up with a family game we have played to this day. We turned a very frustrating situation into a fun one and it released the stress so we could handle the situation effectively. The person I had hit ended up not doing anything about it and we were able to go on our way.
It is important to understand where the frustration is coming from. I realized I was frustrated that I hit the car. Instead of getting frustrated with my children or the gentlemen, I decided to enjoy the time with them and make it a fun experience. It also allowed me to speak clearly to the gentleman I had hit and helped him not be frustrated with the situation. Consequently, the gentleman I had hit did not get upset at me in front of my children or sue me.
Frustration is something that we all have to deal with. It’s unreasonable to think we can avoid frustration. When a client comes in frustrated it can be difficult for them to see a solution or obtain any kind of learning from the situation. By supporting the client to find a way to release some of the stress in a situation, can then allow them to see a way to work through the emotions and in the end find a solution. It is also believed that negative emotions can hurt our overall health.
It is important to explore the values of the client and understand their goals. This can be done in many ways, however, the exploration must be done to support the client. Once the values and goals are established it is then important to understand where the frustration is coming from so that we can understand what is blocking them and creating resistance.
Possible questions to help achieve clarity with your client:
- You have mentioned you feel frustrated. How does this frustration feel?
- How would you define frustration?
- Use comparisons with related feelings: irritated or angry
- How does your husband/boyfriend/friend/child see you when you’re frustrated?
- You mentioned being frustrated with your dog. What is leading you to feel this way?
- What does this tell you about yourself?
- Is this goal still relevant?
- How does your reaction get you closer or further away from your goal?
Key to Handling Frustration
The key to handling frustration is to reduce it or turn it into motivation. Once the client understands the frustration the coach can begin to ask questions that help move them into a place that creates fun to provide a way to handle the frustration and move into action.
Looking at the incredibly frustrating situation and being able to see something that can make you laugh helps you ease the tension and frustration. An example of this was when my ex and I were arguing and it was getting heated. I knew my kids could hear so I wanted to ease the tension in the situation as I was trying to figure out how to calm things down – he said “I may be unreasonable but you are super unreasonable”. I thought that was hilarious and I started joking about “super” and we couldn’t stop laughing and it diffused the situation which helped us handle the real issue at hand. It gave my kids an amazing lesson on when things are heated adding in some laughter calms the emotions and you are then able to come up with a solution or resolution.
Possible questions to ask:
- What is the worst-case scenario here?
- Has this happened in the past?
- What might be the underlying judgment in your reaction?
- What can you do to change/control the situation?
- Have you ever had (experience) when (reaction) didn’t happen?
How to Manage Fun vs. Frustrating Emotions
When we are upset or stressed we have a low ability to make decisions that benefit us long-term. It is important to take a moment and breathe and see if there is anything in the situation that is a bit ridiculous or that can help reduce the emotional reaction. Once we have reduced the emotional reaction we are better equipped to create a response that supports our goals instead of reacting to the situation. When we do that we can handle what is happening and we can bring our stress levels down and end up making decisions that get us closer to our goals. Not only does changing frustration to fun increase our ability to make choices that bring us closer to our goals it also provides us the ability to make better decisions. We are also able to create opportunities that value our relationships instead of focusing on a frustrating situation. Many people have lost friendships or family members due to being frustrated over an incident or situation. When we learn how to handle our reactions we have a better ability to create solutions that provide opportunities to achieve our goals.
Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed). Oxford University Press.
Dr. Vince Berger, (2005) Understanding Frustration.
Salwa Abdullah Al Majali, Lina Mahmoud Ashour, 2020, ‘The Negative Consequences of Poor Emotion Management (Anger, Anxiety, and Frustration) on the Brain and Body’, Talent Development & Excellence