Dissolve Frustration — Three Strategies You Can Begin Using Right Now

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Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. is a seasoned clinician with experience working with adults, couples, families, adolescents and older children since 1976. His aim ...Read More

Frustration is a feeling that is quite widespread in our society. This moderate level of anger predictably takes one of three forms: (1) thinking and believing something will happen, and it doesn’t; and (2) thinking and believing something won’t occur, and it does; and (3) not thinking or expecting something to occur, and it occurs producing displeasing results as you see it. Each form is tied to the expectations we hold from the start.

The only means I’ve ever found for someone to end up in Frustration City is to travel by way of Unrealistic Expectations Road. In anonymous self-help groups, an expectation is regarded as nothing more than a premeditated resentment. For illustration, you expect to do well at school or work on some project, and you don’t; or you expect to not see someone you dislike at a social gathering, and you do. In both cases you end up feeling frustration and resentment. What you were expecting, either over what did occur or what didn’t occur, bit you. What is the way through?


The first way to dodge Frustration City is to make your peace in traveling by way of Realistic Expectations Boulevard. In years past I have foolishly recommended that individuals lower their expectations. I call it foolish because people wouldn’t follow through, it wasn’t effective and people didn’t like the suggestion in the least. I’ve wised up. Now I have people consider adapting their expectations so they fit and work with what life brings at any given moment-I never said in what direction! Preventatively, you also have the choice to set your expectations in a highly realistic way from the start, as well as ever reset your expectations so they match the reality you are experiencing now.

Of course, it makes no sense to say, “So just have no expectations,” because human beings do hold expectations all the time anyway. Like the lack of a communication is a communication, so the lack of an expectation is also an expectation. All we can do is take control of how we go about setting our expectations in this moment.

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A second strategy for dissolving frustration is to reframe situations in a larger, more relative context in which positive meanings and personal power can be accented. For example, if you’re frustrated about not having accomplished more and attained the position you desire in life by a certain age, then you can notice how far you have come, how much longer it takes on the average to achieve large goals for almost everyone and how far others with your education, experience and age have progressed. Doing all of these, it is likely you will feel better with yourself and how far you have come.

So, taking the same examples as above, let’s see how differently they can be handled. The first illustration is of you wanting to do well at school or work on a project. Employing the strategy of adjusting your expectations so they work with realistic condition, you realize the difficulty of the project, how important and committed you are to do well, and how strictly or leniently the professor or boss tends to evaluate projects. Moreover, you set a realistic goal for yourself given these life conditions and how much time and quality work you choose to put in. Additionally, you use the strategy of reframing your life circumstances by noticing your past track record with projects, how far along you are in your academic or career life path, and your specific set of present assets and challenges. Whatever the results, you are likely to not be so frustrated, although you may still be somewhat disappointed or elated. Of course, this too will pass.

A second example is you hoping to not see someone at a social engagement. Using the strategy of adapting your expectations to fit real life, you accept that you have no realistic control over that person attending or not. Further, using the strategy of reframing, you see the possibility of seeing that person as an interesting challenge and readout for how little emotional energy you still have concerning him or her as well as how much you have matured in being able to stay non-manipulated. You also form a workable game plan for how you plan to handle yourself if that person attends. If that individual shows up, you work your game plan largely free from frustration, even if you are somewhat uncomfortable and do not particularly like their presence. So long as you don’t actively lean into disliking this person being around and take nothing personally as any statement about you, then you can feel fine about how you handled this situation.

The big bonus in holding realistic expectations through adapting them so they are in accord with present life conditions along with reframing your perceptions to glean positive meanings and personal potency in a larger, relative picture is sevenfold. You prevent frustration, constructively modulate emotions you feel no matter what ensues, remain non-manipulated by circumstances or yourself, find affirmative meanings in unpleasant circumstances, preserve living by your choice, stay available in the present and experience greater personal control, power and satisfaction. Not too shabby, I’d say.


Frustration coupled with perfectionist expectations only places you in a pressure cooker by tackling far too much in far too little time. You miss out on the here-and-now by placing yourself in the there-and-then, drawing on past self-defeating patterns and projecting your fears into the unknown future.

A third strategy is a four-stage action plan for dissolving frustration fed by perfectionism. Given that it takes two to three times as long as expected for most of us to accomplish our vision, let’s factor this into the bigger picture. Here are four steps how:


STAGE 0: Realize that bigger issues, such as emergencies and unexpected important events, take precedence or priority over any planned agenda, and be okay with this reality being present at times.

STAGE 1: Use Brayfield’s Sludge Factor, that is, take your estimated time and resources to complete anything and multiply them times 2, preferably 3, and now you have a realistic estimate (courtesy Arthur Brayfield, Ph.D.). You plan your daily action agenda by choosing 1/2 to 1/3 of what you would typically do as tasks in the available, useable hours to accomplish your highest priority tasks.

STAGE 2: You can be truly appreciative of how much you accomplish, most likely all that you had set out to accomplish, and that’s just fine.

STAGE 3: If you have remaining time and energy, you can choose to do further activities as a bonus, like enjoying a tasty dessert after a wonderfully satisfying meal. You can legitimately be pleased in accomplishing what you set out to accomplish, often plus some extra!

One key for using all three strategies is to consistently follow through for at least three weeks, the typical period of time necessary for establishing a new habit pattern. Once a habit is established, it is usually easier to maintain it. What works keeps working.

Keep Reading By Author Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
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