I’m incredibly grumpy this morning. Angry at everyone and no one in particular. Frustrated. Short-tempered.
It’s shame there’s not a gang of four year old boys in my apartment building, because I’d be the most enthusiastic adult growler and teeth gnasher they’d every played with.
We could have a fabulous monster or dinosaur simulation for hours, and it would be truly be a win-win for all. Expressing all that “raarrr” energy I have this morning would feel good. Plus there are only so many times and I can answer my husband’s “what’s up?”” with a wide-eyed hissing and my hands molded into grasping claws.
(Please understand, I’m not hissing at him. We’ve just found sometimes it’s easier to show each other just the kind of mood we’re in, rather than having to find words for it.)
What’s the cause of my malaise? Not sure. I think it’s a cocktail of hormones, resentment at a very overfull week, and some stinging experiences I had last week from which I haven’t quite recovered.
I’ve been through the “fix it” cravings this morning. I wanted a sugar-free vanilla half-caf latte to fix my mood. I wanted snapping at my family to fix it. I wanted a hot shower to fix it. I wanted getting back in the bed and cuddling with my husband to fix it.
And of course, none of those things did. A little caffeine did make things a little better. My husband’s hugs made it all seem less desperate, but my mood didn’t change much.
What Wants To Be Born?
Somewhere along the way this morning, I remembered a quote I came across recently in the twitterverse: “Frustration is often a really good sign that something is wanting to be born.” It’s from Cheryl Richardson, the fabulous advocate of self-care, and the life coach Oprah introduced to the world in the 90’s.
These words immediately resonated. I loved the spirit of them. I could see how, in the face of frustration, they’d turn my attention from the negative --what I felt frustrated about--to the positive—the alternative that I wanted.
Typically, when we feel frustrated, our focus and energies then get stuck in two areas:
- The feeling of being frustrated
- The circumstances or person that is frustrating us (and the blame, resentment, venting, and plotting that often comes with that)
Our minds and emotions go there, rather than to what we want, to the dream or desire that lies behind the frustration.
This is what Cheryl’s words highlighted for me: behind every frustration, there is a dream. There is a desire.
This morning, feeling frustrated, I tried to put this idea into practical application. I asked myself, “Tara, my dear, what is it that you are so grumpy/pissed/angry/frustrated about?”
I came up with a list of five things, including three different work experiences – all of which involved having committed myself to things that really weren’t worth the effort expended. I was also feeling frustrated around a financial situation, and I was still angry about a troubling experience I had had the previous week.
For each of those five, I asked myself, what do you want here? What, as Cheryl Richardson would say, was wanting to be born?
It was true: under each of my five frustrations I found something that was waiting, almost quietly, to be born. There were changes in me just emerging, and my external life hadn’t caught up to my new desires.
Underneath my work frustrations, for example, was a desire to become more selective and strategic about speaking engagements and writing articles. Underneath my frustration about a sexist experience I had had the previous week was a desire to get involved in some social change work around this issue of women’s (lack of) leadership in the Silicon Valley business world.
I often expect myself to be clear about what I want proactively – to sit down and dream it up. But my life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes I learn what I want through frustration with what is. In that way, frustration can really be my ally and my oracle.
3 Simple Steps for Working With Frustration
If you want to use frustration constructively in your own life, and move through the frustration of frustration more rapidly, follow this simple process:
- Ask yourself, what do I feel frustrated about? Journal, letting whatever comes up come up.
- For each area of frustration, ask yourself, “What is the dream or desire behind this frustration? What wants to be born here?”
- Turn your focus brainstorming, visioning, planning and action to create what you articulated in #2.
A little tip: Watch out that your list for #2 reflects things that are within your control. For example, if your dream/desire is “Susie (my critical boss) gives me regular recognition at work” you’ve set yourself up for a tough time bringing that into action.
Go deeper to identify the state of being or feeling you are seeking—that state of being you think the external change would cause. For example maybe what you want underneath that desire for Susie to change is that you, “feel recognized at work” or “feel confident and emotionally safe at work.” You can work on these in a number of ways – whether Susie changes or not. Get the idea?
I’d love to hear: how does all of this apply to frustrations you feel now? How do you utilize and move through frustration in your life?
Tara Mohr is a writer, coach and personal growth teacher who helps people connect with their own inner wisdom. She blogs at Wise Living. You can also click here to receive her unconventional Goals Guide, “Turning Your Goals Upside Down and Inside Out to Get What You Really Want.”
*photo copyright © 2010 Lauren Caterson