Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Opposite of Frustration

If I ask you what the opposite of frustration is, you would probably answer that the opposite of frustration is complacency or acceptance. Because really, frustration is just another form of irritation – you are irritated because something isn’t exactly the way you want it to be. Said another way, frustration is the gap between your desire and current reality. What you want is not exactly the way something is. The chasm between these two is what generates frustration. So the obvious opposite of this situation would be to simply accept what is, and give up wanting it to be different. Give up your desired outcome, and you will stop being frustrated.

But I don’t believe that acceptance is the only antidote to frustration. In fact, I think the real opposite of frustration is curiosity.

By definition, you get frustrated when life isn’t exactly the way you want it to be, the way you expected it to be, or the way that someone else promised you it would be.

You want the house to be quiet, but the TV is blaring.
You want to fall asleep, but your mind is racing so much you can’t sleep. 
You want to drive quickly to work, but there is TRAFFIC all the way there.
You expected the new dog you adopted to be house trained, but he is not.

These are all situations where something is not exactly how you want it to be.

Your most likely response is irritation and anger. But these do nothing to change the current reality. Reality is reality, and the dog and the traffic and your insomnia don’t care if you are frustrated. Your frustration does nothing to change the situation.

The alternative I would recommend – the opposite of frustration – is curiosity.

Instead of getting angry and impatient and grumpy, try getting really curious.

Get curious about WHY.

Why is traffic that way? Why is the dog or your neighbor behaving a certain way? Why haven’t your expectations been met and what were your expectations anyway? If you can’t sleep, what was different about your evening before you went to bed? There are dozens of questions you can think of when you become sincerely curious.

This afternoon we were driving home from golf and Tucson traffic was a mess. For absolutely no reason, at 1:00 on a Sunday afternoon, traffic was backed up for almost a mile. I found myself getting irritated as we sat at a red light for several cycles without moving anywhere. We were not moving at all. I hate not moving in traffic. But because it was a Sunday afternoon, not a holiday, and I could not figure out why traffic was so bad, I decided to get curious about what could be causing this traffic. Eventually, at the second intersection we came to, I discovered that there was a cop car blocking the intersection, even though there was no accident. Therefore, I concluded that there must either be a funeral procession or a parade or some other type of escort. Once I came to that conclusion, I got curious about which way the procession was moving. Then I could determine the best way for us to drive an alternate route. Eventually we drove east a little bit out of our way, but as we did, we discovered a VERY LONG motorcycle parade and I became very grateful that we had taken action to drive the alternate route. If we had stayed where we were, we would have been there a very long time without moving.

After you get curious about WHY things are the way they are, then you can become curious about WHAT and HOW. What would have to change for you to be less frustrated? How would things have to be different for you to relax? WHAT actions can you take to lessen your frustration? WHAT options are available to you that would help you change the situation?

Can you drive a different route? Can you take your new dog to a dog trainer? Can you unplug the TV or turn down the volume or donate it to charity?

WHY questions won’t guide you about how to change the situation. But WHY questions can help you better understand the source of your frustration. Then you can follow these with WHAT and HOW questions, which will help you identify actions that can help the situation.

Here's the recipe:

1. Realize that you are frustrated. Yes, this requires self awareness.
2. Get curious about WHY you are frustrated – name the specific desire that is different from the current state reality. Identify the specific gap.
3. Get curious about WHAT and HOW you can take action to change the current state reality.
4. Repeat.

This sounds pretty simple. And the basic concepts are simple. But the execution is harder, because it causes us to shift our emotional state from frustration to curiosity.

Therefore, you should start trying this process in order to practice. Luckily, almost every day offers us opportunities to practice. The next time you are frustrated, decide instead to become curious.  It's healthier for you and it will lead to a better outcome...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Importance of "AND"

I am an idealist. I was a peace corps volunteer. I was a high school teacher. And I fundamentally - wholeheartedly - believe in possibilities. I believe that people are full of possibilities and I believe that our lives are full of possibilities. And you can call me na├»ve, but I believe that we should be able to include everything that matters to us in our life – I believe there is room for everything that we value, no matter how disparate those things might be.

In other words, I don’t believe we should have to choose between things that matter to us. There is room for all of it and we should not have to choose between.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between doing work we love or making good money.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between work or family.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between our spouse or our parents.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between travel or family.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between loyalty or honesty.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between being an artist or having a family.

I fundamentally reject the notion that someone should ever have to make any of these difficult choices. Living in a world of either/or is limiting, and constraining, and unnecessary. The world is large with possibilities and either/or thinking makes the world seem far too small. Unfortunately, either/or thinking is far too common, and people spend too much energy trying to make decisions between things. And some people spend their energy actually encouraging people to make choices between things.
Instead of living in a world of either/or, we should become skilled at designing ways to include option A AND option B.

Said another way, I believe we should start with the principle of AND.

We should do work we love AND make a great income.

We should balance the time we invest in our work AND the time we invest in our family.

We should develop our family life at home AND find time to travel.

We should be loyal to people we trust AND be honest.

We should create art AND spend quality time with our family.

In other words, we should find room for all of it. If we accept the premise that there is room in our lives for everything that matters, then we need to become skilled at what I call life design. We need to get good at “designing in” everything that matters to us – this is a skill that can be learned.

If we believe that there is room for everything that matters, the question then becomes: “How do we make it all work?” And that’s an excellent question to explore. Once we get really curious about HOW to make it all work out, then we might explore how other people have made it all work. We might research options or talk to other people who seem to be role models at life design.

When I was in high school, one of my friends was really into BMX bikes. I was vaguely aware that he traveled to a lot of bike events, but I was more concerned with how we were going to get through geometry class with a passing grade. I really didn’t know any other adults who rode BMX bikes, so I assumed the BMX thing was a passing fad.

Anyway, thanks to Facebook, I caught up with Todd Lyons, and discovered that he has spent the last 20 years creating an amazing and unique life around BMX. He moved to Southern California, became famous in the BMX world, made a bunch of money, and turned his passion into a career. He is now the brand manager at a bike company and from his online journal he seems to genuinely love everything that he is doing. But more than anyone else I grew up with, Todd did a kick ass job of creating the life he wanted – because he designed in everything that he wanted in his life. He didn’t leave anything out and he didn’t settle. His life is completely unlike anyone else I know, but it is completely true to Todd.

You can read more about Todd here:

I’m not suggesting that you live like Todd. I’m not suggesting that you live like anyone else. Instead, I’m suggesting that you live exactly like the person that you are. I’m suggesting that you live the best, most passionate and complete life that you can imagine. Even if it is unlike anyone else that you know.

There is room for everything that matters. You just need to believe that everything is possible and then get busy figuring out how to design your life in a way that works for you. No one else is going to do that for you. But life is too short to live a life that doesn’t fulfill you. There is room for work AND family AND adventures AND art AND love AND passion AND….