One of the most common sources of difficulty for most of us is frustration—we can get frustrated with the smallest things throughout the day.
And yet, becoming aware of how often we’re frustrated doesn’t quite solve the problem. Someone pointing out that you’re frustrated only makes you more irritated.
How can we let go of our frustrations and find calmness? How can we bring ourselves to peace when our emotions have been triggered?
The answer doesn’t lie in the external; we can’t make things around us less frustrating. For example, we might fruitlessly hope for things like
- People behaving the way we want them to (with more consideration for us)
- Things going the way we’d like
- Orderly, calm, and pleasant environments at home or at the workplace
- Politicians behaving the way we want them to
- Better traffic, or more courteous drivers
And so on. As you might guess, it’s not possible to make all of these things come true. We can’t control other people, world events, or even ourselves much of the time. Things just won’t go the way we’d like.
And when things don’t go our way, we get frustrated. We can’t solve the problem by trying to fix the external situation. The answer has to come from within.
Changing the Inner Response
When someone else is being rude, it’s frustrating to think that we have to be the ones to change our response. Why can’t they just change the way they act? Well, we already know how that goes: We can’t get them to change, so we’ll just stay frustrated.
- Notice your habitual response (the pattern) to frustrating external situations (the trigger).
- Notice what result you get from following the pattern. For example, if the pattern is to be frustrated and resentful by saying things to ourselves like, “How can they be like that?”, then the result might be unhappiness, stress, and a worsening of our relationship. It might be anger and lashing out at someone. It might be withdrawing from the person and spinning around a resentful story in our heads.
So there’s a trigger (external situation that we don’t like) and a pattern (our habitual response to the trigger), and then a result from the pattern (frustration, unhappiness, lashing out, or deteriorating relationship).
Now ask yourself: Is this a desirable result? Do you want to continue to get this result? Is it helpful to you?
If it’s not a helpful pattern, you can start to create a new one.
Creating a New Pattern
Take the opportunity to think about what pattern would be more helpful to you.
You might consider one like this: “This (person/situation) isn’t what I want. I wonder if I can open up to it and be curious about it. I wonder if there’s a way to be grateful for this moment I’ve been given. I wonder if I can find a way to love this moment, in its entirety.”
This pattern might be more helpful. Try it and see. If not, create your own pattern.
Then start to ingrain the new pattern, replacing the old one. It takes practice, so don’t expect to be perfect at it. Here’s how to practice with the new pattern:
- Notice when you start down the old pattern with one of your usual triggers.
- Interrupt the old pattern and don’t let yourself stay on it, even if you only notice it later. For example, if you only notice once you’re a minute into following your old pattern, interrupt yourself. Say, “That’s not helpful. I’m not going to waste my time on that anymore.”
- Insert your new pattern instead. Say the words you planned out (like the ones suggested above), and try to really adopt that attitude. Don’t worry if you’re not good at it at first. Just try to open up to it.
- See what result you get with this new pattern. Give it a few tries before you judge the results (maybe 10 to 15 tries).
If the result is better, then maybe continue to practice this. If not, make a new pattern and try that.
This takes practice and repetition, so put up reminder notes anywhere you can, and forgive yourself if you forget.
Be patient with yourself, and see this as a loving act of self-care. See it as a way to reduce your frustration and unhappiness, and to find peace and calm instead. What a beautiful thing to do for yourself, and for the ones you love.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with more than 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net