We were sitting at a our 10th red light surrounded by cars everywhere. Anxiously wishing we were at our destination, the light turned green and …. nothing, just lots and lots of brake lights. Glare back at the light still green, yet no movement. Now it’s turning yellow and one car made it through the intersection. My cousin in Los Angeles calls this dealing with the red curtain and few other experience represent so vividly our feeling frustrated. We want to go, the light says we can go, but there are obstacles we can do nothing about in our way.
We feel frustrated when our situation thwarts our goals. In this way, our perspective of the situation controls how much we feel frustrated. If we change our goal from getting somewhere to enjoying the conversation with the person in the car next to us, the red lights seem less frustrating. If we double down on our goal, we can start trying to weave through the parked cars and get angry, yelling at all of them through closed windows (as I noted one car doing on our trip).
One of my friends did Amway a couple of decades ago before realizing that it was never going to return money. One thing they taught people was to change their goal to avoid frustration. Namely, when recruiting your friends to change your perspective from getting 1 yes to getting 100 NOs. In this way, when someone says no, instead of getting frustrating, you feel a sense of success (though you may have just lost a friend).
While frustration may motivate us to fix the situation, many times we feel frustrated and there is nothing we can do about it. If we can’t change the situation, then maybe we should change the goal, at least for the moment, and make our lives more enjoyable instead.
[PS While thinking about this, I remembered David Foster Wallace’s commencement address called “This Is Water”. Its’ a short and wonderful read if you have a few minutes.]