Breaking the frustration cycle

Desperate for change to happen, but somehow you cannot break the cycle of procrastination? Know that there is something waiting around the corner, but you just don’t have the strength to go there?

It is likely you have stumbled upon this blog because your cycle looks somehow similar. You can probably relate to the emotions of feeling angry, lacking confidence, stress or spiral downward of giving up; eventually lacking control to take charge of the situation.

This blog is intended to provide some theory on this subject as well as some practical tools to break that pattern.

What creates the frustration?

This uncomfortable feeling overcomes us when our actions and efforts don’t lead to the desired outcome. It is as if a big wall stops us somewhere along the way and we therefore keep staying in this cycle of negative emotions.


Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash

The reason for this negative feeling to get stronger and stronger is our own unawareness. We don’t know what is causing those emotions and fill this gap with whatever makes sense. So our actions come from a place of ‘logical thinking’ mixed with our subjective opinion.

We create our very own story of what’s happening.

In our own story, we usually blame the external circumstances for causing the situation and take a stance of a victim. Here is an example:

A few years ago, I found myself deeply frustrated with my job. The reasons (so I was led to believe by my own unawareness) were the corporate environment, the politics, at times my bosses, at other times the duties of the job itself. Despite changing the company a few times, there were always new reasons and people to blame. I kept going further down the spiral of frustration.

The more we go through life unaware, the more we nurture that wall and build our self-imposed barriers and limitations.

Breaking the cycle

The good news is that we humans are self-reflective people and are able to step back and look at the situation from another angle. The angle that I want to introduce you to is the one where this uncomfortable feeling is a gift.

Look at it this way. Isn’t it great that our body sends us such strong signals that something needs to change? How amazing is it that we have an internal alarm going off when something is off?

Admitting the discomfort and accepting it is a part of the process. Chances are, if you have read this far, you have already accepted that something is off, so take a moment to appreciate that. It takes courage to admit!

Most people go through life being controlled by their circumstances. In order to break the frustration cycle, we need to step up and start making choices that are aligned with our passion (see related article Beginners guide to happiness). To get started, I have listed 4  steps that provide food for self-reflection.

Step 1: Get familiar with the triggers

Getting familiar with what is causing the frustration gives us the ability to see the situation as it is, not as we make it out to be.

Most of us don’t make time for self-reflection. We typically prioritise other things on our to do list. However, this attitude will keep us stuck. Instead, we need to make time, just like we make time for other necessities in life. Getting to know ourselves takes time and effort. Getting unstuck from the frustration cycle requires understanding what triggers it.

A few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What kind of situations lead to those frustrating emotions?
  • What are recurring patterns in your life that aren’t working for you?
    Some examples might be:
    You distract yourself when you get upset rather than facing the issue at hand
    You rather watch another series on TV than getting started with important work
    You are in a job that you know doesn’t work for you but that you tolerate
    You find yourself saying things you didn’t mean
  • Why are those patterns not working for you?

Use your curiosity to reflect on yourself. Get really familiar with the triggers that are causing the frustration and get curious as to why.

Step 2: Say hello to the facts

As you stop feeding your negative emotions, they will fade away and you will slowly see the circumstances as they are. The limitations and self-imposed barriers will become thinner and you can judge the circumstances in a more objective way.

Going back to my example earlier; The company I worked for was corporate. The next company had politics in place. My boss and I had different values. Elements of the job were not in line with what I enjoy. Those are facts! Only by making that distinction and seeing clearly what was going on was I able to make choices that came from a resonant place.

Step 3: Do something differently

Once you have recognised what is triggering those negative emotions and you have established the factual circumstances, you can try something different.

As you will know from past experience, whatever you tried so far hasn’t worked for you. So it is time to try out different actions. Put yourself out there and speak to people, tell them what you are curious about, join new sports or interest groups or start researching about what you have always been interested in.

Doing something different is a big barrier for people. ‘Where do I even start?’ you might ask yourself. The answer is, it doesn’t matter! It is more important to just make a start and do something. It may not directly lead you onto the right path yet, but it will certainly open new doors that may give you more visibility on your journey ahead.

Step 4: Repeat the cycle with the new results

Take time to reflect on your learnings. After having tried new things, what is now triggering the frustrating feelings? What does it take to set them aside? What are the facts? Do something differently.

Getting to the bottom of frustration and breaking the cycle is a long-term game. However, it is well worth the effort. You may well know the ‘Cocoon and the butterfly’ story, which I have summarised below.

A man, who had much love for butterflies, stumbles upon a cocoon with a tiny opening. The butterfly was trying to make its way out to enjoy the world. The man decided to watch the butterfly come out of the cocoon. He was watching its struggle and hard work to transform from this tiny opening, and patiently waited for hours and hours. The man eventually decided to help the butterfly. With good intentions at heart, he broke the cocoon’s shell to widen the opening. The butterfly emerged without struggle, however it was never able to fly.


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