Frustration is an all too familiar feeling. We all know it well. We know what situations cause it, we understand why others are frustrated and we recognize the signs of frustration in ourselves and others.

However, when asked, many people struggle to define frustration. And I think defining frustration is a big part of resolving frustration. Here is my definition:

Frustration is when we cannot accomplish our goal, because of something beyond our control.

And what do people do when frustrated? They usually just try harder. And that is not necessarily a bad character trait. Sometimes things feel outside of our control, when really we just need to keep working at it, be patient or find other solutions. However, when there really are things outside of our control, fighting harder just increases the frustration and problems. The most common thing outside your control is people. If people want to be stubborn, which they often are, there is not much you can do.

Actually, that is not exactly true. There is a lot you can do to try to control people. The problem is that most of those things do more damage in the long run. If someone is calling you names and you can’t say anything to get them to stop, you could smash their head in with a brick. That would stop the insults, but I’m pretty sure there a lot of other awful consequences headed your way. Violence, threats, insults, nagging, bribery, screaming, guilt trips, abuse and emotional manipulation are just a few of the ways people try to control each other, and they are also the reasons for many of the problems in this world.

When you try to control things you shouldn’t, you usually make things worse. It would seem like the only alternative is to give up completely and stop caring, which is usually an equally unacceptable option.

But consider the definition of frustration again:

Frustration is when we cannot accomplish our GOAL, because of something beyond our CONTROL.

Instead of trying harder and harder to control things, you could instead reevaluate your goal. If your goal is reliant on external factors, that is probably your first mistake. If you change your goal to focus on your part of a situation, then there is nothing to be frustrated about beyond your own control. For instance:

  • Instead of, “I can’t get them to listen to me,” your goal simply needs to be “I want to express myself clearly and lovingly, and then the decision is up to them.”
  • Unhealthy relationships ask, “How do I keep them happy (so they do not leave me)?” while a healthier relationship would think “What is the most loving thing to do for them, even if they may not like it?”
  • You can fret indefinitely about, “How do I get people to stop hurting me?” or you can start solving the problem by asking, “How do I stop letting people hurt me?”

There is a reason the Serenity Prayer is so immensely popular. It really does grant very real peace in life when you learn what you can or can’t control (or perhaps more accurately, should or shouldn’t control).


“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

– Reinhold Niebuhr


All of this leads to one of the great secrets of content and peaceful people. There is a mindset shift where you can stop worrying about how to control all the circumstances to get the outcomes you want, and instead be satisfied with the decisions you make. Of course, there is a lot more to say on the subject of decisions and morality. But doesn’t it seem like the common dilemma, “How do I get the results I want?” is a much more complicated and stressful endeavor than simply asking, “What is the right thing to do?”

Wouldn’t life be so much simpler if you weren’t responsible for what everyone else is doing and only had to worry about what you need to be doing? 

Well, are you responsible for the things you can’t control?

If you aren’t responsible for what you can’t control, then do you really HAVE to worry about it?

Of course, learning to stop worrying is a whole other challenge in itself. But first you have to know that you are free to stop.


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