Are You Getting Frustrated Productively?


What do you do when you're frustrated? Not sure? Then consider what you'd do in the following situation:

Last week you had an interview for your dream job. I'm talking, the job so perfect you couldn't have created it if it had been pulled straight from your imagination. The interview went amazingly well - you clicked with the panelists, your answers were spot-on, and you could see in the panelists' eyes that you'd synched it.

Problem is, you haven't heard from them since.

The phone finally rings. It's the Head of HR at Dream Company. "Sorry," she says. "We're unable to offer you a job at this time. There were many outstanding applicants and rest assured that our inability to offer you a job is not a reflection on your qualifications. We hope you'll consider applying again in the future."

After you hang up, what do you do?

A) Think, "Oh well. Whatever. I didn't want that job anyway." Then sit down and watch Netflix for hours on end.

B) Immediately start sobbing. Then keep sobbing. Then sob every time you recount the outcome to friends, family, or the random woman buying grapes beside you in the market.

C) March out to your roommate and scream, "They don't want me?! Who do they think they are, not wanting me? I'll show them! One day I'll be the biggest news since Miley's foam finger and they'll be sorry. Really, really sorry." After yelling, you feel better, although a glowing ember of anger remains in your core.

So which one is you?

And which response do you think is the healthiest?

If you answered C to both questions, your future is in good shape. If not, read on!

What We Learn By Frustrating Babies

My first paid job in my twenties was frustrating babies. I'm not kidding. (See? Your job could be worse.)

I was literally paid to talk moms into bringing their 4-month-old sweethearts into a laboratory so that I could make said sweethearts mind-numbingly, red-face-screamingly frustrated.

I did this by teaching the bambinos how to turn on a picture by pulling a string...and then, once they'd learned it, making the picture and music not turn on when they wanted it to.

After the families left - oddly cheerful because I gave them a bib in exchange for the crying - I got to watch videos of the babies' screaming faces in super slow-motion for the rest of my work day.

While it may sound like I was involved in some uber-sketchy torture ring, this was in fact valid and valuable research conducted at The Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey.

And what we learned from the research could change your life.

Three Ways of Responding to Being Frustrated

When we watched the videos, we noticed that the babies who got MAD when frustrated had the most productive behavior. Their tiny faces contorted into anger expressions - eyebrows knitted, mouth in a square, nose wrinkled - and they pulled the crap out of the string for minutes on end, determined to make things go their way.

The babies who got sad simply gave up. They sat there like limp little blobs, the string dangling flacidly, their only motion being intense, racking tears. (We often had to stop the study session early to relieve these kiddos - and their distraught moms.)

Notably, not a single baby became emotionless, the way many adults do when frustrated. That's because apathy is a learned response. It's a defense mechanism consisting partly of repression ("I'm not upset") and rationalization ("I couldn't care less about that job anyway.") Babies don't do this sort of thing. Since it's so unnatural, we shouldn't either. It's no wonder repression has been linked to many physical ailments, including high blood pressure, cancer, asthma, and diabetes.

How To Best Respond When Frustrated

The bad news is, your response to frustration is probably largely innate. Hence why 4-month-olds showed different patterns; it was inborn.

The good news is that you can fight what's innate.

Simply having the knowledge that anger results in better outcomes than sadness and apathy can enable you to make the choice to go against your first impulses.

I'm not saying not to express your sadness if that's what you're feeling. Go ahead and express it. But then move the heck on.

Get pissed. Rile up the works. Shake a few limbs.

Force yourself to channel that sadness - a passive emotion - into anger - an active one.

Whatever you do, don't go off into a corner and cry for days. Or weeks. Or months.

How Frustration Response Relates to The Twenties

In the years since frustrating babies for a living, I've watched countless twentysomethings relive the frustration patterns time and again.

No shocker there:  the twenties are inherently frustrating times. In a very real way, they're like having a picture that used to show up when you pull a string suddenly start to show up randomly, or not at all.

To be sure, all of adult life has its frustrations. But it's in our twenties when we first learn we're not in control the way we used to be. Which is hella frustrating:

You used to do all your homework and receive verbal praise from everyone around you. Now you do all your work in the office and the niece of the boss/the blowhard/the socialite gets all the praise.

You used to put your best foot forward in a class presentation and earn an A. Now you prep like crazy for an interview and get a "no thank you" in response.

You used to have many ways to pursue your interests:  picking college classes you liked, choosing paper topics that resonated with you, doing extracurriculars that lit you on fire. Now you're spending your days doing what's dictated to you, and you don't have the time or energy to pursue your own interests when the day of dictation ends.

In short, the twenties are about adjusting to having the rug pulled out from under you.

Are you gonna cry about it, or are you gonna get up and weave a new rug?

The angry babies, they'd do the latter.

And I'd highly suggest you do, too.

Because the twentysomethings I've seen get angry, they're the ones who are actively creating the lives they desire.

The ones who are crying and withdrawing? They're working the crappy jobs and lamenting that their adult lives will never be what they imagined.

So what's it gonna be?

It's your choice.

Now I want to know:  How do you typically respond to frustration? What are you going to do differently going forward? Write your answer in the comments below!

Ready to get riled up? There's no better way to make constructive use of your anger than by getting clear on your vision for your life, setting goals based on that vision, and making a plan to get what you want.

Let's work together to turn your anger into action!

Check out my coaching page for details. September slots are going fast!