It was thirty-six degrees celsius. Beads of sweat were building up on my forehead, and I could feel waves of frustration ebbing off of my displeased girlfriend.
I was also getting frustrated. We couldn’t figure out how to feed the slackline through the ratchet. A slackline is a belt that you tie and tighten between two trees, like a tight rope, that you then try to walk on while maintaining balance.
We had borrowed a friend’s slackline and intended to set it up at the park across the street to occupy ourselves for the afternoon. What I didn’t expect was that setting it up might cost me my relationship.
With almost 50 meters of slackline to feed through the ratchet, every time you had to pull it through the ratchet took nearly 2 minutes. Tensions (pun fully intended) ran high when we couldn’t figure out the ratcheting system to tighten the slackline.
What was supposed to be a fun afternoon was quickly turning into a silent but deadly game of tightrope with frustration itself. My girlfriend asking me: “Did you try it upside down?” was a trigger for: “I don’t know, Ashley, did YOU try it upside down?”
Trust me, that’s not something you want to say to your thirsty, overheated girlfriend who just wants to help. And why do we say things like that to our significant others or anyone in general? Because we get frustrated.
We wouldn’t get frustrated if we knew it was happening
Frustration arises when you are failing at doing something after multiple attempts. It should be easier than this. Why can’t I do this? It slowly consumes you until you are in a state of irritation. You become an extremely reactive element to anything that interacts with you.
Possibly the hardest thing to do in the face of frustration is to realize that it’s setting in. The only way to do that is through practice, and it’s not easy. Especially when your girlfriend is trying to help, but she keeps pulling the slackline in the opposite direction.
Identify the symptoms
Thinking about and identifying the first symptoms of frustration is the key to unraveling the problem — and in this case, the slackline. I start to breathe heavily, and a tightness builds in my chest.
If I can catch this happening, I have a good chance of diffusing my frustration as fast as it is starting. If not, I get consumed by it, and it’s twice as hard to release the frustration.
This step takes reflection and practice. You might even have to intentionally enter a situation that frustrates you so that you can practice identifying your symptoms.
All I have to do is enter an argument with my mother about what foods are healthy and what foods aren’t, and my blood pressure slowly begins to rise. That was just for the sake of example — Love you, mom. I use that scenario to identify my triggers.
Choose a diffusing action
As the slackline crisis was mounting, and my girlfriend was pulling the line in the opposite direction, I began to hum a happy tune in my head. It was Happy by Pharrell Williams.
“Cause I’m happppppy, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof.”
Now, this might sound very silly, but it works. You can’t be frustrated and mad at the world when you’re singing a happy song. Try it. You immediately realize how seriously you are taking yourself and how stupid you look standing in the middle of a gorgeous park with your beautiful girlfriend on vacation gearing up to have fun.
Great job, Mic, you’ve taken a beautiful day and a beautiful moment and made it into a life or death slackline battle. Come on, man. Relax.
Choose your diffusing action. Some people like to take deep breaths, and some people like to think about minions running around and destroying their office. Whatever works for you, employ it at the first sign of frustration.
The better you are at dealing with frustration, the better you are at dealing with anything.
Treat it as a competition with yourself. How quickly and how effectively are you able to neutralize frustration? It all starts with identifying it and then acting on it.
This skill is transferable to every other negative emotion that is misplaced. Negative emotions are essential. We have them for a reason. They do, however, need to be reigned in at inappropriate times, and like anything, that takes practice.
If you never practice it a day in your life, how can you expect to be a cool, calm cucumber when the moment calls for it? How can you expect to bite your tongue instead of yelling at your significant other for putting the oranges in the wrong basket on the table?
How can you expect to highlight the positive things your employee has achieved instead of immediately pointing out their faults?
How somebody deals with frustration can expose their emotional intelligence and stability. If the right person is watching, they can tell a lot about you based on how you handle frustration. Practice handling it well now so that you can really shine when it matters.