Feeling frustrated is natural, but it’s also difficult to deal with — especially if you’re at work, trying your best to be productive and efficient. Adam Grant, Ph.D., psychology professor at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of Originals, talks about the surprising benefits of getting frustrated at work in a new piece in the New York Times. “A natural response to frustration is the fight-or-flight response,” he writes. “[But] when we’re dissatisfied, instead of fight or flight, sometimes we invent.”
Grant says when we feel committed to our work and to our team, feelings of dissatisfaction can actually promote sparks of creativity and motivation that help us come up with new ideas. “When we’re frustrated, we reject the status quo, question the way things have always been done, and search for new and improved methods,” he says. And while it’s not always easy to see our aggravation as a source of inspiration, it’s important to remember that getting frustrated doesn’t have to feel like a setback.
The next time you’re feeling frustrated at work, here are three ways to channel your irritation into a source of motivation:
Focus on what’s next
Whether you’re frustrated with yourself or with a colleague, it’s important to move forward and not let your emotions get in the way of new ideas. “Focus on the path in front of you rather than on the perceived threat,” Loretta Breuning, Ph.D., author of Habits of a Happy Brain, tells Thrive. “If one path isn’t open, you can find another.” Breuning says that it’s common to get hung up on an idea that didn’t work out as you’d planned. But in those moments of disappointment, it’s imperative to acknowledge the failure, then focus on going forward. “When a gazelle is threatened by a lion, it focuses on its next step, not on the lion,” she adds. “If you focus on the lion, you will always feel threatened.”
Rethink your strategy
Constant frustration could be a sign that you need to change your work ethic, whether it’s your strategy, your communication with co-workers, or even the hours you’re working. “There are principles we can use to figure out the schedules that allow us to do better work,” Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D, author of Rest and The Distraction Addiction, tells Thrive. Instead of focusing on your lack of productivity, channel your frustration into a new strategy that works better for you. Pang says it’s okay to change things if you’re not reaching your goals, and when a project takes you longer than anticipated, he urges us to not fall into the trap of shaming ourselves for it.
Think big, but stay specific
Grant encourages us not to steer clear of plans that seem daunting — and notes that we are actually more motivated by our most ambitious goals. “Decades of research show that extremely difficult, specific goals motivate us to work harder and smarter,” he writes. “Most of us prefer a task with a 50-50 shot of success over an easier one.” Plus, Breuning adds that with bigger goals in mind, it’s important to stay optimistic, even if the process sometimes feels frustrating. We are so good at anticipating potential problems that we can fall into the trap of endlessly troubleshooting, she says. “Instead, remind yourself that there is not one perfect path. Just continual steps.”
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