On frustration

On frustration

Frustration is a complex emotion that can occur when the path towards our goals, ambitions or desires is blocked by one or more of these four broad categories of encounters: with Nature, time, other people or ourselves.

“Fear and loathing” on the Internet

A lot of our frustration, nowadays, stems from the way information is being manipulated and distorted. The media, mainstream and social, twists and shapes our perceptions and opinions. We are is an era of “deep fakes” and seriously disturbed by the inability to distinguish between truth, misinformation and outright lies. We are tricked into caring about wrong ideas and distracted by pumped up trivial issues which divert attention from all that is truly important.

Combating fake news

Fear dominates our thinking and perception of current events. Callous and soulless politicians have hijacked democratic processes in many nations. The world is made to look bad when reality is otherwise. Bill Gates encapsulated his frustration with this state of events with the statement that he is “amazed by the disconnect between what we see in the news and the reality of the world around us.” The fear instinct distorts our perspective.

You’re now mine forever

Multitasking and attention deficit 

Multitasking drains energy

Although we fail to recognise it on many occasions, frustration is often the result of our inability to focus on a single task: an attention deficit. Thanks to technology our cognitive efforts are pulled in multiple directions, simultaneously. We are living in an age of distraction.

The attention economy

We respond with multitasking without realising that it is a hugely ineffective, wasteful and depleting strategy. The more we train our attention to be scattered the less we are able to enhance creativity and emotional intelligence. Errors are higher. Multitasking lowers productivity and heightens frustration.

The present moment is all you truly have

Everywhere you turn today in the realm of personal productivity, the recommendation for “mindfulness” pops up with wearisome regularity. Yet, there is no running away from the practice of paying undivided attention to what’s in front of you.

Decision fatigue

Decisions, decisions …


Frustration can be the result of decision fatigue. The act of making decisions has an energy cost on mind and body. The more frequent, important and impactful the decision, the greater the drain on your reservoirs. Soundness of judgement deteriorates. Frustration grows.

A powerful tool for handling decision fatigue goes by the mnemonic “HALT”.

HALT … then proceed

The next time you are fogged and frustrated by decision fatigue, stop and ask yourself four questions. Are you:-

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

If you are, stop and step away for a while. Get a snack, calm down with a breathing exercise, talk to a good friend, take a walk in a park. You will be pleasantly surprised with the recovery from fatigue.

Gestures and communication 

Babel revisited

Two people trying to communicate without a common language between them: that’s frustration. Speaking loudly — a common response in such situations — won‘t work. Gestures can work surprisingly well. In 95 CE, the Roman, Quintilian noted: “though the peoples and nations of the earth speak a multitude of tongues, they share in common the universal language of the hands.” Degerando, a French philosopher, recommends resorting ” to the signs which are closest to nature” : gestures, the language of action.

The universal language

The act of gesturing — using the hands, upper limbs, shoulders, face and head — as a mode of communication, is universal across all languages and cultures.

The universal gesture


  • ” Yes” and “no” are regularly represented by movements of the head.
  • Pointing to an object comes high on the list of effective gestures. Uniquely, almost all cultures use the index finger to point. Some cultures reference time by pointing to the location where the sun would have been in its daily east- west trajectory.
  • Another class of gestures are those that depict. Hands are used to convey actions like pulling or pinching, to indicate shape and size and to show movements in space.
  • Sign languages, as opposed to gestures, unfold visually but they have the range, complexity and opacity of spoken languages.

When trying to create a communication system from the ground up, gesturing beats vocalisation. Pointing and depicting are far easier to execute with the hands than the voice. And, oh yes, speaking loudly won’t help; it often offends the other party with the implication of inferior intelligence.

“And” not “but”

Try “and” instead of “but”


“He says” , BUT… “she says” – arguments can be frustrating. Rather than taking opposing stances and pointing out what we consider as illogical, validating the other person’s feelings (I hear you) can smooth the way forward.

An easy, single word adjustment — “and” instead of “but — in your response allows for the other person’s feelings to be true and equally valid. You are exhibiting compassion and understanding rather than opposition. A workable consensus is more likely and everyone wins.

Reality in the words of David Foster Wallace

Look to others


Paraphrasing the late David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in May 2005: [a speech that all of us must read and regularly re-read]

Everyday life involves a lot of boredom, drudgery and frustration. We operate on a “default” setting where we see ourselves as the centre of the world. We believe that our personal needs and emotions should dictate the world’s priorities.

We go through life with a “blind certainty, a close mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.”

“Teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. … The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”


More reading …

Bill Gates Just Expressed His Massive Frustration With How People Think. Then Elon Musk Joined In

What Happened When I Gave Up Multitasking For A Week

The simple self-care practice that can help you make better decisions

From pointing to nodding: is gesture a universal language? | Aeon Essays

To Curb Frustration, Use ‘And’ Instead of ‘But’

A Stanford scientist says a simple psychological shift can make you more successful

David Foster Wallace – Commencement Speech at Kenyon University

de Montaigne says

Michel de Montaigne


The soul, being transported and discomposed, turns its violence upon itself, if not supplied with something to oppose it, and therefore always requires an object at which to aim, and whereon to act.

The soul, in its passions, inclines rather to deceive itself, by creating a false and fantastical a subject, even contrary to its own belief, than not to have something to work upon.

“We must not trouble the gods with our affairs; they take no heed of our angers and disputes.”—Plutarch.

I interpret the Marquis as referring to frustration, an emotion that can occur with four broad categories of encounters: with Nature, time, other people or ourselves. The path towards our goals, ambitions or desires is blocked by one or more of these.

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