What is the single greatest advantage you can give yourself in life?
You’ll find thousands of answers to that question. But I think there’s one that rises above all the rest.
When you’re faced with something you don’t like, you have the power to work to change it.
In the moment, it’s hard to do. Emotions take over and push you into behaving a certain way. You’ll want to complain, or mope, or get short-tempered.
Resist that temptation.
You Are Not Your Emotions
While it’s not healthy to suppress emotions, you also shouldn’t let them control you to behave a certain way.
The mindful approach is to take a step outside yourself. To pay careful attention to what you are feeling.
Instead of just being frustrated and behaving that way, you understand that you are feeling frustration.
It’s a slight nuance, but it makes a world of difference.
You are not wholly frustrated. But you are feeling frustration.
Characterizing your emotions in this way helps you create mental space. That space gives you room to be curious. To start digging in to your situation. To start asking why.
“Why am I frustrated? Because I’m angry.”
“Why am I angry? Because I’ve been suffering for some time.”
“Why am I suffering? Because my present reality doesn’t reflect what I need it to be to live my best life.”
(Side-note: Emotions are not black-and-white. It’s all a fluid spectrum. Suffering may sound like an intense word, but it exists in varying degrees of intensity.)
Staying curious when we’re frustrated gives us the opportunity to understand.
And when we understand—ourselves, and the situation—we are able to accept our reality for what it is.
Accepting something doesn’t mean you have to like it! Acceptance is devoid of judgement.
It’s saying “This is the way it is. And I’m not resisting it. I accept it to be true.”
Radical acceptance enables us to take action because we’re fully present to the situation.
You have control over your life. More control than anyone else. So when your current scenario doesn’t match your vision of what it should be, it’s time to get to work.
But how do you do that?
Use Proven Problem Solving Techniques
Figuring out “what to do next” is a fuzzy, uncertain challenge. Thankfully, there are entire groups of people who specialize in solving ambiguous problems. I worked at such a place for the last 2.5 years.
We use these principles to help companies figure out what to do next. But the problem solving approach applies perfectly here too.
Follow these five steps to take action and conquer your frustration:
1. Generate possible solutions to the problem
This is the “brainstorming” phase. It’s on you to come up with as many possible solutions as possible.
- Be expansive
When you feel like you’re out of ideas, push for five more. The obvious choices are not always the best.
- Document your ideas
Write them down on sticky notes, in a notebook, or on your computer. It doesn’t really matter! But you need to document them for later.
- Defer judgment
It’s natural to shoot down new ideas before we give them a chance. Resist that urge. Without thoroughly exploring potential opportunities, you’re likely to pick a non-optimal path forward. It’s simply a numbers game.
2. Synthesize your ideas to find clarity
After brainstorming, it’s time to start organizing your ideas. This helps you make sense of everything from step 1.
- Find patterns in your ideas and start grouping them together
Most challenges have more than one component. But you might not immediately think of all of them. Look for patterns. You’ll start to notice different categories of ways to approach solving your problem. Let’s say your goal is to lose 20 pounds. There are multiple ways to achieve a weight loss goal. One bucket of solutions will be about physical activity. Another will be about nutrition and diet.
- Find patterns in the patterns
But even within those groups, you’ll notice themes. Identifying these themes helps you understand the scope of the problem you’re trying to solve. Within nutrition and diet, we might see themes emerge like: time of day we eat, who we eat with, how we prepare food, the types of food we eat, dining out vs. eating in, etc.
Understanding the different components of the problem will help you figure out what approach works best for you. And if you aren’t finding success with one approach, you can try a different one. Or bundle them together.
3. Evaluate your ideas
Now, you get to judge your ideas. What do you think will work best? What are you most excited about? What would alleviate the most pain?
There are many ways to evaluate your options. And it totally depends on your situation. So stay true to yourself and what matters to you.
4. Pick a route forward
Evaluating your ideas should give you a sense of where you want to go. Commit to it!
- Trust your gut
Nobody knows you better than you do.
- Write down your plan
Doing something physical makes it feel more “real”. You’re priming yourself to stay committed.
5. Start moving
The most important step of all: taking action! Everything else is useless if you don’t take action.
- Find the smallest action you can take to get yourself moving
The hardest part of making anything happen is taking the first step. Put step 1 on your calendar. Then step 2…
- Build a community of supporters
When you do start moving, don’t keep everything to yourself. This is an inwardly focused exercise, and it’s on you to take the first step…But having a community of supporters will keep you moving forward on the 100th step. And the 1000th. And so on.
Overcome any challenge by taking mindful action
You have the power to create the life you want to live. Everything in the world exists because someone worked to make it so.
Don’t succumb to your frustration or let emotional reactions make you complacent.
Take time to connect with yourself and breath. Embrace your situation. And work to improve it.
In theory, it’s simple. In practice, it takes hard work and determination.
But you’re strong. And you’re capable. And you’re going to make tomorrow better than today.