I remember first listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, a couple of years ago.
At the time, I was feeling frustrated in every single way. I was frustrated in my corporate job, where my biggest creative outlet was choosing which shade of magenta to use on a spreadsheet. I was frustrated in my relationship, which was just refusing to work. Most of all, I was frustrated with myself. There was so much that I wanted to change, but none of it was shifting.
I was even frustrated with the book. I’d heard of The Power of Now long before I finally listened to it. It had a cult-like status. People spoke about it in hushed and reverential tones. It was a Big Deal.
But for me, sitting on a train, listening to Tolle’s dry monotone, it was just confusing. A lot of the book was extremely spiritual, in a way that can feel quite alienating for people who don’t own an Acai tree, or have a preferred brand of probiotics. It also used normal words (life, spirit, knowledge) in unusual and seemingly nonsensical combinations (the life spirit of knowledge).
A gong sounded on the tape just as I was starting to drift off. And I’m glad I didn’t. Because it was there, in the next minute, that Eckhart Tolle taught me one of the most important lessons of my life.
Three Steps to Overcoming Frustration
According to Tolle, when faced with a difficult (or frustrating) situation, we only ever have three options:
- Change it;
- Accept it; or
- Move on.
That’s it. That’s the whole lesson. But, as ever, the difficulty lies in the execution.
Frustration In Practice
Let’s take the example of a dead-end job.
- Change. Ask yourself: Is there any way that you can change the job, from the inside out? Can you emphasise what you like about it, and diminish what you don’t? For example, if you’re in a dull managerial role, but a creative at heart, is there any way for you to express this creativity through your work, or even try to move internally to a more creative position? If not, try the next step.
- Acceptance. Can you accept the job for what it is? Can you reduce it’s impact on your life by setting proper work-life boundaries, and therefore creating more time in your life for other endeavours? And would this feel like enough? If the answer to this is also no, you have, according to Tolle, one option left.
- Move on. This is the step that most of us are really bad at, and foregoing this step is what causes frustration.
Frustration arises when we know that something isn’t working, but refuse to do anything about it. Or when, having done something about it, to no avail, we refuse to let it go.
Often, this is because some part of us is more afraid of letting go, than of continuing to live in mild misery.
Take the example of a relationship. Most of us know, deep down, whether or not we like a person within the first few minutes of meeting them. It’s instinctive.
When it comes to a bad, or failing relationship, our knowledge is just as instinctive. We know whether conflicts in a relationship are indicative of a rough patch, or sign of a deep, underlying unsuitability.
In other words — most of us know when it is time to move on.
But we refuse to do so. Instead, we jump between resigned acceptance and frantic attempts at change, all the while avoiding the obvious answer.
Why do we do this?
Why We Resist Change
We avoid moving on, because moving on means change. Change is hard, so we resist it.
But it is this resistance that leads to frustration.
There is a certain balance that underlies everything in the universe.
Achieving this balance requires constant change. Just look at nature — sure, it operates in cycles, but each cycle is actually made up of constant moments of change.
Human beings operate in exactly the same way. Our lives give the illusion of constancy, a path, but are ultimately made up of change. These changes range from daily shifts — in emotions, hormones, mood — to longer transitions.
But, big or small, change is inevitable. It is only when we obstruct its course that the energy of change gets pent up, gathers inside us instead, and causes frustration.
How to Avoid Frustration
To avoid frustration, then, we need to embrace change. To embrace change, we need to get better at moving on.
In order to do this, we need to understand the resistance to moving on will only disappear in retrospect. But overcoming this resistance in real time is, ultimately, extremely necessary.
By overcoming our aversion to moving on, we vanquish frustration. By overcoming our resistance to change, we free ourselves up for things that we can truly accept, just as they are.
The next time you feel frustrated, ask yourself: why? Is it your job, partner, your own behaviour?
Then mentally apply the three step process:
- How would it feel to change the situation? What would this entail? Does this feel okay for you?
- How would it feel to accept the situation? Would this be good enough?
- Finally, if the answer to both of the above is no — Move on from it.
Your energy is finite. Save it for the things that matter.
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