We’ve all been there: we climb, fall, and get frustrated. The climbing and falling seem natural; they’re both actions that actually occur when we climb. Frustration is different. It’s a reaction to those actions and we have a choice in how we respond to them. Some essential learning is missing when we literally “fall short” of the achievement. Frustration behavior demonstrates that we don’t value learning about why we fell. We want the achievement without doing the necessary work. We want something for nothing.

Understanding what we value helps shed light on frustration behavior. Do we value the achievement or the learning? If we value the learning, then we’d be curious about what to change on our next effort. We’d be interested in knowing what we could do differently so we don’t fall the next time. There’d be no impetus to get frustrated because what we want most is to learn what caused us to fall. 

Valuing the achievement puts us at odds with outcomes that fall short of our expectations. We expect to progress and get frustrated when we don’t. In this case we value the achievement more than the learning. 

A gap is created between the outcome—the fall—and what we expected to occur.  Frustration fills that gap and interrupts the flow of our attention. Our attention is focused on an illusory reality of what we wished would’ve occurred instead of reality. No learning happens until that gap closes and our attention is allowed to flow toward what actually occurred. 

Climbers may say they do value learning, and that frustration actually motivates them to learn. This is the “kicking and screaming” approach to motivation. They have to be kicked by their egos, and they scream, resisting learning as long as possible. This is an example of a powerless life; we’re upset because we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. We’re victims wanting sympathy for our failed efforts. I don’t think any of us want to live such lives once we investigate this approach more deeply. 

So what’s responsible for frustration behavior? Why would we behave this way? The answer comes from understanding our ego’s need for achievement. The ego has an essential need to feel valid and to have evidence to support its importance. It seeks achievements to gain such evidence. The ego causes frustration behavior because the outcomes we create fall short of its expectations. The ego may not expect to succeed on a climb, but it will expect to make progress to validate its importance. 

Valuing learning helps us shift beyond the limitations of the ego. Curiosity keeps our attention in the moment. There’s no gap between the outcomes we create and our desire to learn from those outcomes. Our attention flows seamlessly from outcome to learning with no interruption. 

We can find balance between valuing achievement and learning. We simply focus our attention appropriately. We do this by being clear about what the goal is and being flexible with how and when it’s achieved. We value the achievement because we know what we’ve learned is being tested. We allow our attention to flow toward clearly identifying what the goal is. This gives us vision to help direct how we’ll practice and learn. We value the learning by committing full attention to the practices we’ve identified that are required for achieving the goal. We allow our attention to flow toward the stress and we’re flexible in how and when it guides our learning. 

Perhaps the most difficult thing to learn is making the shift in our behavior so our attention can flow. It takes time to welcome stressors we experience and curiously dissect them. Having a reminder for frustration behavior helps us stop using it and shifts our attention toward curiosity. We want something for nothing when we get frustrated, but when we stay curious and focused in the moment, the experience will guide us to the learning.

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