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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Vella

Frustration as Fuel

Blerg! Frustration!! One of everyone’s least favourite emotions (according to me, based on direct observation of myself and others and not actual scientific data). What I particularly dislike about frustration is the feeling of stuckness and not being able to move forward. It makes me feel like throwing my arms up in the air, giving up, and going to sit on the couch with a cat or two and a lot of chocolate (Okay I was going to do that last bit anyway, but because I wanted to not because I need to put myself on time out!).

Recently I’ve noticed something interesting: frustration no longer stops me in my tracks - it actually fuels my fire and gets me to take action. It’s much less like “I’m too dang annoyed to do this!” and more like “That’s it!!” followed by actually doing something. Sometimes I’m just throwing noodles at the wall and other times I have a eureka moment, but either way - something’s gotta change. Instead of shutting down, frustration often leads me to find novel solutions to the annoying problems that just won’t go away on their own (why can’t problems be more cooperative, amIright?)

As I noticed this shift the other day I started wondering, how did this happen? Frustration used to shut me down hard. I wouldn’t be able to do anything but stew in my own juices. So, what changed?

Emotional Regulation and Equanimity (Honourable Mention: Mindfulness)

Probably the most important thing that’s helped me is working on my emotional intelligence, a phrase so overused I physically cringe whenever I say it. But I keep saying it because: it’s hugely important. Being able to feel, observe, and process big, intense emotions (oh hey, frustration!) is key to being able to think your way through to a solution.

There’s a couple reasons why this is so instrumental. One, without these skills, experiences like being frustrated straight up suck. Two, creative thinking and problem solving is damn near impossible when the ol’ Amygdala is going off the rails. If you want to use frustration as fuel to come up with novel solutions, you’ll need to find that balance between feeling and expressing your emotions without feeling swept away by them. And how do you develop this useful skill: by practicing mindfulness and learning to observe your dynamic emotional states without reacting to them! (Yes, it takes practice!)

Self-Compassion and Focusing on Self-Care

What frustrates me the most these days is when things feel out of balance for me. This is such a great problem to have because it reflects all the work I’ve done with self-compassion and self-care. What I’m trying to say is: I give way more of a crap about myself and my own happiness now and when that’s not going as planned, I feel driven to fix it. Just the other day I heard myself uttering words Past Vanessa would have never said out loud: “I deserve better.” If you don’t think you deserve to have your problems solved, it’s much easier to just sit in the frustration and think “Well, this sucks.” If you value yourself, you’re more likely to take action to recalibrate and come to a better place.

Growth Mindset

Often in life we need to throw noodles at the wall, and that means having a healthy/healthier relationship with failure. We need to be willing to risk doing something totally useless to allow the really good ideas to surface. Growth Mindset is all about trying without getting so caught up in whether or not it will ‘work’. With a Fixed Mindset, people gravitate towards ‘sure things’ and I probably don’t need to tell you that there are very few sure things in life. A Fixed Mindset often results in too much risk-aversion to come up with novel solutions.

A word to the wise: it’s important to know when to use your frustration as fuel and when to see it as a message that it’s time to move on and change directions. Quitting intelligently is just as important as preserving. The tricky part about frustration is that it can make it feel like giving up. It’s important to dig into that to determine whether that’s a feeling (i.e. It would be so nice to not have this problem anymore) or a fact (i.e. I am constantly frustrated by this so maybe it’s time to end it and pivot towards something else)

Some Examples:

  • Sleep Challenges: I have had a lot of back and forth with sleep quality during the pandemic. It’s been frustrating as hell which has led me to rejig my morning routine, start a new supplement, and track my sleep to look for patterns in the disruptions. I want to figure this out because I really love sleep (I am a Taurus, after all!)

  • Tough Conversations: This is a good example that highlights how important emotional regulation is in this whole scene. I recently had two tough conversations which went well because I took the time to reflect on my frustration. It meant business so I knew I had to do something. I was also pretty upset about the subjects of these two convos so I had to get myself onto a more even keel before I initiated communication. It would have been easy to avoid (because that shit is scary!) if it weren’t for how frustrated I felt.

  • Weekends Off: Like many people I have struggled to not be productive 24/7 because I love doing shit and being productive is my jam! Recognizing that sustained productivity requires downtime (not optional!) I have been trying to clear my weekends and not plan on doing anything - but to do what I feel like instead. Typical with habit changes like this there was a lot of back and forth. So I reschedule my weekend chores to Friday afternoon and set a reminder to turn on my Vacation Responder in my emails every weekend to set the expectation that I am not available until Monday.

Bonus: Here is a draft of my response. If you’d like to do something similar you can use it as inspiration:


Thanks for your email! I've decided to not work on the weekends for self-care reasons (Why don't you join me? It's quite lovely).

If your need is urgent, please reply with the subject like "Urgent!!!" (and yes, the 3 exclamation marks are very important to me, otherwise I will wonder how urgent it really is, you know? 😉)

I will get back to you on Monday. (Or Tuesday if Monday goes the chaos route, as it sometimes tends to do.)

Be Kind to Yourself (and Others!),



How do you relate to frustration?

Does it shut you down?

Does it fire you up?

Can you think of any examples where frustration has helped you?


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