While many people set resolutions and goals this time of year, very few make a plan for the frustration and failure that inevitably follow learning. If you want to truly begin something new this year, remember this: new learning, new skills, and new habits always sit just beyond frustration. So often we give up when things get frustrating, instead of recognizing that we are actually on the right path and closer to our goal.
No one likes to be frustrated. No one likes to fail. So how do we push past frustration and failure to get what we want?
Change our minds.
I’m serious. We have to reframe frustration in our minds. We have to talk differently to ourselves about it if we want to get past it.
As I began sending out my fiction writing for critique and editing a couple years ago, my work came back with questions I didn’t know the answers to. I felt like a failure. What I had polished into my best at that time, was woefully inadequate and it hurt. I stuffed the pages in a drawer, whined and cried, and threw up my hands in disgust at myself.
Fortunately, I’m addicted to writing and words, so I eventually brought my work back into the light and started working through the questions. They were good questions. They forced me to think, revise, and ultimately grow.
Around the same time, I had a couple kids in middle school who were forever stuck on homework at the kitchen table. Pre-Algebra wasn’t fun the first time I took it, so imagine how fun it is when I’m looking at it for the third time. “It’s too hard! I can’t do it!” (Make sure you read that with a nasally whine and draw out the vowels for a few seconds each for full effect).
Was it hard? Yes.
Could she do it? Yes.
Why was it hard then? Because it was new.
I started using a phrase with my own kids, and later with my students to change the way they talk about their frustration. Instead of “This is too hard!” I challenge them to say, “This is new to me.” Just because it is new doesn’t mean we can’t do it. It just means we need a little more time. We can stick with hard things and they will get easier.
Why do we expect to master a new skill the first time we try it? The first twenty times we try it? The first hundred times?
Have we removed all obstacles for ourselves and our kids to avoid the frustration that comes with failure? If so, we have robbed ourselves and them of countless opportunities to learn and become resilient.
Like a muscle that is stretched and becomes sore, our lives and learning require a bit of discomfort to acquire new learning, skills, and habits. When you get frustrated this month and feel like giving up, ditch the negative thoughts and remember this: It’s hard because it’s new, but it’s worth pushing though the frustration to the learning on the other side.