Frustration often is not only unnecessary but also may interfere with successful resolution of problems. If nothing else, a mindful attitude is healthier for you than feeling agitated.
1) Being late. When you are running late for a meeting or work, will you get there any faster if you are frustrated or feeling hurried? Choose your focus. You will get there just as quickly with a mindful attitude.
2) Unexpected inconveniences. When unexpected inconveniences such as a flat tire occur, does anger or agitation help manage the problem? A mindful focus gets the job done sometimes even more quickly because you aren't being distracted by your frustration.
3) Someone makes a request of you. Sometimes people are frustrated by requests that distract from their present purpose. Let's say you are practicing your mindfulness and your spouse asks you to find something. What an irony if you get frustrated, right? Instead, choose to continue to practice mindfulness while helping your spouse.
4) Difference of opinion. A difference of opinion doesn't have to cause frustration or anger. Choose to listen mindfully when someone doesn't agree with you.
5) Rudeness by strangers. When strangers are rude such as when you are cut off in traffic or someone gets service before you, frustration only hurts you and is not likely to solve the problem. Maintain your mindful focus: “I'm not going to let minor irritations take my mindfulness away.”
6) Stopped in traffic. When you are stopped in traffic you are not going anywhere no matter how frustrated you become. Why not take it as an opportunity to practice your mindful attitude?
7) Paperwork. A common frustration is the avalanche of seemingly mindless paperwork in modern day society. However, you can make a mindless activity mindful by choosing your focus. Instead of feeling agitated just refocus back to the process of completing the paperwork—step by mindful step.
8) Customer service. We all experience the frustration of customer service when we have problems with our many “conveniences” in life (phones, TV, appliances, etc.). The often interesting outcome of focusing mindfully with customer service is you may find the customer service rep's attitude becomes more mindful as well. We influence others with mindfulness just as we influence others with frustration!
9) Weather. People often become frustrated when the weather isn't what they want it to be. It is raining when they want to go to the park or it doesn't snow when they want to go skiing. When it comes to the weather, it is best to be mindfully flexible.
10) Electricity outage. What better time to be mindful?
Notice that what most of these everyday frustrations have in common is they are uncontollable. When something can't be controlled, why not be mindful?
When many people learn cognitive restructuring, the method in cognitive therapy used to challenge the inaccurate or irrational thoughts, they try to change their thinking by challenging the thoughts in their head. However, such an approach is not as effective as writing your thoughts, examining the inaccuracies, and writing a challenge to the irrational thoughts.
The primary reason that writing is more effective is that it gets you out of your head! Think of it this way. Whenever you engage in a behavior (and thinking is a behavior) you create automatic pathways in your brain. For example, when you learn to ride a bike, an automatic pathway is created—which is why you never forget how to ride a bike. It is very difficult to change an automatic pathway. In fact, we can't!
That doesn't mean you can't change your thinking, however. It just means that you need to create an automatic pathway that competes with the original pathway. However, when you try to do this by thinking about your thinking, the original pathway tends to assert itself and take over. Therefore, the best way around this is to start by developing a completely different pathway using a different sensory input (instead of thought, use the tactile modality of writing).
By writing your challenging thoughts, you are creating a different pathway in the brain that can then compete with the original pathway. Once you have established this pathway, then you should be able to use it without having to write. But at first you need to write even if you are repeating yourself—at least write the challenging thoughts.
By the way, using other sensory modalities could also work. For instance, saying the challenging thoughts out loud (unless you usually say the negative thoughts out loud). I suggest writing because most people do not write down their irrational thoughts as the primary method of reviewing them.
(Note to researchers out there: based on this principle, would it be best not to write down the irrational thoughts repeatedly—could they be inadvertently reinforced? I haven't seen this question researched.)
Although both mindful acceptance and emotional suppression reduce the intensity of emotions, some critical differences can influence your overall mental well-being.
1) Feeling vs. Not Feeling Mindful acceptance involves experiencing the emotions for what they are whereas emotional suppression tries to ignore or eliminate feeling the unpleasant emotions. However, emotions provide information that help us manage our lives. When we ignore the emotions, we lose this important information. For instance, someone becoming involved in a new relationship ignores the emotional “red flags” indicating potential problems and continues in a bad relationship wondering why they always seem to pick the wrong person.
2) Reduced reactivity vs. Increased Distress Often confusing to those inexperienced with mindfulness and emotions is the idea that mindful acceptance of emotions actually leads to reduced intensity and reaction to emotions overall whereas emotional suppression can lead to increased distress, anxiety, and depression. It seems intuitive to people that since emotions can be so unpleasant, not feeling negative emotions should lead to increased contentment. But the opposite is true. The mindful experience of emotions leads to decreased reaction to emotions and greater mental well-being (Teper, R. and Inzlicht, M., 2014).
3) Long-term Results vs. Rebound Effect People suppress emotions because they don't want to feel the discomfort. Yet, what occurs is more discomfort over time because of the rebound effect of the suppressed emotions. The rebound effect means that when emotions are not addressed they will be experienced more intensely or over a longer period of time. For example, a woman who is angry about her partner going out with friends too much but suppresses the anger rather than stating the problem and addressing it is more likely to be distressed not only about this situation but every situation that reminds her of it. As a result, she experiences the emotional reaction over and over, perhaps becoming angrier each time. Not wanting to deal with the discomfort of the potential conflict causes her ongoing distress and unpleasantness.
To sum it up, learning to develop a mindful acceptance of emotions can lead to a long-term reduction in the intensity of emotions. The Understanding Mindfulness series of audios (with transcripts) free to download can provide more information about developing mindful acceptance.
Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank