Frustration

Factors Linked to Psychological Distress

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Psychological distress, a widely-used indicator of the mental health of a population, nevertheless remains vaguely understood. In numerous studies, psychological distress is “largely” defined as “a state of emotional suffering characterized by symptoms of depression and anxiety.” But how do you know if what you’re experiencing is psychological distress or a diagnosable psychological disorder, such as anxiety or depression? If you’ve had a bad day, does that mean you’re suffering psychological distress? If you lose your job and feel anxious and short-tempered, is this a sign you are in a state of psychological distress?

Psychological Distress Vs. Psychological Disorder

Psychological distress is generally considered a transient (not long-lasting) phenomenon that is related to specific stressors. It typically subsides when either the stressor is removed, or the individual adapts to the stressor.

  • In the example of having a bad day, you’re likely experiencing transient psychological distress. Tomorrow is another day, bringing with it the opportunity to see things differently, start anew, employ healthier self-protective measures and more.
  • On the other hand, if you’ve lost your job and are irritable, anxious, quick-to-anger and display other negative emotions and behavior, and such distress continues for some period of time and now interferes with your daily activities, you may have crossed over from psychological distress of a transient nature to a more deeply-embedded psychological disorder requiring treatment.

Distress that is characteristic of psychological disorders, such as anxiety and depression, involves functional impairment and “clinically significant distress” (also called “marked distress”). With anxiety disorders, symptoms do not go away and worsen over time. They also interfere with daily activities such as job, school, and relationships. To be diagnosed with depression, severe symptoms (negatively affecting how you feel, think and handle daily activities) must be present for two weeks.

Signs of Psychological Distress

You likely know when something is off with someone you love, or within yourself. It could be transient and resolved rather quickly, or it could be indicative of an accumulation of factors causing psychological distress. WebMD lists a number of signs of emotional distress that equally apply to psychological distress.

  • Disturbances in sleep
  • Fluctuations in weight, along with eating pattern changes
  • Physical changes that are unexplained, including headache, constipation, diarrhea, chronic pain, and rumbling stomach
  • Frequently provoked to anger
  • Developing obsessive/compulsive behaviors
  • Chronic fatigue, excessive tiredness, no energy
  • Forgetfulness and memory problems
  • Shying away from social activities
  • No longer finding pleasure in sex
  • Comments from others about your mood swings and erratic behavior

Junk Food Linked to Psychological Distress

Researchers at California’s Loma Linda University Adventist Health Sciences Center found that state adult residents consuming more unhealthy food were also likely to report psychological distress symptoms (either moderate or severe), compared to peers eating healthier diets. The study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, also found that nearly 17 percent of California adults are likely to suffer from mental illness, some 13.2 percent with moderate psychological distress and 3.7 percent with severe psychological distress. Researchers recommended targeted public health interventions promoting healthier diets aimed at young adults and those with less than 12 years of education.

Goal Conflict and Psychological Distress Linked

A study conducted by the University of Exeter and Edith Cowan University found that personal goal conflict may increase feelings of anxiety and depression. They studied two forms of motivational conflict, inter-goal conflict (which occurs when pursuing a goal makes it difficult to pursue another goal), and ambivalence (when the individual has conflicting feelings about particular goals). Results of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, showed that each of these goal conflict forms were associated independently with depressive and anxious symptoms. Researchers said that those with poorer mental health are more likely to say their personal goals are in conflict with each other. Such goal conflicts can contribute to psychological distress.

An earlier meta-analysis by researchers from the University of California, Riverside, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, found that higher levels of goal conflict are negatively associated with psychological well-being (lower levels of positive psychological outcomes and greater levels of psychological distress).

How to Cope with Psychological Distress

The first step in effective coping with psychological distress involves identifying the potential causes for the distress and then resolving to take steps to alleviate or overcome it. This may involve psychological counseling to get at the root cause for the psychological distress. As part of the counseling, the psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional may recommend a number of different therapeutic approaches to help reduce psychological distress.

Getting out in nature – A 2019 study published in Health Place looked at the beneficial effects of greenness (green space) and serious psychological distress among adults and teens in California and found epidemiological evidence of such benefits in the study group’s mental health. While numerous other studies focused on adults and beneficial effects of green space, this population-based U.S. study aimed to fill in the gap with inclusion of teens.

Another 2019 study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, reported that even short-term time spent in an urban park contributed to improvement in subjective well-being. The effect was independent of levels of physical activity. Improvement was reported as stress reduction and recovery from mental fatigue. Researchers recommended a minimum of 20 minutes in the park to achieve benefits from being in the green space.

Try giving hugsResearched published in PLOS One found that receiving hugs on days when subjects experienced interpersonal conflict helped attenuate the negative effects of the conflict on same-day and subsequent day. Researchers said their findings help contribute to an understanding of the role of interpersonal touch as a buffer against negative outcomes of interpersonal conflict and distress.

Identify what you need and focus on what you wantPsychological distress is no picnic and when you’re in the throes of it, you may be uncertain what to do next. Experts recommend healthy ways to deal with such distress that include, first and foremost, identifying what it is you need and then also focusing on what you want. You need to practice good self-care (being kind to yourself), engage in grounding, developing your nurturing self-voice and other proactive coping methods to help deal with psychological distress.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Identify and Overcome Frustration

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“I was an accomplice in my own frustration.” – Peter Shaffer

 

While we may not recognize when we do it, or even admit to it when we know we do, we all sometimes have a tendency to sabotage our efforts, thus leading to unnecessary and sometimes disruptive frustration. The key to being able to overcome frustration is to learn how to identify it and then implement strategies to combat it.

Where Does Frustration Come From?

In the simplest terms, frustration is an emotion that comes from being blocked from achieving an intended goal. There are internal sources of frustration, as well as external sources.

Internal sources: If you are not able to get what you want, the disappointment and frustration you feel may well be the outcome. This may be due to a loss of self-confidence or self-esteem or you may be afraid of certain social situations.

External sources: Often, it’s the conditions you encounter outside yourself that are the sources of some frustration. These include the people, places and things that serve as roadblocks to getting things you want done. Perhaps the most universal source of frustration is anything that causes you to waste time. We’re all familiar with and likely have to deal with on a regular basis the time lost due to traffic delays, waiting in line, getting to a store or establishment only to find that it’s closed or doesn’t have what you want in stock.

How Does Frustration Make You Feel?

People react to frustration in a number of ways. In response to frustration, they can:

  • Get angry
  • Give up or quit
  • Lose self-esteem
  • Feel a loss of self-confidence
  • Experience stress
  • Feel sad, uncertain, depressed or anxious
  • Turn to substance abuse
  • Engage in other negative, self-destructive or addictive behaviors

A 2018 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience analyzed facial expressions and brain-activation mechanisms using functional near-infrared spectroscopy to detect frustration in drivers. Researchers found that frustrated drivers tend to activate mouth region muscles, such as chin raiser, lip pucker and lip pressor). Frustrated driving can result in aggressive behavior, as well as having negative effects on cognitive processes important for driving, including attentiveness, judgment, and decision-making. Another study published in 2016 in Frontiers in Psychology listed some of the emotional and affective responses in the aftermath of frustration, including acute stress, lasting anger, rage, and sadness.

Do Certain People, Places and Things Make You Frustrated?

Sometime, just the sight of a person you’ve had disagreements with is enough to trigger feelings of frustration. Another instance where frustration might crop up is passing by or having to go to a place where you’ve suffered frustration in the past. Maybe it’s trying to help your child with homework that’s a source of frustration, or some other activity that regularly ends with you being frustrated.

Knowing when and where you get frustrated is important to your ability to devise effective strategies for removing and/or coping with the sources of frustration in the safest and most effective manner.

Do You Get More Frustrated at Certain Times?

Undoubtedly, if you’re keeping a calendar or making notes on instances where you’ve experienced frustration, you may notice a pattern. For example, are you more frustrated when you have to pay bills, knowing that you may have to move some finances around or are over-budget this month? Do you become more frustrated on Friday at work because you know you haven’t accomplished key goals for the week? Or is it Monday that frustrates you because you know of important deadlines looming and you’re not sure you’ll be able to fulfill your obligations.

Like taking notice of the people, place and things that cause you frustration, you need to be able to see the patterns in timing for your frustration. This will better allow you to construct coping mechanisms that will be readily available to employ the next time you get frustrated.

What Other Things Contribute to Frustration?

Even after you’ve made a list of the people, places and things and certain times when you’re likely to become frustrated (based on experience), there may be other things that serve as contributing factors to your frustration. Certainly the level of frustration may be affected by:

  • Your state of health, and any physical or medical conditions
  • Financial situation, including bankruptcy, being overextended, wasteful spending
  • Emotional difficulties or loss, including bereavement, a diagnosable psychological condition, loss of a friend
  • Stagnation at work, or loss of a job, losing a promotion

Indeed, knowing how some of these contributors to frustration affect you is instrumental in putting together a plan to overcome further frustration. It isn’t avoiding the source of the frustration, but approaching it with optimism and a carefully-constructed strategy.

When You are Frustrated, What Works to Get Past It?

Perhaps one of the greatest quotes about wisdom is one from Oscar Wilde: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” The takeaway here is that as you get older, you have the ability to learn from prior experience – positive and negative ones. And older brains are not necessarily slower brains, since older adults are able to benefit from accumulated wisdom. In other words, they cope better in certain situations because they know what works or has worked in the past, they’re more impervious to criticism and have the confidence to know how to make the right decisions.

Various coping methods for frustration recommended by psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals include some that are no-cost or low-cost, as well as some that may involve a financial expenditure from consulting with a professional.

  • Breathing exercises
  • Meditation practice
  • Yoga
  • Communications skills
  • Emotional and/or physical techniques to release frustration
  • Physical exercise
  • Relaxation activities
  • Travel
  • Taking up a hobby or pastime
  • Cognitive restructuring
  • Learning how to release emotion
  • Psychological counseling or therapy

Why not take up exercise as one of the first lines of defense against frustration? A 2015 study reported in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that exercise offers an acute stress-buffering effect. Besides, it’s quick and convenient to take a walk outside, getting fresh air into your lungs and gaining a fresh perspective, all of which may temper your frustration and boost your mood.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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My Best Ways to Deal with Frustration

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“Frustration, although quite painful at times, is a very positive and essential part of success.” – Bo Bennett

 

Like most people, I’ve experienced many instances of frustration. Some of them proved exceedingly trying and I found it nearly impossible to get past the episodes, replaying in my head what happened and how badly it made me feel. While I tried different methods to cope, including tipping back a few too many cocktails after a rough day at work, most were ineffective, at best. Worse, some had lingering consequences, such as a reprimand from my boss (after coming in late due to the imbibing). Over the years, however, I’ve made it a point to determine what works best for me to deal with frustration.

First, though, here’s some research frustration, how to recognize it, typical symptoms, frustration’s relationship to anger and stress and other interesting science.

Frustration often leads to recurring nightmares.

Ever wake up in the middle of a nightmare shivering in fear or with a feeling of dread and impending doom? If so, says science, there’s a likely correlation between the frustrations you’ve experienced during the day and the vivid and frightening dreams you have at night. I know that I’ve had dreams where I’m falling from a height and, luckily, wake up before I hit the ground. Dreaming of failure and being physically attacked were also part of my nightmare portfolio. As such, I found fascinating the research of the team at the University of Cardiff that waking-life psychological experiences, particularly frustration, directly tie in to the dream state in the form of nightmares. When study participants were frustrated, they reported having more frightening dreams and described those dreams in negative terms. According to the researchers, the nightmares represent the psyche attempting to process and make some sense of the experiences that were psychologically distressing while awake.

Frustrated people tend to smile more when they’re experiencing frustration.

This finding by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology caught me off guard. I thought people who smiled a lot were generally optimistic and cheerful. Indeed, smiling is typically a characteristic of someone who’s happy. Yet, as careful analysis of smiles shows, not all smiles are indicative of the emotion of happiness. There’s the fake smile, the polite smile, the nervous smile, and so on. According to the MIT researchers, most people don’t believe they smile a lot when they’re frustrated, yet they do, as proven by facial scans in the study. To prove their hypothesis, the researchers had study participants complete two types of task, one designed to frustrate and one not, and scanned their faces after they completed the task and hit the submit button (which deleted the frustrating task but accepted the control task). While the smiles that appeared looked similar, the frustrated smiles disappeared quickly compared to the genuine smiles. Frustration is a fundamental human experience, so it will be interesting to see where this research leads.

Men and women express anger and frustration differently.

In terms of biology, there’s no denying differences between men and women. As it turns out, findings from researchers at Southwest Missouri State University reveal there are even some differences in how the two sexes tend to show they’re angry or frustrated. Both feel anger and frustration, yet men tend to accept and embrace the emotions, using them to their advantage. Women, on the other hand, view anger and frustration as counter-productive. In the study, men felt ineffective when told to hold their emotions in, while women did not feel constricted when asked to do so. Similarly, researchers found a correlation between men being assertive and expressing anger outwardly, but not in women. Furthermore, women viewed their anger negatively, generally calling it frustration, while still using that anger to help bring about change. Due to social expectations, women tend to camouflage their anger and frustration, yet find alternative routes to get results they want.

Frustration stems from stress.

What causes the buildup of physiological and psychological response that results in emotions such as anxiety, overwork, despair, distress, frustration and more? According to the literature, the medical term for the origin of much emotional buildup, which often has physical components as well, is stress. Repeated stress that is not effectively dealt with can cause serious physical consequences. Like a machine that eventually wears down, continual stressors on the body’s activation of the nervous system (chronic stress) results in release of the stress hormones of cortisol and epinephrine and precipitates problems with the heart and other vital organs, along with the potential development of mental health issues.

To better handle frustration and stress, change your perception.

An article in Harvard Business Review discussed the concept of resilience and how everyday stressors and frustration can be more effectively dealt with by reframing perception. In short, change how you perceive frustration and stress. Authors cited two studies, one by researchers at the University of Buffalo that day-to-day stressors help people cultivate necessary skills to tackle difficult future situations, and anther by Harvard University researchers who found that participants told physiological signs of stress helped them better cope with it then viewed stress as helpful. The key takeaway here is to modify the perception of stress and frustration to promote the development of resilience, the ability to handle whatever comes your way in the most effective manner.

TIPS TO COPE WITH FRUSTRATION

Now, as to how I’ve learned to deal with frustration – and what works well for me, here are a few general tips:

  • Take some deep breaths. This will allow you to calm your pent-up emotions and restore a sense of calm. Likely, the frustration you’ve felt has caused you to hold your breath or breathe shallowly. In either case, your body is oxygen-depleted and it’s hard to think clearly. Deep breathing can help slow heartbeat and lower blood pressure, diminishing the negative effects of the stressful emotion.
  • Figure out the source of the frustration. Now that you’re thinking more clearly, use this clarity to focus on what may be the probable cause that you’re experiencing frustration. Without being caught up in the immediate effects of the frustration, you’ll be more prone to identify the source, so you can devise constructive ways to deal with it.
  • Remind yourself that this will pass. Frustration shouldn’t be an ongoing experience. Like the weather, it’s bound to change. By recognizing that emotions are generally fleeting, you rob them of their power and hold on you. Envision yourself in a happier state and recall that things that frustrated you in the past generally didn’t last long. You found ways to get past it, or the experiences causing the frustration weren’t consequential enough to have lasting effect.
  • Work on something else. Distraction is a great method to get past a roadblock. It works in problem-solving, getting past anger and other emotions – including frustration. If you’re stuck in a sour mood due to something frustrating, go out and dig in the garden, pound some nails in wood, demolish cardboard boxes to put in the recycle bin. Involve yourself in a task requiring close concentration. These techniques get your mind off what’s frustrating you.
  • Do something pleasant. Instead of beating yourself up mentally over your frustrating day, do something enjoyable. Take a soaking bath. Read a book. Watch a comedy. Go for coffee with friends. Indulge yourself a little yet be sensible in your choice. Hobbies are also effective for helping dispel frustration.

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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Why It’s Good That You’re Not Perfect

Why Its Good That Youre Not Perfect

Photo by Monica Galentino on Unsplash

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” — Brené Brown

 

It’s practically a universal fact that almost everyone wants to get ahead. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I do. Even though I’m no longer striving to achieve a lofty career goal at a large corporation, I still have goals and want to succeed at them. It’s just that striving for recognition, money and advancement is no longer at the top of my wish list. I used to want that more than anything. Now I prefer to live a life of abundance: of spirit, joy, surrounded by loving family and friends, healthy, content and curious, willing to go out of my way to help others, to rejoice in the goodness of others.

I also know that I’m not perfect. The fact that I can readily admit that alleviates a certain amount of tension.

Trying too hard to be perfect never gets you anywhere. I learned that a long time ago. Granted, you make mistakes. Everyone does. Some of mine have been colossal blunders, while others were the result of being too hasty or careless or skipping some steps in pursuit of a goal. After beating myself up about it, I finally figured out that such hyper self-criticism was a waste of time. It made more sense to determine the lesson from the failure, if for no other reason than to not repeat it again. But perfectionism, trying to be perfect? According to experts, that’s an impossibility and a losing strategy.

On the other hand, striving to do better is an effective approach. With a worthwhile goal providing motivation, healthy striving can lead to a richer and more fulfilling life. I’ve found that to be true with goals large and small, some more immediate and others requiring considerable time and effort to achieve.

Suppose you’re not very good at math and want to become more proficient. Or you want to train yourself to be better at differentiating differences and spotting changes, as in identifying what’s different in a field of changing icons and images in a brain teaser game online. With diligent practice and the belief that you can improve your skill, you do indeed get better. That’s not trying to be perfect but striving to improve. The former is a hopeless pursuit, the latter laudable and likely to succeed.

In an average day, most of us experience a few disappointments, make the wrong turn, put the wrong ingredient in a recipe, rush through a quiz and make a few mistakes, forget what we were going to say, say the right thing at the wrong time or the wrong thing at the right time. These are examples of what we’d consider a failure, blunder, mistake or stupid move. With the mindset that always demands perfectionism, we’re likely to continue to spiral down, never quite making the mark and sinking deeper into a less hopeful and more negative state of mind.

In contrast, by taking mistakes, disappointments and failures in stride and striving to do better, we’re bolstering our resilience, maintaining good balance and promoting a healthy way of living. Sure, it may take practice to overcome a tendency to get things right every time, as well as learning to ignore the comments from others about “Better luck next time.” This is especially true if perfectionism has become ingrained and those who know you expect you to be perfect all the time.

Having witnessed a few friends and acquaintances who’ve succumbed to the tantalizing and wrong siren song of perfectionism – and coming close myself on one or two occasions – I know that the preferred and much more effective and satisfying way to live is to engage in healthy pursuit of achievable goals.

If you tend to believe the same way I do, you’re not perfect – hooray! Neither am I, thankfully. Life is so much more enjoyable this way and that’s why it’s good that you’re not perfect. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’ve let go of pursuit of perfectionism does not mean you relinquish your goals. Adding incrementally to your strengths, skills and accomplishments boosts your self-confidence and self-esteem and intensifies your sense of purpose in life.

 

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This article was originally published on Psych Central.

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How to Keep Frustration from Blocking Your Goals

Photo by Joe Gardner

Photo by Joe Gardner

You get up each day and have in mind a list of things you want to accomplish. Some are short-term projects, others works-in-progress, and still others part of long-term goals. But what happens when you become frustrated, have to deviate from your task, or are forced to stop completely?

While everyone experiences frustration from time to time, it’s never pleasant. Often, it’s difficult to know what to do to overcome it. Here are some suggestions.

Always Have a Plan

Think of any goal as a kind of journey. Before setting out on a trip, the wise course of action is to have a plan. Without knowing what route you’ll take, where to stop for gas, a bite to eat, side trips you’d like to take or alternate means of getting where you want to go if you encounter road construction, bad weather or snarled traffic, the journey could be haphazard or worse.

Working toward any goal could become problematic when any powerful emotion gets in the way. And frustration certainly counts as a roadblock to goal achievement. That’s why it’s important to make a plan and commit to sticking to it, even if some parts of the plan cause frustration.

Even daily schedules can sometimes wreak havoc. Things happen that interrupt your flow. The point is to always have a plan. Then have a backup plan in case the original plan doesn’t work out. With more than one plan, you have options. You’re not stuck wondering what to do next. No longer powerless, your self-confidence increases at the same time your frustration level decreases.

Stay Flexible

It’s great that you have one or more plans, but don’t be so rigid that you’re unwilling to deviate from the plan when something goes haywire. In other words, don’t cast your plans in stone.

When you try to force your plan to work – and it doesn’t – this adds to your frustration. The more frustrated you feel, the more your stress builds, along with anxiety and a sense of failure.

But by staying flexible, you might come into contact with other solutions that will get you past this impasse. You could do things a little differently, rearrange tasks and reassign priorities. The key is to keep your options open by remaining as flexible as possible. As with most other good habits, you’ll get better at this with practice.

Set Expectations That Are Reasonable

If you’re too hard on yourself, always demanding perfection, you’re bound to amp up your frustration. While you want to achieve your goals as quickly as possible, when you take on challenges you’re not yet ready for or try to force a result that requires more time, effort or resources, you’re going to add to your frustration at the same time as you defeat your goals.

The workaround here is to take the time to set reasonable expectations for yourself. The most difficult task or project may not be the best one to tackle at this point. Perhaps it’s better to work on the easier ones first. This helps establish a track record of success, makes you feel good about your accomplishments, and reduces the frustration you feel from putting too much on your plate at one time.

Lighten Up

The recommendation here is to avoid taking life so seriously. Granted, life does deal some unexpected challenges and not everything you get involved in is light-hearted, easily accomplished or without difficulty. Still, the frustrations you experience today probably will be a distant memory six months from now.

When you lighten up and learn to take things in stride, you’ll greatly decrease the frustration that keeps you from your goals.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s a given. It isn’t the mistakes you make that matter, however, but what you learn from them that counts.

Granted, no one likes to fail. There’s something distinctly unsettling about falling down or obtaining results less than you’d hoped. It stings, no question about it. Yet there’s still something you can glean from the experience that will serve you well the next time you’re in a similar situation. You can also extrapolate lessons you can adapt to other circumstances.

Timing is also important. Maybe you rushed into things without proper preparation or tried to speed through a project when it required more time. In any case, looking back you’ll probably see how you could have done things differently. If you pay attention, this is a lesson well learned. This makes you smarter the next time.

Keep It Positive

It’s easy to see how frustration leads to negative thinking. But that won’t turn things around. What will help is to keep it positive. An attitude that’s positive in nature helps you see solutions that might otherwise remain elusive. When you do feel frustrated, a positive attitude will help ratchet down the frustration and motivate you to get back to work on your goals.

Evaluate Your Accomplishments

When you’re stuck, feeling frustrated, you need some motivational self-talk. You can do this by taking stock of the accomplishments you have already achieved. This helps remind you that you have what it takes to get the job done, notwithstanding any frustration you experienced along the way.

The fact that you have a supply of effective strategies that worked well in other situations adds to your self-confidence and self-esteem – especially when you’re thinking about or tackling something new.

Start Over

Stopping frustration from derailing your goals will be a unique approach to each person. It may also turn out to involve adapting techniques you’ve used before, adding to them with suggestions you’ve learned from others, or taking a completely different route.

The only way you’re going to reach your goals is to start over, begin again, try something new. This means regularly revising your goals, adding new ones, modifying or eliminating those that no longer apply. It also means striving to learn something new each day, applying what you know works to new situations, networking with others who may have good ideas on how to best deal with recurring problems, and maintaining a positive attitude.

You want your life to be as happy, healthy, productive and fulfilling as possible. In essence, then, when you are frustrated over not being able to complete your goals, you simply need to start over. Eventually, you will succeed in reaching your goal or determine that another one takes precedence.

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