The Watering Hole Blog

Frustration as a Catalyst


Frustration Got You Down?

Fear Not! Creativity to the Rescue

“Frustration is a fundamental step in the creative process.”

Steven Kotler, “The Art of Impossible”

Are you (like pretty much everyone else on the planet at the moment) frustrated?

If so, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

From a creative standpoint, not only is frustration a fundamental step in the creative process, it can also be a tremendous impetus for embarking on a new creative project.

Whether it’s a political, social, economic, environmental, personal, professional or any other type of matter, issue or obstacle that is getting in the way of our peace of mind, regardless of the SOURCE of our frustration, perhaps what is more important is what we DO with that frustration…HOW we use that frustration as a constructive catalyst. 

I’m in the midst of reading a gem of a book that I’m finding to be profoundly useful in helping me transform my daily work performance from “fairly productive” to astronomically so: “The Art of Impossible; A Peak Performance Primer,” by Steven Kotler.

If you’re interested in learning the secrets of peak performers—athletes, artists, scientists, CEO’s, etc—who have changed our definition of possible…and want to apply what you learn in your own life to stretch far beyond your own capabilities, I highly recommend this book.

In the book, Kotler discusses at length how important it is TO experience frustration.  

Not the most pleasant of emotions, no...but frustration can be a doozie of a catalyst for change. Click To Tweet

To illustrate this, I will share with you a personal example of how I am currently using frustration as a catalyst for a new creative project.

To be honest, I had been very frustrated over a romantic relationship that ended a year ago…mainly because I didn’t really have a clear idea as to why. But the process of trying to figure out why is proving to be extremely useful for my work as a screenwriter.

Thank you, sublimation.

If you’re not familiar with the psychological term, “sublimation,” here is cheeky explanation by the author of “The Art of Impossible”:

“Freud talked about “sublimation,” a defense mechanism that transforms private, often socially unacceptable frustrations (me, facedown punching the floor), into socially acceptable expressions of creativity (the book you’re now reading). The gestalt psychologist, Kurt Lewin, simplified things further, arguing that frustration is simply an obstruction to a goal that demands an innovative response.”

Obviously, that explanation pertains to the experience of getting frustrated during the creative process. My experience, however, was about being frustrated before the creative process…and using that frustration as the catalyst to begin a new creative work (a screenplay).

To explain how sublimation worked for me, here is my personalized modification of the above passage:

“A defense mechanism that transforms private, often socially unacceptable frustrations (me, screaming at the fireplace then checking my phone, again, to see if there’s a text reply from the guy in question, which there isn’t, of course, then vowing to never text him again, which I do, of course, and then the screaming at the fireplace cycle begins again), into socially acceptable expressions of creativity (instead of texting him, again, I head to my laptop and work on a rather clever screenplay, if I do say so myself, about the incredibly frustrating experience).”

In other words, I am transforming my frustration and other not-so-fun emotions (confusion, sorrow, disappointment, anger) into a script that, when produced, may even help other people. At the very least, it will certainly entertain them 🙂

For now, however, the outcome that is of most use to ME is the creative process itself. Writing this screenplay is helping me understand and accept what happened, heal, let go, and learn some valuable lessons that will likely prove useful as I move forward with my love life…and my professional life. Writing this script is proving to be very technically challenging and is, in fact, stretching me far beyond my current capabilities. I am writing at a level I never thought possible for myself.

Which brings me back to “The Art of Impossible” and the experience of feeling frustrated with the creative process (which was, after all, the author’s intended take-away):

“From a practical perspective, this means we have to invert our traditional relationship with frustration,” Kotler advises. “When most people encounter this feeling, they take it as a sign that they’re doing something wrong. But if frustration is a necessary step in the creative process, then we need to stop treating its arrival as a disaster.”

Likewise with situations in our personal lives (such as a romance that didn’t fly for no apparent reason or say…pandemic restrictions that aren’t lifting quite fast enough for one’s liking): when we can take the frustration we are feeling and create something new, useful and/or constructive for oneself and others (and perhaps even learn a few important things about ourselves), then we are able to see frustration for what it is: an important catalyst.

In other words…

Although I was disappointed the relationship didn’t work out, I am SO glad I channeled my frustration, hurt, and confusion into the creation of a new screenplay. Click To Tweet

In fact, perhaps another reason for the relationship in the first place was to give me fodder and fuel for a brilliant new script? Because let’s face it…if the relationship had gone swimmingly, I wouldn’t have been inspired to write a screenplay that is significantly challenging me, both personally and professionally.

As Kurt Lewin said: “Frustration is simply an obstruction to a goal that demands an innovative response.”

What that innovative response is—and whether it gets rid of the obstruction to the original goal or inspires us to create an entirely new goal—is up to us.

Frustration, of course, is only one emotion of many that can be a catalyst for creativity. Grief is another. Click To Tweet

Years ago, when I was widowed at the age of thirty-two, I was able to (eventually) transform the myriad of difficult emotions associated with my grief into the creation of a book. If you’re interested in reading about my creative experience with the writing process, you can read “Beautiful Big Magic – the Book and the Magic.”

Beautiful magic…about grief? Yes. Believe me, no one was more surprised than yours truly that I would reach a point where writing about the most devastating experience of my life became (eventually) a joyful, beautiful, magical experience.

Available through BHC Press

One final note (that is, perhaps, stating the obvious…but maybe not):

Regardless of the source of our frustration, taking some sort of constructive action is usually a good idea. Generally speaking, something (or someone) doesn’t frustrate us for absolutely no reason. We get frustrated because something has got our goat…so we would be wise to pay attention to the cue our frustration is giving us and proceed accordingly.

“Barrier Removed” quotes to help you achieve your dreams (30 per set) – available in our Etsy shop

Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.

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4 thoughts on “Frustration as a Catalyst”

  1. Absolutely loved “Big Magic”. I borrowed the CD version from the library and listened to it many times over when I was writing my first book. So inspirational and right up my alley😁

  2. Glad you found the blog of use! Frustration seems to be the order of the day 🙁

    Take care & have a great week!

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