Frustrated? Here’s How to Make Progress Anyway.

by Nicky Hajal

Sometimes, even doing the things we want and love to do can be hard.

You get to a difficult section of your book that you’re just not sure about, a client’s request has you stumped or a guitar riff has your fingers jammed up.

I’ve experienced this a lot lately. ActionAlly is the first desktop application I’ve ever built which means I’ve been dealing with huge frustrations all day, every day for 4 months.

The truth is that no matter what you’re doing and no matter how bad you want it, you will hit moments of massive challenge where it feels like you can’t make one inch of progress.

I’ve put a major focus on learning how to get through these periods of frustration because they are the moments that determine how far you ultimately go.

If you consistently push through difficulty, your success is inevitable.

To get started, let’s take a look at the most powerful weapon in my arsenal.

The Two-Question, Frustration-Chopping Machete of Doom

When I was developing ActionAlly I’d often get stuck for hours on something that seemed like it should be simple. It would drive me absolutely crazy. I’d get annoyed, frustrated and wouldn’t want to keep going.

It felt like vines were grasping me from all sides and I couldn’t break free.

Then I’d take out my Two-Question, Frustration-Chopping Machete of Doom to cut through and keep going.

The good news is that you don’t need swordsmanship training to put this to use. All you need to do is ask yourself two questions.

Question 1: Is it humanly possible for this to be achieved by anyone?

Sometimes, when trying something difficult, it feels physically impossible for it to be achieved even when that’s clearly not the case.

For example with ActionAlly I would find other OSX Applications that achieved the same effect I was attempting. I still didn’t know how to do it, but I knew it could be done.

If you are learning guitar or piano but struggling with a particular section of a piece, try this:

Search for the name of the song you’re learning followed by “6 year old”.

Chances are you’ll find a YouTube video of a kid playing the exact same piece you’re telling yourself your hands are too small for. It can be done. Keep going.

The first question roots you into the reality that what you’re doing is possible.

Question 2: Is it inevitable that I’ll figure this out within a week if I just refuse to give up?

The second question puts you face to face with the fact that you have the choice to push past frustration.

Some things take minutes to figure out, some take hours or days. Most individual points of frustration do not take more than a week to resolve so it’s important to remind yourself that you will achieve your goal in a finite amount of time if you give it your sustained attention.

If you can’t confidently say yes and you think you may be stuck on that same issue for a week or more, this question is still valuable to you.

It means you need something more.

What to do when you’re really, totally, hopelessly stuck.

1. Get help

Ask a friend who’s better than you to take a look at the challenge you’re facing. Find an online forum that discusses those issues and ask them what they suggest.

And don’t just stop at one! You know the answer won’t come quick on your own so you may as well put out as many requests and feelers as possible, then start letting those answers all come in as you make progress elsewhere.

2. Break things down

Chances are, what seems to be a single problem is actually 3-4 all at once. If you break what’s happening into components, you’ll have a much easier time at tackling each specific piece.

You’ll often have to challenge yourself here because we develop distorted impressions of what it is that we’re trying to accomplish and what it takes to get there.

If you’re trying to pull off a new break-dancing move you may start by saying, “I’m so frustrated, I just can’t stick this move.”

That’s an easy place to get stuck because looking at it from the perspective of “the move” doesn’t clearly define what’s not working.

Once you break it down to the specific points of failure, you’ll be able to realize you’re just not flexible enough in your wrists yet and you need to pull your legs over a bit faster (I admit, break-dancing isn’t my thing, but it seemed like a fitting example).

3. Change absolutely anything

Sometimes you need to try something not because you think it might lead you directly to a solution but just because once you start trying new things, more possibilities come to mind. You see what’s happening from a new perspective.

I can’t emphasize this enough.

When I have code that isn’t working and I just can’t figure out why, I stop trying to directly resolve the issue and do things that I know won’t work but may reveal new information. I start to just play around and see how that shakes things up to reveal something new.

When You Can Push Past Frustration You Can Accomplish Anything

I promise you that’s true.

How often do you hear people saying things like:
– “I tried developing a website but I’m just not smart enough.”
– “I started writing a book but it’s just not my thing.”
– “I can’t paint, I really don’t have the patience.”

What they’re actually saying is, “I tried but I got too frustrated to keep going.”

That doesn’t have to be you.

Use the Two-Question, Frustration-Chopping Machete of Doom to slice through the frustrating moments. When you’re still stuck ask for help, break things down or change absolutely anything.

You’ll realize that frustration is a temporary state you occasionally find yourself in and slip your way out of – it’s not worth giving up the things you care most about for.


If you’re stuck in the vines of frustration with something right now, ask for help below in the comments and we’ll do what we can to get you out!

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