How To Turn Frustration Into Motivation

Your heart is not made of stone - when faced with frustration, it's ok to have anger, sadness or apathy follow.

I get frustrated. You get frustrated. We get frustrated.

Work is frustrating. Life is frustrating. Especially when we have high expectations for ourselves, our business and those around us.

But feeling this way is just the start - the real danger is in what comes next.

There are three usual outcomes from feeling frustrated - anger, sadness and apathy.

But moving through these will help you capture the sometimes-elusive ultimate goal: Motivation.

I've been through the rollercoaster of all of this, both in business and in life, and I thought it'd be the right time to check in with you guys and share my take on what these three destructive reactions are, and how we can move ourselves towards finding our motivation and drive amongst the chaos.


We've all been there. A discussion isn't going our way, or someone has just been dismissive of the work we've done. You're frustrated…but you also know that your heart rate just jumped a bit, your hands have gone cold and you're using all your strength (and professional manners) to bite your tongue. Unfortunately, even if you manage to escape without expressing your anger, it's going to follow you. It will appear as a voice in your head while you're walking the dog. It will spill into an over-reaction to a question from your family over the dinner table - it may even wake you up in the middle of the night. This is no good.

Get it out of your system by grabbing a notepad or journal and letting the words spill out of your pen. Give yourself full permission to just let it all out - even if the air over your head is a bit blue by the end of it. When the anger creeps back into your thoughts - push it out. Take a deep breath and tell that angry little voice to shut it.

“Take a deep breath and tell that angry little voice to shut it.” 

- Tweet This!


A close cousin of this anger is sadness. Your heart rate may not have sped up - but we've all been in a meeting or out with friends for dinner with a lump in our throat, hoping that no one asks us a question - because we're not sure we would be able to croak out a reply without our sadness seeping out along with it. A lot of the time, we keep our composure because we're in front of others, and what may have started as a small bit of sadness over a situation not going our way or having been disrespected by someone ends up creeping farther and farther into our heads - and hearts. The initial feeling takes on a life of its own - and suddenly we're carrying around a low feeling that's much harder to shake.

As with anger - release it! Excuse yourself from the table for a moment and give yourself a bit of time to breath, reflect and express your sadness. You may want to keep this process entirely private, or you may want to seek out a friend or colleague that you can confide in - it's amazing how someone we trust can provide both empathy as well as some must needed perspective on what we're going through.


Why bother! It doesn't matter! No one is going to care! The result is going to stink! I'm done!

Oh boy. We've all been there. Turns out, sometimes you can only hit your head against a wall so many times before the wall wins. We give up. We stop giving our best effort because we feel utterly powerless to change the circumstances that led to our frustration in the first place. Sometimes, a little bit of apathy is ok - it gives us a much needed time-out on whatever is driving us batty. But the weight of this apathy gets heavier and heavier (and the to-do list longer and longer) if you can't snap out of it.

Move through the apathy by indulging it a little bit. Turn off the ringer, close the computer and put away the agenda. Give yourself the night off. After all, you're probably right - you can't do anything to change the situation as long as you're in this funk. Putting a bit of distance between yourself and the source of the frustration should help you bounce back, maybe even with an idea for how you can tackle the challenge differently in Round 2.

The Destination? Motivation

So, you've released your anger. Acknowledged your sadness. And given yourself a mini-break. What now? 

Because we've managed to move through these negative phases, we're poised to experience a rush of motivation and drive to either get back on that horse and finish the task at hand; or, we find ourselves with a slew of ideas on how to overcome frustration by making changes in the project, our approach, or our interactions with others. The key here is that the mood shifts from 'why bother' to 'I'll show 'em!' - and even if no one is paying attention, and even if the source of frustration remains, we know that we'll deliver some pretty awesome work and take pride in that.

What frustrates you the most in your business? How do you work through anger, sadness and apathy as they rear their ugly heads? What's your biggest success at finding your drive?