It’s Okay to Sulk

Three Questions to Turn Frustration to Your Advantage

When you’re having a bad day, it feels good to sulk. It does. Get comfortable on the couch with a bowl (read: tub) of ice cream, put on your favorite TV show, and have a self-pity marathon. But don’t spend your whole life there.

Once you have to get off the couch, you’re done. I don’t care if you need another drink, or some chips, or more ice cream, or your bladder’s full, or the dog wants out, or the cat wants in, or there’s someone at the door. You’re done. Get on with it.

Everyone wallows in self-pity from time to time. The trick is not to take up residence in the mire.


When things don’t work out as planned, it’s frustrating. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Proverbs 13:12) You’ve spent all this time and energy developing a vision for your future, making plans, shaping the world around you. You get excited for that vision, you pour everything into it, and for one reason or another, it doesn’t work out.

Someone else beats you to the dream house on the corner. It takes longer to pay off the debt than you’d like. She picks that other guy over you. Suddenly, the world doesn’t seem that shapable, and you’re just along for the ride.

Three questions can help you get past the frustration:

  1. Was my expectation reasonable? There’s a difference between being optimistic and naïve. Optimism says you can achieve incredible things. Naïvety is expecting Optimism’s results without the work. If your expectation was more towards the naïve end of the spectrum, now you have a better idea of the work involved.
  2. Where did things fall down? This can be a hard question, because the answer usually means more work. Why did you want that outcome? Why did you think your plan would work? Why didn’t it? Keep asking why until you figure out what you didn’t expect.
  3. How do I need to adjust next time? The important word here is I. Even if the problem is “someone else let you down”, there is still something you can do differently. More followup, clearer instructions, even taking it to someone else.

As you’re asking yourself these questions, resist the urge to throw everyone else under the bus. It’s easy to do, especially when someone has let you down. Extend to others the same patience, goodwill, and compassion you’d want if the roles were reversed. This can mean forgetting about it or taking the opportunity to teach and train.

Now what are you going to do about it? Failure isn’t permanent until you decide it is. Still want it? Adjust your plans and get right back out there. The longer you wait, the more momentum you’re going to lose.

Sometimes, the best response really is to let it go. There will be other houses, other fish in the sea. Know when to cut your losses and head to the couch with a dish of Tillamook Mudslide.

And know when to get off the couch.

Question: How do you cope with frustration? Do you stay positive or find your way back there eventually? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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