This year, instead of making one of the typical New Years resolutions that most of us abandon within days or weeks, why not try something new? Make a Frustrations List and resolve to fix some of the items on it. I know it sounds weird, but it really works. That’s because it’s not just one thing that keeps us from being happy and creative: it’s everything together. When you make a Frustrations List, you can see how all of the little things in your life interact to build negativity and keep you from being your best self.
I made my first Frustrations List a few years ago, and as I addressed the items on it, my stress levels started going down. I had more energy to put towards creative projects, and the patience to deal with setbacks when they didn’t go quite right. It worked so well I want to tell you how to make one so you can try it too. My first list was enormous, which it should be, and full of things that sounded completely ridiculous. Now the list is much smaller since I’ve resolved many of the issues.
Here are some of the items from my first list:
- upstairs neighbors walking in high-heeled shoes on bare floors at 7am every day
- tea kettle lid sticks randomly
- bedroom window bangs shut
- stapler sticks
- hallway closet = disaster
- tripping over dog leash
- traffic to/from supermarket
- cannot find organic porridge oats at the supermarket
I get that some of these issues are really, really small and seem ridiculous, right? I mean item #4 ‘the stapler sticks,’ really? Let me take you through a day with these frustrations, though, and you’ll see why this method works.
A day before the Frustrations List:
I sleep badly because the window bangs every time the wind blows during the night. Then I wake up earlier than I want to because of the loud, clopping shoes upstairs. Since I can’t fall back to sleep, I decide to get up and walk the dog. In my sleep-deprived state, I trip over the dog leash and bang some body part on a piece of furniture. Ouch. Great day so far, right?
During the dog walk, the day starts to look better. Maybe the weather is nice and I have a friendly chat with a neighbor. Then I return home to make breakfast. There are no porridge oats because for some reason the three supermarkets I’ve visited over the past few months don’t have any. Not a big deal because I’m fortunate to have other breakfast options, but I do miss my oatmeal.
Next, I try to make a caffeinated beverage, but the tea kettle lid sticks shut. I hit the back of my hand really hard on the handle when it finally does come loose. I curse and wonder, still cursing and massaging my bruised hand, why the lid sticks sometimes, but not always.
Obviously good things do happen during the day, but at some point I’m doing paperwork and spend an extra five minutes stapling and re-stapling because the stupid thing sticks and only produces a staple every third time. Maybe today I avoid the supermarket, or maybe I spend 45 minutes going 3 miles because of the crazy traffic.
Then there’s item #5:
Let’s not even talk about item #5 (the hallway closet) because it is just a disaster. Whenever I need something, I waste many minutes shoving things around. By the time I’m done fighting with the closet, I’m probably late for whatever event required the item from the closet, and I certainly have another bruise. I’m not sure if you’re counting, but that’s three so far: one from the dog leash fall, one from the tea kettle, and now one from the closet. Great. No wonder I’m tired and grumpy at this point in the day.
Does this sound familiar? Sometimes, no matter how many things go right during the day, when enough stuff goes wrong, it adds up and you can’t be as happy and creative as you want to be. I’ve talked before about how doing something creative can lead to happiness, but how can we be creative if we’re tired and grumpy? This is where the Frustration List comes in.
Here’s what you do:
First, make a list of all the things that are driving you crazy or causing you frustration and upset. Take a few days to do this, and be honest. Write everything down, no matter how trite or #firstworldproblems something may seem. If it annoys you, write it down.
Next, don’t be embarrassed by your list. It’s just for you and not for anyone else to see or to judge. Be proud that you’re honest enough with yourself to admit to the things that are driving you mad. Some of these things will be large items that you can’t really fix. That’s ok. The point is that by listing all of them in one place, you can really see what’s going on in your life.
Start with the easy stuff:
Now take a look at your Frustrations list to see which items are the easiest to fix. If you start with those, you’ll be able to fix a whole bunch of things before you know it. It’s amazing how many times I tripped over the dog’s leash before just putting a hook on the back of the door. Such a simple solution, but it never seemed like a real problem that needed solving until I put it on my list.
You won’t be able to fix everything, of course, but fixing some items will significantly reduce the frustration you experience on a daily basis. One item on my list that I couldn’t fix was item #1. I didn’t feel comfortable speaking with the upstairs neighbors about their loud shoes. After fixing the window and getting a better night’s sleep, though, I was much less annoyed by them.
For the other items, I did have to buy a new stapler, but it turned out that if I put the lid on the tea kettle in a certain direction, it worked fine:
Organizing the closet was a huge task, but it made me really, really happy once it was done. Of course we no longer live in that house, so the hallway closet in the new apartment is working its way onto the current Frustrations List.
Forming new habits:
I finally got to the bottom of the porridge oats issue (item #8), and developed a new exercise routine in the process. It turns out there was a computer glitch that kept the oats the store ordered from actually being delivered. While it took nearly six months for them to resolve this, I found a tiny grocery store that had oats. I had never tried this store before because it was hard to get to by car, but I found a shortcut down (and then back up) an incredibly steep walking path behind my house. I got a great 30 minute workout taking this path to the store. It was so fun and easy that I actually ended up keeping the walking path as an exercise routine while we lived there.
Why is it so difficult to keep resolutions?
One item on my Frustrations List that I can’t seem to resolve is ‘no time for exercise.’ No matter what I do, I just can’t seem to prioritize an exercise routine enough to maintain it. There’s actually a reason we find it so difficult to make good habits, though. According to a 2009 study by the European Journal of Social Psychology. it takes between 66 and 254 days to form a good habit. That’s 66 days, minimum, of daily practice before those resolutions actually become permanent habits. I’m feeling somewhat liberated knowing that my lack of exercise routine (I no longer live near that steep path) isn’t as much me being a lazy person as it is human nature. That’s still not an excuse for not trying, but it helps me feel less guilty, and more human, when I fail.
Maybe this year crossing items off of my Frustrations List will help me be happy and creative and more fit. Being creative is such a good way to find inner peace and happiness, but it’s so hard to do when we’re stressed. I hope making a Frustrations List helps you reduce the stress in your life so you can be your best self and have a happy and creative year.
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Thanks for reading, and happy New Year!