When is the last time you went ballroom dancing, made a speech, learned a new language, took up karate or even cooked a new exotic food? When was the last time you did something out of your comfort zone?
The experience was probably frustrating, depending on the difficulty of the task and how far outside of your comfort zone it was. You may have felt insecure, uncomfortable or ridiculous. If the task was difficult you may have been frustrated at attempting to gain progress. Due to this feeling, chances are you rarely participate in events out of your comfort zone.
I am going to call this phenomenon the Frustration Barrier. This is the barrier that keeps you from trying new things and going out of your comfort zone. It is also the same feature that allows you to quit far too early when you don’t immediately “get it”.
The problem with the Frustration Barrier is that it is usually temporary. Once you break through the barrier, you can actually start enjoying the learning process and have some fun. More importantly, breaking through this barrier gives you access to a huge amount of personal growth that occurs whenever we do things that are out of our normal frame of mind.
If I have found one thing that separates successful people from unsuccessful people it is the ability to handle this barrier. Unsuccessful people give up on it too soon, successful people manage to break through the barrier and as a result can enjoy the process of learning new things and gaining the benefits that come with being skilled in that area. Also, these people are generally much more “developed” as human beings as they have had a much richer variety of experiences from which they can use in their life.
The reason I bring out the Frustration Barrier is that it reminds me a lot of a problem in game design known loosely as the entry barrier. The entry barrier is the problem that occurs in many games. Many hardcore games are designed for entertaining skilled and proficient players, therefore people who are new to the game or genre are generally frustrated when they are attempting to learn how to play the game. For those who aren’t literate on gaming terms, hardcore implies it was built for an audience of very experienced and skilled gamers and is usually complex and has nothing to do with the content of the game (no, not that, tsk tsk 😉 ).
The entry barrier in games is what makes learning a game difficult and only once you have past it will you actually enjoy the game. However, there are methods from game design that we can apply to reduce the entry barrier. As a result we can use these techniques to lower the Frustration Barrier of any task. If we can lower the Frustration Barrier, then we can make it far easier to learn and do new things.
One of the tools games use to lower the entry barrier is a tutorial level where the player is told how to play. This is similar to the frustration barrier. If you feel uncomfortable or frustrated learning how to dance or exercise, then simply get some instruction on the material. If you are starting your own business, why not read a lot of material on starting a business? You could also interview other entrepreneurs and ask them about their experiences.
If you are having trouble getting in shape, why not join a fitness class or hire a personal trainer? If you are a bad cook, go to a cooking class. If you want to become more proficient at speaking why not join Toastmasters? This may seem simple, but think of how many things you have you deemed impossible for yourself before you took this step?
Another tool games use to lower the entry barrier is by gradually increasing the difficulty so that initial levels are incredibly easy but soon become more difficult. We can take this tool and apply it to our Frustration Barrier.
If you are having trouble doing something, especially something that is outside your comfort zone, then make your first steps so easy that you can succeed just by showing up. For example, if you want to start exercising, make your first step just to show up at the gym for a half hour every day. Don’t worry if you aren’t getting the best workout, all you have to do is show up!
Later, you can take steps to increase the difficulty. For our exercising example we could research and implement a more rigorous and consistent exercising plan. Once you’ve past the Frustration Barrier, then this step is pretty easy. If you aren’t past that stage, then just keep the increases to difficulty gradual so that you won’t give up.
One of the big advantages we can have over game designers is that we can change our beliefs that create the Frustration Barrier in the first place. While these beliefs may be difficult to change, if we take steps to remove them then the problem of the Frustration Barrier can be reduced significantly.
The first invalid belief is that we need to be good at something when we start. While everyone recognizes this at face value, many of us have this belief subconsciously. We believe that there are certain expectations of our level of skill and that we must have at least that level. If you are just starting out exercising, a big source of the Frustration Barrier could be your lack of strength and endurance. You might feel inadequate or self-conscious or frustrated because you believe you should be able to do better than you are.
Remember, we all have areas inside our comfort zone that we excel at. If we are starting a new skill we should pride ourselves simply on our courage to approach these things at all. If you feel frustrated or self-conscious because you can’t lift as much as the musclemen at the gym, just remember there are probably a lot of areas of your life that you excel at and they would feel self-conscious about their lack of skill. You don’t have to be good at anything you start at. You are going to learn and improve not to stroke your ego.
The second invalid belief we can have is that something is impossible if we don’t “get it” at first. I am guilty of this one too often myself. I usually can push myself through that barrier but when I am experiencing confusion or frustration I often feel the tendency to give up way too soon. I notice this is particularly true of computer problems. Many people who have difficulty with computers will give up on attempting to find the solution way too soon deeming it to be impossible, or deeming themselves inadequate to solve the problem.
Unfortunately this attitude allows us to never get the necessary skills to become effective in those areas. Even if it feels like you aren’t making progress, as long as you are resisting the Frustration Barrier, you are learning more and more which can help you in the future. I think this is the reason that many people have trouble using computers, that they simply don’t push that Frustration Barrier just a little harder and so they never build the skills to handle even simple problems.
Be patient and also realize that developing your skills in an area is just as important as solving your problem or becoming good. So if you start cooking a new exotic meal but it tastes horrible, that doesn’t mean that cooking is impossible or that you just wasted your time. You gained valuable experience that moves you further in your next attempt.
The third invalid belief is that there are certain things that we can’t do. I can’t dance. I can’t cook. I can’t use computers. I can’t play sports. I can’t speak in public. Pick your choice.
These beliefs are very limiting. Understand that while some things will be out of your comfort zone, there is going to be incredibly few things that you can’t do. Simply trying these things, and using the previous methods to reduce the Frustration Barrier might allow you to realize that you actually can do some things you previously felt were impossible for you.
What are the things you currently have on your can’t, won’t or don’t do list? Are they there for a good reason? Maybe you should take another go at them and see if they actually hold any bearing in reality. Remember, the Frustration Barrier can keep us from approaching things that are initially difficult but ultimately satisfying.
There becomes a problem, however, when we can’t see whether it is the Frustration Barrier or whether the task itself we dislike. Lets say we start a new sport and are initially discouraged and frustrated. Is that the barrier or is it the sport itself?
To answer this one you need to separate your skill with the task and the task itself. If you are frustrated with how badly you are performing the skill then chances are it is simply the Frustration Barrier at work. However, it might be that you really dislike playing and you believe you would dislike playing even if you were excellent at it. I believe this case is usually in the minority, but when it does occur, don’t punish yourself by struggling through a Frustration Barrier that leads nowhere.
Where has the Frustration Barrier stopped you in your life? How can you now approach those things that are uncomfortable or frustrating to allow yourself to truly enjoy new experience from which growth and success are based? Don’t let a little barrier get in your way!