More On Low Frustration Tolerance
Almost always, achieving a long-term goal entails facing immediate discomfort. When we begin to pursue such a goal, we judge that the outcome is well worth the cost, but then somewhere along the line we get sidetracked. Since the cost is immediate and the benefit distant, it’s easy to give in to the impulse to escape. Later, we regret deeply that we have failed to achieve the desired goal.
All this is perfectly natural and to be expected. If Tom keeps putting off studying for an important test in favor of watching movies, or if Sheila, who dreams of being a concert pianist, starts to skip practice to talk to friends on the phone, there is no need to introduce far-fetched “unconscious” explanations. To propose instead that Tom really dreads becoming a doctor because he identifies that profession with his father whom he hates without knowing it, or that Sheila unconsciously fears the plight of a concert superstar making millions from recordings, is fanciful in the extreme.
The universe simply isn’t constructed in such a way that working toward an important objective is bound to be intrinsically delightful. The principle that applies in most arenas of life is the rule familiar to athletes and sports trainers: No pain, no gain!
Schools Teach Addictive Thinking
Unfortunately, our culture reinforces the opposite, and potentially disastrous viewpoint. Fashionable discussion of education policy, for example, sometimes implies that learning ought to be sheer effortless enjoyment at every moment. Certainly, a skillful teacher will try to make the subject matter attractive and will know how to stimulate the students’ interest, but nothing worthwhile can ever be pure fun–certainly not science, math, English, foreign languages, music, engineering, economics, history, or philosophy. Effective learning cannot be immediately pleasurable at every stage; success requires that students apply themselves and work hard, especially when it hurts.
The worst-hit victims of the “learning is fun” theory are often those from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, because they are less likely to pick up the habits of discipline and application at home, which many middle-class students already bring to school with them.
Not only does the “learning is fun” fallacy tend to destroy scholastic achievement, it may reinforce Low Frustration Tolerance in every other area of life, and hence encourage addictions. School administrators who seek to remedy poor scholastic performance by making students feel good (instead of fostering self-discipline and rigorous academic standards) may indirectly be stimulating their students’ interest in taking drugs.
By contrast, our children would benefit from being shown role models who forge ahead in boring, unexciting, uncomfortable conditions, to reach a valuable goal. It would be best to tell our children: “Life consists of one hassle after another, but you can cope, and you can derive deep satisfaction from overcoming those hassles. To accomplish anything worthwhile is going to be hard, tedious, and unpleasant at times, but you can do it. Only babies demand that every minute be free of discomfort or frustration; grown-ups tolerate frustration and realistically endure it as an inherent aspect of life.”
Dr. Michael R. Edelstein, a licensed clinical psychologist with over 25 years experience, is in private practice in San Francisco. He is the author of Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, a self-help book for overcoming common emotional and behavioral problems. He was awarded Author of the Year for the book. In his practice, Dr. Edelstein specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and addictions, and is one of the few practitioners of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) in the Bay Area. Dr. Edelstein lectures nationally and internationally, appears on radio and television, and is published in psychological journals. He writes the advice column, “Ask Dr. Mike,” which appears in the San Francisco Intelligencer.
Edelstein, M. (2008). Overeating: It’s All In Your Head. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/overeating-its-all-in-your-head/0001527
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
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