Frustration – Creative Problem Solving Skills and Adaptive Cost Theory

(Original post on October 10, 2015)

Subsequent to my initial posting on Frustration Theory, Labels and their Implications, I have had some great feedback, particularly from a group to which I belong. The conversations there prompted me to think about frustration and the responses in a couple of other lights. The first was: how do we get people to use persistence more so than the other techniques. The other was: what sets up people to be less able to respond with persistence. These are brief thoughts, but they might help fill in the picture some more.

Creative Problem Solving

It’s interesting because if you look at persistence from another perspective that I talk about – creativity – the biggest inhibitor of creativity is time pressure. One thing I challenge my MBAs to do is change their talk about “solving problems” as the word problem has a negative connotation and implies something that needs to stop or be fixed. Instead, I suggest they switch in the words, “identifying the opportunity.” What is it that could be achieved, what should we move towards? We talk about “creative problem solving” and what tricks can be used to ‘think outside the box.” This was one of the lenses that helped me personally move out of invigoration to persistence. It’s also in alignment to the no force training perspective. Another thing, that relates to upbringing (which many argue contributes to how people respond to frustration), is the diversity of languages, interests, hobbies, readings, people you to which you are exposed. The more diversity, the more capable you are of creativity. The more creativity skills at your finger-tips, the easier it becomes to be persistent as you have more available options to your disposal.

Persistence often requires thinking outside the box, defining the challenge in a way that it is achievable or solvable. Regression is similar to when one tenaciously defines the challenge in one singular fashion and this definition of the problem is incorrect. Suppression appears to be where the individual gives up trying to define the challenge in a way that is solvable. Invigoration could be like suppression where the individual refuses to continue trying to define the challenge and instead of turning off, s/he turns up the rocket boosters and goes to the outer stratosphere.

So what might also help or hinder the individual in achieving persistence?

Adaptive Cost Theory

With my youngest, who definitely responds to frustration through invigoration, I have been working on his emotional intelligence (using words to express frustration, anger instead of fists / demolitions), and how to identify some small wins for the past 1-2 years. He’s improved a lot since he was a wee toddler, but I also find certain contexts “fill up the cup” quickly and lead to faster over-flowing of frustration than other contexts. Diet is one (hence we are seeking to remove sugar and highly-processed foods for him).

The energy of the room is another (soccer tips him over the scale pretty quickly due to the high energy and exuberance around him; dance is great with lower level of excitement in the room and yet still physical activity with an outlet for his creativity) as is swimming. The adult’s response to his frustration is critical too. If I’m with him, I can calmly walk him through the steps. If someone else is with him, they can escalate and butt heads pretty quickly if they seek to “stop the misbehavior” through reprimand (either positive punishment or negative punishment).

There’s another theory called Adaptive Cost Theory, which argues that humans are meant to adapt to their environments; however, this adaptation comes with a cost, fewer reserves available. This makes a lot of sense in terms of frustration. If we are sleep deprived, we simply don’t have the physical or cognitive (let alone emotional) resources to handle frustration with persistence (which arguably takes a lot of resources). If we have poor diet or insufficient food, thus stressed bodies, we have fewer resources again. If we are already using energy and attention to adapt to a new social context, then we have fewer resources to deal with an additional stressor.

As trainers and educators, this can mean keeping an eye out for the tired, hungry, stressed, new-to-group-classes students. Their cups might already be partially full….


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