Frustration: When You Want Things to Change and They Don’t

There is no lack of articles on the topic of change management. In fact, there are so many theories and philosophers associated with the process of managing change that there are multiple models to choose from when leading or managing this process. Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has an 8-step change model to drive transformation. Social psychologist Kurt Lewin has a 3-step change model to structure a change process. Organization consultant William Bridges developed his own transition model to help people understand and manage the human impact of change. These are just three examples…Van Gennep, Beckhard, Harris, LaMarsh, Conner, Anderson, Salerno, Brock, and Prosci all have additional approaches to consider when managing the process of change.

While these models are crucial in navigating the dynamics, processes and psychology of implementing change, they don’t expand upon a common precursor to change implementation – a person (or group of people) experiencing an immense sense of frustration with the status quo. Frustration is the feeling of being upset or annoyed at the inability to change or achieve something. Frustration with the status quo results when you actually do want things to change (you have your own buy-in), but for a myriad of reasons, the situation cannot or does not change.

The process of not changing can also be described as inertia. Inertia is the tendency to remain unchanged. Even as a person, team or organization is in motion and moving forward, a lack of ability to incorporate change will result in preserving its current state of motion. This is Newton’s first law. And for those who desire a change, experiencing it can be difficult. Whether it is waiting for your promotion, a job offer, to get pregnant, for the sale of your house to go through, to meet a special someone, to finish a degree, or for retirement…this is an emotion that we all experience from time to time.

Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, difficulty, or annoyance without getting angry or upset. Patience can be easily seen through the writing found on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany during the Holocaust, “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I cannot feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.” Impatience and frustration cause a stress response in the body. The ability to have compassion on ourselves and remain level headed and tranquil during times of frustration is a form of self care to prevent the enhanced suffering that results when we indulge the emotion of frustration in addition to navigating a difficult circumstance. In addition, patience enhances one’s ability to tolerate stress and execute decision making.

The ability to remain patient enhances a state of calm, which also enables you to think clearly about what can be done in your circumstance. When you are frustrated, it can lead to irritation, bitterness, anger or depression, which can trigger increasing cortisol levels and result in higher blood pressure. Here are a few tips to help you deal with feelings of frustration:

  1. Recognize the impermanence of this feeling. Know that eventually it will pass.
  2. Acknowledge the legitimacy of these feelings. They are understandable.
  3. Think through what may be in your power to do to help yourself navigate this situation.
  4. Determine whether there is a person in your circle which you can influence or talk to.
  5. Have compassion on yourself – these feelings are understandable.
  6. Determine if there are any expectations that you have which are unrealistic.
  7. Explore what positives there are to this situation.
  8. Check your cognitive biases. Just because you feel frustrated, that doesn’t mean you will always be frustrated.


Bernhard, Toni. “Impatient? Why and How to Practice Patience” Psychology Today. May 20, 2013.

Bernhard, Toni. “5 Things to Try When You’re Frustrated” Psychology Today. September 25, 2019.

Transition Designs is dedicated to helping organizations and individuals manage their strategy and navigate change. We help our clients assess their situation, create a plan that is congruent with the long term vision, and manage the in-between places. Clients typically work with us to design a custom plan tailored to their unique situation and goals.

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