Mental Toughness – High Frustration Tolerance

We all experience frustration when our needs, wants and demands are not met, or when we are faced with obstacles that impede our progress. Frustration is a fact of life; therefore our ability to tolerate frustration is crucial to the successful achievement of our long-term goals.

When we are easily frustrated and upset, we are said to have, Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT). If, on the other hand, we are less disturbed or upset by short-term frustrations, and persevere through difficulties, we are said to have High Frustration Tolerance (HFT). Developing High Frustration Tolerance is vital to good mental health and a key element of Mental Toughness.

We all know that in our everyday lives, we will face obstacles, difficulties and hassles. People will let us down, trains won’t run, cars won’t start, we will have to queue and wait to be served, items will be out of stock and call centres will be busy. Amazingly enough, we habitually demand that these things do not happen, and that life should always be… the way we want it… easy, fast and without any hassle. So we may often complain, bleat, moan and rage. We may cry and whine that we are being “stressed out” or scream that we can’t stand it! The psychologist, Albert Ellis, called this can’t-stand-it-itis.

Having Mental Toughness means, that we must accept responsibility for our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. If we have Low Frustration Tolerance (LFT) it is within our power and within our control to change the beliefs that cause us to feel frustrated.

Here are some of the common beliefs that cause LFT

I must not be frustrated

I cannot stand to be inconvenienced.

My life should be easy

Things should always work properly

It’s awful when things don’t go my way

I must be comfortable at all times

I must not be deprived of what I want

I can’t stand to do things that are boring or unpleasant

I cannot stand to endure poor service, stupidity and lack of attention

Here’s an example. Many people get frustrated when queuing and waiting at supermarket checkouts but with some people their frustration gets way out of proportion. Some people get so angry at not being served quickly, that after a few minutes of huffing, puffing and tutting, they finally throw a tantrum, dump their groceries on the floor and run out swearing at everyone… It’s hardly grown up behaviour is it? Also, they will still need to get their food at some point, so it’s not pragmatic and goal directed behaviour either… Not big, not clever.

Here are some common thoughts that people have in this instance

I cannot stand to queue and wait

I’ll be here forever; I CAN’T STAND IT!

I cannot stand waiting for slow and idiotic people

This is really boring and dreadful

I’ll go mad if they don’t move faster

If I don’t get out of here my head will explode

I must be served right away, NOW!

Here are some common beliefs

It’s terrible to have to stand and wait in the 21st century

Why can’t they organise things effectively

It’s awful to waste my time like this

People should focus on what they’re doing and move faster

There should be more tills open for my convenience

My time must always be spent efficiently

There should be a separate queue for idiots

Does any of this seem familiar? (my contact details are below). An effective way to combat Low Frustration Tolerance is to dispute the thoughts and beliefs that underpin it. Again, the focus is on preferring not demanding. Here are some disputing statements for supermarket queuing or waiting in traffic.

Get a grip; it’s not life or death

It’s inconvenient but I can cope with it

Of course I can stand it, it’s really not that bad

Sometimes things don’t go my way. TOUGH!

There is no law of the universe that says things must be the way I want them

I don’t like it but I can handle it

I would prefer not to queue but it’s not a disaster if I have to

It’s a hassle but I can live with it

Dry your eyes and stop crying

Get real; I won’t be here forever

Stop whining and whinging

As well as disputing our thoughts and beliefs, we can also use behavioural disputing. Behavioural disputing is a great way to test whether we really “could not stand it”, or whether we would really go mad and our heads explode. To do this we could choose the longest and slowest checkout queue and when we got near to the front leave the queue and go to the back again. Similarly when in traffic queues rather than weave in and out to the “faster lanes” we could stay in the slowest lane and gain tolerance and control over frustration.

Small children are used to having their needs and demands met; they are inexperienced and when faced with frustrations, they cry, scream and throw tantrums. As we get older and become adults, we learn that frustration is a normal, everyday part of life.

Therefore, we need to develop High Frustration Tolerance, persist through difficulties and have Mental Toughness.


Phil Pearl