Repeat after me: Frustration is useless, boredom is toxic, if I’m not having fun I should be doing something else.

Photo: Piez

Photo: Piez

The lovely Rachel posted about my double-crochet tutorial on the CRAFT blog today, and I thank her for the link love (welcome, if you’re here via CRAFT!). She wrote in her post that I switched her from working on a granny square that was making her feel frustrated and defeated to just making rows of double crochet. When I did that, I didn’t tell her what to do at the beginning and end of a row; I just wanted her to feel successful and to enjoy herself again. I started her off with one row of stitches completed, handed it to her, and maybe mumbled some instruction for a couple of seconds. The time for learning technicalities would be later, once she was no longer convinced that crochet wasn’t for her. Now she’s talking about buying yummy yarns and crocheting more and more, and I’m so very glad to hear it.

We have the power to choose fun over frustration and boredom, and we should exercise it whenever possible.

Ten years ago I left the imaginary world of grad school when I was offered a real-world job. Never having really experienced the world outside of school, I thought making $25K to run an after-school program at a local community centre was about the most lucrative, rewarding job I could ever find. No regrets, but dude—it so was not.

I learned many things that year (surprise! I only stayed at that job for a year), and one of them is the importance of examining how kids use their—shall we say—ample stores of energy. While I spent most of my time trying to keep everyone occupied and happy, there were a few kids who inevitably needed more attention because they were inclined to use their energy for evil and not for good. Punishment wasn’t the solution; the best way to handle bad behaviour was to redirect that negative energy into something positive, productive, or at the very least benign.

Hitting your friend with a Nerf ball over and over while she shrieks in frustration? Oh look, I could really use some help organizing the sports equipment and I know you love sports so you can be my expert. Eying the Monopoly game with a glint in your eye that betrays your inclination to step on it as you walk by? Oh, Beverly, we got this great new clay, come make something with me!

Adults aren’t usually inclined to wreck each other’s board games or to bully with Nerf, but we do get frustrated and angry. Rachel really believed crochet was destined to remain out of her reach, and her feeling of defeat broke my heart. But it’s just craft! We do it for fun! My challenge was to see if I could find a way for her to have fun with crochet, or to hand her some beads and say let’s make a necklace.

This tactic is applicable to many more situations than those involving children’s activities or teaching a friend how to do something. One example: creative or writer’s block. I don’t know about you, but when I’m blocked I have a tendency to sit and mull and stare because I need to feel like I’m “working” even though I’m not getting a damn thing done. Inevitably, after days and sometimes weeks, I end up worn out, stressed out, down-and-out, and miserable.

What I really need to do is redirect the energy I’m wasting by keeping my undoable work at the front of my consciousness. Whether by doing not-creative stuff like housework, or by permitting myself to have fun even though I’m not being productive at work, I always end up feeling better even if I don’t suddenly burst with inspiration. At least by the time I bust through the block I’ll have clean underwear and vacuumed floors. And when I’m really able to get on top of things, not only will I have less housework to do, I’ll also have forced myself out of the house to get together with people, which means I’ll feel socially balanced as well (and likely newly inspired enough to get some work done).

What do you do when you’re teaching a frustrated student or when you, yourself, are frustrated or blocked? Do you redirect your energy? Do you have other strategies?