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Frustrated? Babies Know How You Feel

I was recently watching a toddler play with some plastic blocks, the multi-shaped kind that are meant to fit into a series of openings in a box. He would pick up a cube and try to fit it into a triangle-shaped hole, then into the circle. Sometimes, he picked the right opening, but didn’t have  the block oriented correctly to get it through. Most of the time, his efforts ended in frustration.

It was fascinating to watch what a challenge these blocks could present a one-year-old. The child was definitely having fun, but he was also struggling. I could practically hear the wheels turning in his head as he tried to figure out how to match these 3D blocks with their corresponding 2D shapes.

What interested me most was how often the child refused to give up, even when it was clear (from my perspective) that his strategy was hopeless. The triangle wouldn’t fit into the round hole, so he’d slam the block again and again, grinding it against the opening. I couldn’t help admire the infant’s tenacity, but it was also frustrating to watch such an exercise in futility. No matter how hard he pressed, a triangle was not going to pass through a circle.

Watching this child’s game got me thinking about how often I play out this same drama in my own life. In my own adult way, I’m playing with blocks, too, and I have a definite tendency to try to fit round pegs into square holes. How many times in my life have I refused to give up on a dream or ambition, when it was clearly not working? How often have I pretended that just pushing harder would change my situation?

I’ve spent years engaged in futile activity, sure that if I only exerted a little more effort, I could achieve my goals. But like the toddler with his plastic blocks, I couldn’t see the truth: Only a completely different way of relating to my situation would allow me to move forward. I’d either have to pick a different block, or a different hole.

It’s easy for me to get upset, to blame the world for my frustrations and difficulties. Too often, I give into the temptation to blame my circumstances rather than taking a second look at my choices and reorienting my life. Maybe that heart-shaped block that I’ve been stubbornly slamming just needs to be turned around to fit. Or maybe I’m focusing on the wrong opening altogether. But I’ll never know if I’m unwilling to take a step back and reevaluate my actions. The hardest thing to change is my mind.

They say that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action and expect different results. By this definition, we’re all a little crazy sometimes. Where are some places in your life where you’ve gotten stuck in a mentality that just isn’t helpful? Where have you set your sights on the wrong goals, or pursued the right goals in the wrong way? What will it take for you to see your situation clearly, despite the frustration?

There’s nothing more beautiful than when life suddenly clicks into place. Sometimes, though, this requires letting go of those things that have become most important in order to receive something better.

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