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Breaking the Barrier of Frustration – 4 Tips for Learning Difficult Things

Ila Bonczek
Ila lives in the Garden State with her family and four chickens. She has been growing produce and perennials for 20 years, and recommends gardening for food and fun, but not for fortune.
Darren Maung
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: June 4, 2022
Learning can be fun and satisfying, unless you let the barrier of frustration block your way. (Image: CollegeDegrees360 via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0)

Learning is an essential life skill that brings great inner satisfaction. Mastering a new skill or finally understanding some complicated concept can boost our self esteem and give a great sense of achievement, pride, and strength; yet everyone has different skill sets and abilities, so we sometimes encounter challenges that seem insurmountable—creating a “barrier of frustration.” 

Under the influence of frustration, we may become unmotivated, lose hope, or even give up. To prevent this, we need to keep our goals in sight, stay motivated, and break through the barriers. 

Learning difficult things doesn’t have to be difficult

While failing to learn can certainly result from lack of effort, this is often not the root of the problem. Some subjects come naturally to certain individuals while others may struggle to learn them. The problem most frequently holding people back from learning difficult things is the figurative barrier of frustration.

Learning new things can be incredibly satisfying, but you need to be motivated to get past the challenges. (Image: Yan Krukov via Pexels)

Memorization and complicated or lengthy studies tend to overwhelm some learners, resulting in a defeatist mentality. Physicist Richard Feynman believed that “simplicity was the key to learning.” The simpler the source, the easier it is to understand—making learning more accessible—while information memorized but not understood is likely to be forgotten.

On the other hand, some learners create their own difficulty by overthinking, making it more complicated than it actually is. This was shown to be particularly true with learning languages.  Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that overthinking tends to obstruct adults’ ability to pick out “subtle nuances” in a foreign language.

Overcoming the difficulties of learning can be a challenge, but there are a number of proven methods that can help you break through the frustration barrier.

Break through the barrier of frustration

If you want to learn something new, you will have to commit to putting in some effort, but the following strategies can help you move forward so that your efforts bear fruit.

There is no better way to get started than to jump right in when the inspiration to learn strikes. (Image: Justin Ornellas via “Leaping Legends CC BY 2.0)

Jump right in

If you want to learn something new, there’s nothing better than jumping right in while the enthusiasm is fresh. Facing a challenge head-on with determination is the recipe for quick progress. The barrier of frustration can start laying its groundwork when one draws out the learning process by strategizing and overthinking, so just let your motivation be your guide.

Don’t compare yourself with others

Everyone learns differently and at their own pace. Avoid comparing your own progress with that of others. This competitive mentality can lead to jealousy, frustration, and hopelessness; undermining our ability to learn.

Your achievements are never going to be exactly the same as others’. If you focus on your strengths and do your best, you can be proud of your personal success while celebrating the success of others with joy instead of jealousy.

“Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”

American journalist Mary Schmich

One-on-one tutoring is a good way to avoid student comparisons, but even better would be to strengthen your character, focus on your own development, and not worry so much about how you measure up against others. 

Remember that everyone has their own struggles, although they might not be apparent, and your support and recognition of someone else’s achievements will never bring you down—it will only make you better

Overcoming frustration

Frustration is a normal emotion that everyone feels at some point. It can be powerful, but it does not need to stop your progress. There are several positive ways to deal with frustration when it comes up.

If the frustration is strong, take a break. Get outside, do some exercise, meditate, or simply change activities. This will help clear your mind and calm your nerves so that you can face the problem with a fresh start. 

Oftentimes, a small change in direction can be the solution to getting past a roadblock. Try to look at the difficulty you’re facing in a new way. Consider other learning techniques that might be effective, and try them. As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”


Feynman’s simplification technique

With his belief in the merit of simplifying learning, Feynman introduced a technique to help make learning difficult things easy.

With any topic we want to learn, Feynman suggests that after studying it, we should recollect and try to explain it in simple terms. This technique helps develop your own understanding of the topic. 

There are bound to be some areas where you will get stuck; in which case, go back and find out more about the confusing material. After studying, try again to explain the topic in simple terms. Once you can explain the matter in a thorough and simple manner, you have mastered and understood it.

Frustration can be fierce and overwhelming, but it can be overcome. With an open mind and perseverance, you can progress through anything, excel, and enjoy new things in life. If you remember to look at setbacks as opportunities for growth, nothing can stop you!