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Understanding a new subject is frustrating. There is almost no way around it when you’re really covering a new subject. This site repeatedly gets questions related to frustration when trying to understand something for school. Students regularly ask questions like, “how can I stop feeling like I’m banging my head against a wall when I’m trying to get a new subject?” These questions are usually really interesting but they often misinterpret one of the most important points.

Frustration is a part of the learning process.

Sure… this blog can teach you about stress free (or low stress) memorization and test taking skills (for that you  might want to start here.) That’s a huge chunk of the point of this blog. That being said, understanding a subject is not the same as passing a test on the subject.

You do not have to understand a subject to pass most tests. You usually can get away with good test prep, a little memorization, and a little common sense. Passing a test is not understanding. Passing tests without the stress is definitely within the realm of possibility. Understanding new subjects with low stress is a much different beast to slay.

Learning And Frustration

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One of the go-to methods of teaching a child to swim in sitcoms a few decades ago was as simple as pushing the child in the water and letting them figure out how not to drown. While I can’t say I like that strategy for a number of different reasons, it does work.

When someone is put in a desperate situation they usually figure out how to solve their problem. It may be unnecessarily stressful but it can work.

Imagine you’re trying to learn through this technique but instead of having your parent push you into the water, you’re just going to jump. Imagine you jump in the water at a point where your feet can still touch bottom. How well do you think that will force you to learn to swim? Well… if you can touch bottom, it’s pretty hard to believe you’d be forced to learn anything. You could just stand up instead of swim.

Many students, when trying to dig into a new subject, are expecting their learning process to be as simple as jumping into shallow water. While it may be uncomfortable, it can hardly be considered stressful. Learning a new subject is rarely ever that simple (particularly in a school environment.) The problem is that jumping into the shallow water doesn’t guarantee you’ll learn what you need to learn. You might… but you’re certainly not getting pushed too hard to learn.

The more uncomfortable the learning process is, the more likely you’re going to be able to understand the subject. Understanding something can be a seriously draining process. If you try to pick too much up too fast (jump in a shark infested ocean with raw meat attached to your body perhaps) then you’re not going to be able to get the motivation to continue trying to learn. The key is finding the right amount of frustration for understanding.

The Right Amount Of Frustration

Frustration is usually a required ingredient (to some extent) in learning anything difficult enough to be worth learning. It would be nice to think there was some measurable and repeatable strategy that would ensure learning takes place in the most efficient way possible but it’s just not possible. Some of the major reasons come from the quantification problems and individual preferences.

There is no great way to quantify frustration. You can’t just say “study until you put your face is in your hands because you’re frustrated.” Sure, that may be my typical pleasure study strategy (not for test studying, I always limit that to strict time limits to keep stress low,) but it won’t work for everyone. I’ve met plenty of students that could study hours straight before putting their head down in frustration. I know plenty of students that can barely open their book without banging their head shut in it. Frustration is a personal problem.

This is a fundamental aspect of studying that inevitably ends up beyond the control of anyone except the person actually doing the studying. A tolerance for the things that cause frustration is one of the number of strengths of the average “good” student. They can study for long periods of time without banging their head. This may be a negative when the student isn’t particularly motivated but it’s a positive when the student is genuinely curious. It gives them the tolerance to get to the answer without needing breaks for stress reduction.

Think about frustration in this way.

Imagine frustration is just weakness in your discipline muscle. If you work out that muscle a little bit then that muscle will get stronger. You can use that increased strength to study better in the future.

That being said, there is such thing as overtraining. If a bodybuilder were to work the same muscle day after day, they’d eventually start weakening the muscle instead of strengthening it. Your “discipline muscle” can get the same way. If you study too far past your frustration breaking point, you will just make it more difficult to study so hard in the future. If you study just right then you’ll be able to study longer next time.

The Real Prize

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The amazing thing about study frustration is that it’s usually a good thing. Despite the suffering it causes, it’s usually a sign that a student is reasonably well motivated to study. If a student wasn’t getting frustrated when trying to learn something, it can easily be a sign that they don’t really care whether they learn it or not. (Sure… they’d say they’re trying to learn it but subconsciously they might not really care.)

When you push through study frustration you’re often inexplicably close to everything clicking. Students that are being exposed to information they’re nowhere near learning don’t tend to get frustrated. They might go blank stare or aka deer in the headlights but they rarely get frustrated.

When a student is getting frustrated it usually means they’re getting close to learning exactly what they need to learn. They’re just at a point of understanding that needs a few hard to find links to close the gap. Just missing those few links makes the information look hopeless but when those links are found, everything will change dramatically faster than the student predicts.

This often comes down to an epiphany. When you find yourself getting frustrated, start getting excited. Your mind is working on putting the final pieces of the puzzle together. You may not immediately notice how close you are to understanding the information but your brain wouldn’t be getting frustrated if it weren’t reasonably close to figuring it out.

Frustration is a sign that you almost have it figured out. When you do figure it out, it often will come down to a split second solution (potentially when you wake up in the middle of the night or take a shower.)

Frustration when studying for enjoyment is not a problem. It’s a sign that you’re getting where you need to go.

Of course, frustration when you’re just trying to pass the test is completely unnecessary. If you’re looking to pass the test without the stress and while studying less than 15 minutes a night, that’s what this blog is all about. Be sure to follow allow to see all the details. There are tons of articles in the archives to get you started. Also, be sure to check out the ebooks in the sidebar for a crash course.

Frustration To Epiphany

A B&C Students Guide To Mercilessly Crushing A Students At Their Own Game (While Laughing Your Way Towards The Ivy-League)

Are you smart but getting meh grades?

The smartest students are often the ones the school system leaves behind. It’s easy to motivate a half-wit (or even almost-wit – like a horse with a carrot dangled in it’s face to get it running. Giddy-up horsey!

You would never fall for that, right? Then this is for you.

It’s easy to procrastinate when you’re getting a raw deal. That’s the smart thing to do.

Academics is a game – and its prizes are good. Really good! There is more to the story than that though. What do you have to do to get that prize? And that matters even more than the prize. Study 18 hours a day for straight-A’s and a high-paying job someday in the distant future? Ughhh… Not me. That’s for sure.

I scored near the top of my college Engineering class while studying less than 15 minutes a morning. And seriously, I don’t sound like a super genius, do I?

Hint: I had barely scraped a 1.0 GPA in high school and I wasn’t skipping and having fun with friends either – I was… dare I say… trying my best.

Big Tip: trying doesn’t matter unless you’re experimenting or already using an effective strategy. Trying without an effective strategies is a waste that can plop your grades in the stinker. First step – STOP TRYING with ineffective strategies.

You got that?

Look… I’m a bit crazy. I get it. I’ve read hundreds of books on grades, learning, and memory. I spent sleepless nights studying obscure academic journals. I swear, I even read the book “How To Read A Book” and didn’t have to drink alcohol to do it!


You wanna’ know why?

Don’t tell anyone but… I care. I was emotionally crippled by the school system. I had heartless, lazy, and downright mean teachers (and a couple good ones that couldn’t help.) It took years for me to untangle their mess…

And I went to college and beat them at their own wretched game. Top scores. Easy studying. Time to make friends and impress the ladies. (You know… the important stuff!)

But I know… I wasn’t alone and I know there are others facing similar and worse challenges than I did. And I may be out of the warzone now but I can’t in good conscience leave you behind without my arsenal.

That’s why a decade ago I founded Smart Student Secrets and got link backs from LifeHack, HuffPo, and good college professors with names I can’t pronounce from all over the world that see these strategies crushing every day. But forget about them… the emails I get from grateful students… that’s the stuff a good life is made of.

My newest book is, in my opinion, the best book ever written for students that want to absolutely crush the academic game.

It gets you to focus your energy on the most important aspects of grades – giving you leverage on the system.

It shows you the big painful studying, you’re not benefiting from – that you thankfully get to stop today and forever.

It takes the latest in academic research on memory and puts into your hands, the exact memorization strategies that a Purdue Professor proved can let someone memorize 2.35 things for every one they’re memorizing now.

And this isn’t about “working harder” – and it’s not about “working smarter” either. (I cringe every time I read that phrase.)

It’s about working only when it matters most and creating the habit of motivated and effective learning.

I guarantee this… You can skyrocket your grades with my book while studying less than you ever had to study before. If I’m wrong, send me an email and I’ll refund you – no questions asked.

Please give me the chance to change your life for the better – it’s on me to prove it. What you’re going to do is: click on the link here or below, click “Buy Now”, fill in the boxes, and you’ll get your copy of the book through an instant download.

Get How To Study Happier Here

Warning: Inflation is eating my butt right now. My accountant is saying the prices need to go up to keep up with server costs ASAP or this whole site is in danger. I’m writing this one last message as a last ditch effort to get this book to anyone that wants it. If you want it, do it now while the guarantee and price are still available. You will have it for when you’re ready to start.

Last chance! Don’t miss it at the lowest price and best guarantee I can do.


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3 thoughts on “Frustration To Epiphany

  • August 2, 2020 at 9:01 pm

    Excellent post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Appreciate it!

  • December 6, 2015 at 7:16 am

    I’m the horrible type that can’t study when the pressure is to low (“Meh, I have a lot of time, no need to study now”) and too high (“OH MY GOD WHAT’S THE POINT, IT’S TOO LATE NOW”).
    The difficult thing for me is to find the right moment to start.
    I’ve always felt envious of people who learn stuff by hearing teacher talk about it or are actually capable of memorizing the whole textbook the night before test.

  • December 2, 2015 at 9:13 am

    I guess frustration can lead to two things:
    a) motivate a student to learn a new subject
    b) discourage a student from learning the subject

    The outcome depends entirely on the attitude of the person. If you are someone persistent then most probably, you’ll end up with A. Otherwise, you’ll end up with B. I personally experienced being B and it certainly got me nowhere.


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