Managing Frustration

We’ve all been there.  It’s your fifth hour of practice and you’ve been trying for the last 45 minutes to get a pattern that resembles a b975300 five up 360.  Or just a decent run of five ring pancakes.  Or a 3 up 360 in singles to crotch throws.  Or [insert the most frustrating trick you can think of].  You’ve even taken a small break to watch a video of Lauge doing it with two more props and one more spin.  If he makes it look so easy, why is it so darn hard for you?  It seems like you’ve been trying this move forever and you can’t even get close.  You’re experiencing the frustration that nearly every juggler has felt before.  How can we get rid of this negative mental aspect of practice so we can get onto being a beastly juggler?

Let’s understand a little more about where frustration comes from, so we can snip it in the bud.  It appears when we want something we can’t quite get yet.  While this is a motivating force to keep achieving more and more, it can also be very detrimental to your progress.  It creates a distraction from your performance, requiring your brain to think about something other than just the move at hand.  Moves become vastly less successful when you have to think about keeping your throws high, and also pay attention to that little voice saying “WHYHAVEN’TIGOTTHISYETOHMYGODIT’SNOTEVENTHATHARDGARRRRRRRR!!!”.  I know a lot of jugglers, myself included, have the following problems:

1) They’re trying moves that are too hard

2) They don’t believe they’re capable of doing it

3) They think practice is pointless because they see no more results from practice

The first point applies to every juggler.  I can’t think of a single person who is so laid back and zen-like that they only try tricks within their range of abilities.  Admittedly, sometimes throwing yourself against a wall is fun.  If I’m having a practice with some friends, trying for long runs of 7 balls and someone shouts “DB!” at me, I’ll give it a try once or twice.  The result is not frustrating.  Where you start to get mad is when you pick a move with the goal of getting it perfectly in a few minutes and you can’t.  This is where drills come into play.  By using drills, you can break down tricks into more manageable parts.  The problem with drills is… they’re drills.  They’re boring.  They’re mindless sometimes.  At least that is how you’re viewing them.  Let’s change our thinking on drills.  We’re not doing a drill for a harder move, we’re learning new moves.  By learning new moves, you can take pride in the small steps you’re making instead of being frustrated you’re not at the full banana move yet.  Let’s say you’re working toward a 5 ring 5 up two stage 720.  The siteswap for doing this move is 779990022, then you spin during the 00 and 22.  That siteswap alone is a move worth showing your friends if you can do it with claps.  Learning a perfect 5 up 360 and 3 up 720 are good foundation moves also.  And what about throwing the two stage, spinning for the 00, then doing a silly little ring flourish during the 22.  That’s four easier moves that will make the 5 up two stage 720 easier, and all from practicing drills!

Self confidence is probably the next most common thing I see plaguing young jugglers.  They look up to YouTube celebrities who juggle so much better than them and wonder “Why not me?”  Well first off, all you need to do to be on YouTube is own a camera and have an internet connection, so it is not really much of an achievement.  Secondly, they’re just jugglers too.  They’ve been where you are now and are probably experiencing frustration just like you, but at a little higher level.  Knowing they’re getting frustrated does not help you in your daily practice struggle just like some random observer saying “Well I can’t do it, so I’m impressed”.  How can we change our mental attitude to have a positive outlook on ourselves?  Simple, if you don’t believe in yourself, believe that you’re somebody else.  I do this all the time when I recognize my frustration setting in.  I take a step back, breathe deep and imagine a better juggler doing the move I want to do.  Then I pretend I’m that person.  Most of the time it’s Doug.  I look up to Doug, because his form is nearly perfect, he’s a monster juggler and it seems from watching him in internet videos that he never gets frustrated.  When I go into my Doug mindset, I pick my props up off the floor, tuck my elbows into my sides and work on fundamentals without getting frustrated, because I know I’m just training for the full banana move which will drop jaws when I whip it out at a best trick competition.  News flash: I’m still me.  You don’t have to be a big name juggler to be good at juggling, you just have to get into the mindset that you belong in that group.  Over time using this technique, you will realize this quicker and quicker after pretending to be someone else.  Eventually, you will just be able to drop your frustrated feelings altogether.  Doesn’t that sound nice?

If it seems like you’ve been sitting on a plateau for a while, this next point is for you.  Going to practice and trying a move over and over with no noticeable results can be excruciatingly frustrating.  Once you mentally begin down the road of being on a plateau, as humans, we have a paradigm shift and a desire to be right, rather than happy.  When you start telling yourself you’ve hit a plateau, for some strange reason, our brains are more content with staying on it rather than getting over it and this is very frustrating.  Ultimately, we want to get over it and learn more moves, but how do we achieve this?  If I told you to cheer up, or I gave you some encouragement, no matter how sincere I’m being, it does not help too much.  What we need is hard evidence.  We need a practice journal.  This is especially useful if you are trying to have longer runs of a move, whether it is a numbers endurance with 8 balls or 5 ring reverse throws.  Every day you go to practice, do your normal warm up, begin doing some drills for the move you want to get better at, then after a few minutes, take your next ten attempts at the move and record them.  Do not be concerned about breaking your personal record or doing better than you did last time, all you’re doing is making a data point.  After several weeks of doing this, you will have several weeks worth of data points (assuming you practice more than once a week!).  My friend, Erin Stephens, just did this with her five club endurance.  She started with the goal to improve her five club record to over 100 catches and took measurements every practice for an entire month.  Without even completing her program, in the first 13 days she broke her goals.  Those are results you can see and be proud of.  She was able to sidestep her frustration and realize her juggling goals.

Armed with these tools, let us go back to a hypothetical practice scenario and compare the mentality of a juggler who lets frustration get the best of him and one who does not.  It’s your fourth month of juggling practice while focusing on the dreaded five club backcrosses.  So far, you’ve learned how to do a really good 3 club 3 up 360 to, from and in backcrosses.  Also, your three club backcross snake looks a lot better and you’re standing in one place while you do it.  You pause to think briefly before each attempt and reflect on what you would do if Jason Garfield were standing in the room with you.  Elbows in, no wiggling, keep those feet still, focus on the rhythm of the clubs hitting your hands and watch your posture.  After 20 minutes of doing your drills, you give ten good attempts of a five club backcross flash back to cascade.  You jot down in your notes and notice that while you did not improve much today (only completing 4/10 attempts), you could not do this move two months ago.  If you keep this kind of practice up, a qualify doesn’t seem that impossible.  Now go back and read again the first paragraph.  Tell me, which juggler would you rather be like?  I can only hope by reading this article, I’m saving jugglers hundreds of dollars because they no longer have to buy replacement props.

Joe Showers

Joe Showers - WJF Head Judge