OPINION: Is your LFT getting in the way of positive January change?

Christine Webber says your frustration tolerance could be the difference between craving biscuits or broccoli this month

Christine Webber says your frustration tolerance could be the difference between craving biscuits or broccoli this month - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I’m writing this column on one of those freezing but sunny, crisp, zesty winter days that make you feel it’s time to shake up your life and live more positively and productively.

Of course, January is a month when we are very likely to think about making changes to our location, relationship, job, level of fitness, weight and so on.

But making such changes is rarely easy, so I thought I would try today to highlight a problem, called LFT, that often holds us back.

Now, unless you’ve been on another planet for the past two years, that acronym will be familiar to you as meaning Lateral Flow Test.

But for many psychologists, LFT has always stood for Low Frustration Tolerance. And that is an attitude which makes us unable or unwilling to deal with activities that feel irksome, frustrating or difficult – even if we know we really should do them.

HFT, or High Frustration Tolerance, on the other hand, enables us to put up with temporary discomfort in the pursuit of our goals.

Suppose you’re a student, and you plan to start an important assignment today, what will you do if a good pal asks you to go out drinking? If you have LFT you’re likely to opt for the boozy encounter, even if you know it’s unwise, because you feel you need some fun right now.

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But, should you have HFT you’ll almost certainly prioritise the assignment and delay going for a drink till later, or even not go at all. This is because you have your eye firmly fixed on a greater goal where you get a good degree that will lead to a fulfilling and interesting career.

LFT interferes with healthy eating and weight loss too as it encourages us to have a doughnut now, because we feel we deserve and want it, rather than distract ourselves from the temptation and keep our focus on our ambition to lose two stone, or whatever.

When we have LFT, we also tend to indulge in unhelpful and irrational thoughts.

So, if you have a tax return to do, or you need to clear out a cupboard that is stuffed full of so much rubbish you can’t find anything, you might entertain thoughts such as:

  • I’m going to be bored if I do that
  • Everyone else is better at this kind of thing than me
  • This is going to be hard

It’s not uncommon to think in this way, but we need to challenge it if we want to develop HFT.

Of course, doing the accounts or clearing a cupboard may indeed be boring but what law in the universe says you alone must never experience boredom? As a therapist friend of mine always says to his clients: ‘So what? You’re bored for a while. Will it kill you? No!’ This is a good point to remember.

As for everyone in the world finding your particularly irritating task easier than you do, this is rubbish. Deep down you know that. You’re not uniquely useless.

And maybe, if you think about all the people you know who seem to find such chores easy, you’ll come to accept that perhaps they just get on with them because they’ve learned the hard way that putting them off leads to tension and stress, which is more uncomfortable than actually doing them.

Thoughts about things being hard also need to be challenged. The fact is that achieving a new goal is often difficult, but in the vast majority of cases it’s not impossible.

I have a client who is making great progress in ridding herself of a habit that is damaging her health. She’s doing well but finding it tough. However, she’s learning, much to her amazement, that she can put up with the discomfort of changing her behaviour, because that is far preferable to carrying on as she has been and dying prematurely.

So, developing HFT really helps us – and to acquire it, we need to dig deep and find reserves in ourselves that will help us persevere.

One way is to think back to when you achieved something major – like getting a qualification or running a marathon. If you recall those times, you may be able to remember tactics that kept you going then and made you more resilient. Can you try them again?

You can also build better HFT by rewarding yourself appropriately. So, if you study for two hours, you allow yourself half an hour afterwards to watch a comedy. Or if you’re peckish on your current diet, you reward yourself – not with food obviously – but with a little online shopping treat or a chat with a friend who’s also trying to lose weight.

We need to be kind to ourselves when we’re making changes, but we must also avoid being self-indulgent.

So have a think about making 2022 the year you abolish LFT and develop HFT. It will alter how you think forever – and make all important changes in the future much more achievable