How Rejection Can Make You Happier and Healthier

How Rejection Can Make You Happier and Healthier

The most effective way to see yourself independently of the story that you are not enough, is to face the possibility of rejection and move forward.  I am holding the phone to my ear listening to it ring.  As soon as I hear a voice on the other end, I hang up.  Lightheaded, I can feel my heart pounding in my temples.  I was so close to actually talking to her.  I am fourteen and living out a scene borrowed directly from a John Hughes movie.  This moment of hanging up the phone is a universal metaphor for “chickening out.”  Much later in life, when I began working as a consultant, the thought of sending out a proposal to a potential client used to stop me in my tracks.  What if they say no? Or worse, what if they don’t respond at all?  While the particular circumstances may differ, each of us has one or more strategies for avoiding rejection.  

What I didn’t realize in my teens is how incredibly valuable rejection is if you approach it mindfully.  One of the reasons for this is that rejection provides data.  My oldest son is using my manual transmission car to practice for his driver's license.  Stalling is just part of that experience.  If he is paying attention to what he is doing with the gas and the clutch when he stalls, then he has good information to incorporate into his next attempt.  Highly effective salespeople, leaders, and explorers treat rejection as feedback rather than failure.  Rejection contains a lot of information about what others are looking for and how effectively you are presenting what you have to offer.  If you are trying to discover what product or service people are willing to sign up and/or pay for, then rejection certainly can tell you something useful.  

Even more importantly, rejection can be a fast track to authentic confidence.  Here it is important to make the distinction between faux confidence and authentic confidence.  The former is an attempt to cover up insecurities and the latter is a natural result of acknowledging what it means to be human.  Accepting that we experience fear when we think of being rejected and then going for it anyway results in learning something about what we are really capable of.  If we are rejected, and we see the sun come up the next morning, we have direct evidence that it is not the end of the world.  

Imagine a spectrum of brain activity that ranges from full survival mode on one end to full exploration mode on the other end.  Survival mode is designed to help you identify and prepare for problems and threats.  It does this by narrowing your perception of options and getting your body ready to run away, strike out, or curl up in a ball and wait for the danger to pass.  This can be a very effective system for responding to a physical threat or even for motivating you to take action on a project you have been putting off.  However, you are not designed to operate in just survival mode for long periods of time – it is exhausting, and it can make the world feel like a pretty hard place to be.

Exploration mode is designed to identify opportunities, connections, and possibilities.  It does this by pulling together information from many areas and broadening your perception of options.  Being in exploration mode allows you to access lofty goals, deeply held values, and creative solutions.  It makes life feel inviting even when you don’t know what is going to happen next.  

Most of us spend our time somewhere between the two ends of this spectrum, but we can be sent into full survival mode with just a few words, a sideways glance, or a non-response to an email -- we are left feeling trapped, frustrated, surrounded by obstacles, and seemingly without options.  This is because any one of these external cues can serve as a reminder or evidence of what we already believe and fear -- that we are not enough, that there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that we are unworthy of the challenges we face or the love we desire.  This is why the thought of rejection is so scary.  

The most effective way to see yourself independently of the story that you are not enough, is to face the possibility of rejection and move forward.  The existence of this story is not a problem – it is part of the human condition.  This story that you are not enough is not something that you need to get rid of.  You just need to see this story for what it is.  When you see this story for what it is – a compilation of thoughts and sensations that are empty and meaningless in and of themselves – then all that is left is an endless string of opportunities to connect to what is most important to you and take action based upon that.  This is how you take complete responsibility for your life.  The “not enough” story is pervasive and can be very subtle, so it takes practice to consistently see it before it has hijacked your experience.  

Try This

Identify what is most important.  
Spend some time alone answering these questions and then boil your response down to two or three words that capture the way you want to experience your life.     
What is the quality of internal experience I seek?  What do I want to feel more of in my life?
What are the ways I would like to respond to the circumstances in my life?
What is the quality of relationship with others that I seek?
What is the quality of relationship with myself that I seek
What do I want to bring more of into the world?  What do I want to contribute?  
What do I want people to be able to count on from me at all times?  
What do I want my life to stand for in every possible moment?  

Strengthen present-moment awareness
100 times a day for 10 seconds each 
Bring your attention to whatever you can see, hear, or feel.  You can do this while breathing, walking, speaking, standing, exercising, cooking, eating, washing hands, going to the bathroom, etc)

Exercise the exploratory function of the brain
10 times a day for 10 seconds each 
Access gratitude, appreciation, empathy, or stop to savor a positive experience.  

Transition from survival mode to exploration mode
As many times a day as you can
Notice when you feel that you have no choice, you can’t take action, you are looking for someone to blame (including yourself), or you have a strong urge to avoid someone or something.  Use these steps to shift.  

            Observe events, thoughts, and sensations
            Accept these as products of the nervous system
            Connect to what is most important 
            Expand your posture


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