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Why Rejection Hurts So Bad – And How To Overcome The Pain

Why Rejection Hurts So Bad – And How To Overcome The Pain

We’ve all been there. A big interview you thought you did so well, only to be told they’ve found a better fit. A heart-wrenching breakup. The boss denying our big project request. Why does hearing “no” hurt so much? And, for that matter, is there anything we can do about it?

The pain of rejection is self-inflicted

You know what I mean: Beating yourself up after getting dumped or being rejected. It’s bad enough that our brains are wired to feel pain from rejection. Scientists placed people in functional MRI machines and asked them to recall a recent rejection, and they discovered something remarkable. It activated the same areas of our brain as physical pain! That’s right – rejection causes you literal pain. Sure, it’s emotional pain, but that’s often the worst kind.

Why does our brain do this to us? Scientists believe it dates back to our time as hunter-gatherers. Back then, if you were rejected by your people, you died. You couldn’t survive alone; you needed those people closest to you. This is probably also why most people have a “herd” mentality and like to follow along with the pack rather than taking charge of their lives and actions.

Of course, rejection causes us more than some emotional pain. It hurts our self-esteem, causes us anger or sadness, and knocks us off course from feeling stability in our lives. But there’s something you need to know. Most of these side-effects are self-inflicted. We call ourselves names, tell ourselves we’re not good enough, and feel downright disgusted with ourselves. It doesn’t have to be that way!

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Use pain to your advantage

It is often in moments of extreme emotional pain that legends are born. Take Anna Wintour, for example. Anna is one of the most famous and successful magazine editors in the world. But it wasn’t always that way. She was fired from her role as a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, long before she become the success she is today. If only they knew who they were firing!

However, she didn’t let this rejection ruin her. In fact, she now openly states her belief that “Everyone should be sacked at least once in their career because ‘perfection’ doesn’t exist.” Here’s the secret: Rejection can strengthen our mentality and contribute to our future success, if we only let it. Anna used the pain of rejection to push herself to do more with her life. Countless overs have done the same, like Tony Robbins (author, investor, and philanthropist), Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks), and Steve Jobs (founder of Apple).

Every one of them has overcome the pain of rejection and used it to fuel their passion for a better life. You can do the same.

3 ways to adjust your mentality to overcome rejection

You’re probably thinking: “That’s great for those people. But I’m not an Anna Wintour or a Tony Robbins. How can I possible do what they did?”

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One word: Strategies.

There are proven strategies to make a mental shift and change your outlook. Here are three you can use today:

1. Have zero tolerance for self-criticism

The first thoughts that pop into your head after a rejection are probably things like, “I’m such a loser/idiot/insert explicit word here”. You need to stop that. Right now. Most rejections, whether romantic, professional, or even social, are due to circumstance and really don’t have anything to do with you.

Maybe your partner really isn’t ready for a serious relationship and needs to take time to learn more about themselves (which everyone should do, by the way). Maybe the company you applied for needed someone with a particular skill you just didn’t have yet. Even if it is your fault, beating yourself up isn’t going to make things any better. By all means, review the situation and think about why it happened. But, don’t go to “I’m a loser” as the reason. Be more constructive than that.

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Think about things like, “I need to acquire a certain skill for this job first” or “I should give my partner the space they need and take some time to figure out more about myself.” The bottom line is this: Don’t tolerate self-criticism. Period.

Remove it from the list of things you’re willing to accept in your life. If you find yourself thinking these thoughts, tell yourself “These thoughts are self-destructive. Instead, I should think of something constructive I can do so I won’t be rejected again. I’ll see rejection as an opportunity to learn, rather than a failure on my part.

2. Bolster your self-worth

The best way to overcome the pain of rejection is to feel like you matter. In other words, you need to increase your feelings of self-worth. Stop what you’re doing right now and do this simple exercise: Write down five things you like about yourself. Things that make you a good relationship partner (e.g., you are supportive or emotionally available), a good friend (e.g., you are loyal or a good listener), or a good employee (e.g., you are responsible or have a strong work ethic).

Next, pick one of those five things and write down (physically write, don’t just say it in your head) one or two paragraphs about why that quality matters and how you could apply it in a situation like the rejection you just went through.

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3. Reach out to strengthen your social connections

People are social creatures. We’re wired to crave social interaction. The reasoning probably also stems from our time as hunters and gatherers. Whatever the reason, a lack of these social connections is sure to spread to everything in our life like a virus. It can sap our physical and emotional health and make us less productive.

Rejection hurts our feelings of belonging and thus dampers our feelings of social connections. We need to take actions to undue the damage done. When your crush doesn’t answer your calls or you just got fired from your job, call a friend or family member, and remember that your voice alone can bring happiness to others. We all have family we haven’t talked to in ages – now is a good time to call them and catch up.

It’s a win-win: You’ll bring them a happy surprise, and they’ll increase your feelings of social connection and importance.

Remember, rejection can cause a lot of pain, but most of it is self-inflicted. The best way to overcome this pain is to take actions! Do something, right now. Write out that list, call that family member, apply for more jobs – whatever. Just don’t sit in self-pity and criticize yourself. You are important. You are loved. You matter.

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Bill Widmer

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

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However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

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The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

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2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

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4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

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