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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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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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