Unless you were born with the proverbial silver spoon in your mouth and a side of royalty to go with it, you’re going to get told “no” at some time in your life. Even those with “blessed” lives have to deal with rejection occasionally. Most of us have to face it frequently, especially if we’re regularly delving into fields like education, research, and academics.
The predominance of rejection in academia is so common, in fact, that many people expect to be rejected and then become pleasantly surprised when they’re not. Between grant proposals, scholarships, career trajectories, and manuscript publications, there are a lot of chances for rejection when you’re an academic scholar. But that does not mean you should give up! Hundreds of thousands of people work in the academic field every year and they cope with rejection just fine. You can, too, if you learn how to change your mindset to move past these “no” answers and keep on pushing through for more progress.
The Psychology Behind Rejection
Psychology is one of the oldest branches of science in humanity, but only recently have researchers been able to understand the actual physiological actions behind why rejection hurts so much and why some people respond differently to it than others.
According to research, our brains are wired to respond a certain why. MRI scans show that when people recall a rejection, it activates the same areas of our brain as the ones that are attributed to actual physical pain. Even a small rejection can hurt because it is connected to the same “wire” in the brain that remembers physical pain.
Some psychologists believe that this stems way back from the time of hunting and gathering. Because being alone back then was akin to a death sentence, tribe members were more attuned to other people and paid attention to rejection as a possible danger. Any kind of rejection would be enough to cause a person to adapt to the tribe and therefore change the way they were acting or thinking.
The emotional pain that comes with rejection isn’t dangerous, but it can cause a lot of mental anguish. The best thing you can do is to learn to develop your own coping strategies, but what works for others may not work for you. However, research shows that you can change your mindset, and that those who have a growth mindset deal with rejection better than those with fixed mindsets.
Fixed Versus Growth Mindset
According to Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., there are two types of mindsets in people: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. Dweck’s studies, released in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, showed that people’s beliefs impact their lives almost universally, and that some of those beliefs are unconscious. Being aware of your type of mindset gives you the power to control things like how you respond to rejection.
In the “fixed mindset,” a person believes that intelligence is static. What you’re born with is what you’re stuck with. This mindset ends up shaping the person to feel they need to appear smart and therefore avoid anything that could be challenging to them. They give up on obstacles easily rather than potentially look “dumb.” The fixed mindset person rarely puts in too much effort because they believe that what they can do will come easily and anything else is unnecessary. These same people feel threatened when other people are successful and don’t handle rejection well at all.
However, with a “growth mindset,” an individual sees intelligence as something that can be shaped and developed with effort and over time. They welcome challenges as a way to think outside of the box and hone their skills and will persist through any setbacks until they get to where they want to be. Those with a growth mindset understand that there’s no way to get to an “expert” level unless they work hard, and they learn from any rejections and criticism. They use the success of others as another method for them to learn from and embrace those successes.
The trick to being okay with rejection is to learn to change your default mindset. If you’re commonly seeing rejection is an insult or damage to your ego, you need to switch over to the growth mindset. You can be in the growth mindset the majority of the time, and still switch over to “fixed” when it comes to feeling rejected. Remember that any rejection is an opportunity for new knowledge and growth, and keep persisting on until you reach the outcome you were aiming for, even if that means you have to go another route to get there!