You know that sinking, self-loathing feeling you get when you’re rebuffed, turned down or denied admission to the inner circle? It keeps many of us from trying new things or asking for what we want. Well, now there’s a strategy—and a game—to help you overcome that fear, by going out and getting rejected on purpose. “I realized it was the fear of rejection that was holding me back from a lot of things, so I decided to confront it head on,” says Rejection Therapy’s creator, Ontario-based entrepreneur Jason Comely. “I challenged myself to get rejected every day and that was the genesis of it.”
Rejection Therapy has only one player (you), consists simply of a deck of cards with a range of challenges, as in: Ask for a discount; ask to trade parking spots; ask to cut to the front of a line. “The cards are merely suggestions. You can take one and say this is my mission for the day. Or you can make up your own,” explains Comely, who designed three editions: Classic, Blue Pill Edition (with bigger, scarier rejections) and Entrepreneur, tailored to business and sales. The goal, Comely says, is to get out of your comfort zone; you don’t “win” if you don’t get rejected. “Sometimes it's going to get dirty. But that's okay, because you're going to feel great after. You're going to feel like, 'Wow. I disobeyed fear.’”
Apparently there are a lot of people out there taking the challenge seriously —like Jia Jiang, who made a TED video about his 100-day streak, has a book coming out, Rejection Proof. Rejection Therapy also appears in the "Making the Most of Yale," an online guide for new students.
But while the term and the buzz may be new, the notion of getting over a phobia through forced exposure has its roots in cognitive therapy. As Stefan Hoffman, Boston University Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences explains, the basic approach goes back to the 1960s, when the founder of cognitive therapy himself had a fear of dating. “He put himself on a bench and forced himself to ask every woman who sat next to him on a date.” He was rejected over and over and ultimately overcame his fear and, yes, finally got a date.
Hoffman uses the approach, which he calls “social mishap exposure,” to treat patients with social anxieties by putting them in the situations that make them uncomfortable. “Experiments range from spilling coffee in a restaurant and asking for a new one to singing a song or announcing each stop in the subway to walking backwards in a crowded store. “Patients learn that instead of their expectation—that people will laugh or they’ll be arrested—nothing bad happens. It’s a liberating experience.”
Still, rejection can be painful, says Scott Woodruff, a therapist at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, who also uses the exposure approach in his practice. His word of advice with Rejection Therapy: Have a support system in place, especially if you have serious social phobias. “In psychotherapy, you have the therapist. If you’re going out on your own and doing stuff that’s scary for you, you want to have someone to talk about it with.”
Ultimately, the method works, Woodruff says. “Patients learn they can tolerate awkward situations and the more they put themselves out there, the more comfortable they feel.” He, along with Comely, advocates building up slowly and starting with the easiest situations first. As you gain confidence, go for bigger, more intimidating targets.
You may just get what you want, including a thicker skin.