Thursday, January 19, 2017
Bouncing Back From Rejection-Michael Alvear
I’ve been making a living as a writer for about 14 years and have experienced just about every kind of rejection imaginable—as a freelance writer/consultant, I got stiffed for payments owed; as a newbie, I couldn’t get an agent, let alone a publisher; as a published author my last book tanked so bad, I was advised to write under a different name for my next one; as a “new author” (ha!) I was about to have my breakout moment on a national afternoon TV show when I was suddenly and unceremoniously cancelled.
There hasn’t been a single stage in my writing career where I thought with confidence, “Whew, I made it.” Even when it looked—from the outside—like I was doing well, I was always just one more rejection away from slamming my computer shut and walking away for good.
After a number of big setbacks, I knew I had to learn to manage the constant frustration and fear that dogged me as a writer. I began studying what psychologists and experts said about building resiliency and applied them to the writing life. The changes were subtle but strong—I no longer felt like an abject failure when a client passed me over for a project or my book sales fell flat.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES...
For example, I laughed with both recognition and relief the first time I came across a study by a psychologist studying resiliency that advised to “never think positive.”
Thank you! I’d always bristled at being told to pretend something is good or positive when it’s clearly not. And there it was: study after study showed that using positive thinking as a way to move past emotional setbacks actually makes things worse. That’s partly because it prevents you from processing natural feelings of anger and grief, which in turn, leave you more centered. Instead, experts recommend learning how to “drain” away the value judgments that keep you spinning in despair and hopelessness.
On the “wait, how could this possibly work?” side, the use of “counterfactual reasoning” surprised me the most for its sheer power and effectiveness. It’s a technique for practicing gratitude that shows you how to view your situation in unexpected ways—to “unadapt” your habitual ways of thinking so that you can truly be grateful for what you have.
THE ROLE OF GRATITUDE...
Gratitude is an important aspect of a rejection coping strategy because it focuses your mind on the good not the bad. The problem is that it often doesn’t work. At least not the typical way we practice it. That’s not just my opinion; it’s the conclusion of many studies on using gratitude to improve mood.
Fortunately, some researchers hit on a particular method for practicing gratitude—counterfactual reasoning—that shows great results in the lab.
Here’s the basic premise: Instead of being grateful for the good you have, spend a few minutes pretending you never received that good. For example, if you feel rejected that Publisher’s Weekly gave you a good but not STARRED review (a common feeling of rejection that best sellers experience) then spend a few minutes visualizing what would happen if PW never reviewed your book in the first place. That pull-out quote in PW that your editor put on the cover of your book? POOF! Gone! The congratulatory emails and phone calls? POOF! Gone!
Suddenly, you become far more grateful for the good that you have (a solid review from PW) than the rejection you perceived (an unstarred one).
There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t have to employ one or more of the techniques outlined in The Bulletproof Writer. The nature of the business means I’m always looking over the edge of the cliff. I like to think of the book as the harness, rope, and clips that keep me from spinning off into the abyss, even when both my feet slip on the crags.
I encourage you to develop your own personal brand of coping as it can mean the difference between success and failure. Check out some of the ones I found particularly powerful: Alex Lickerman’s The Undefeated Mind, Rick Hanson’s Hardwiring Happiness and Guy Winch’s Emotional First Aid.
Michael Alvear is the author of The Bulletproof Writer: How To Overcome Constant Rejection To Become An Unstoppable Author (Woodpecker Media January 2017). LINK: http://writingforaliving.us/how-to-overcome-constant-rejection/
He’s been a frequent contributor to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and his work has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and The Huffington Post.
Feel free to leave your comments and questions, readers.