Bounce back from rejection by adjusting your thinking

The right outlook on your situation can help you overcome rejection

Having a growth mindset enables people to be more resilient and push past rejection, Nicole Torres writes for Harvard Business Review

Everyone has experienced rejection, Torres writes, but some people are much better at handling it than others. This kind of resilience is a popular subject in psychology, one that Lauren Howe, a doctoral student in social psychology at Stanford University, and her professor Carol Dweck sought to unravel.

Dweck, an expert in implicit personality theory, proposes that some people have growth mindsets, meaning they believe personality traits can change, while others have fixed mindsets, meaning they believe personality traits are static.

Dweck's research has found that people with fixed mindsets tend to judge themselves and view their outcomes as reflections of their worth and capabilities.

But those with growth mindsets view outcomes as evidence of how they can improve in the future and challenges to conquer.

Howe and Dweck conducted a series of studies to determine whether these models held up in the face of romantic rejection, predicting that those with fixed mindsets would view rejection as confirmation of their flaws and struggle to recover, while those with growth mindsets would not view rejection as a reflection of their worth. 

Grit isn't just for students. It can improve adults' work and personal lives, too.

In the first study, researchers analyzed people's mindsets by how much they agreed with statements such as "Everyone, no matter who they are, can significantly change their basic characteristics" and "The kind of person you are is something very basic about you, and it can't be changed much." Participants were then asked to recall a painful romantic rejection and respond to a series of statements about the experience and its effect.  

Researchers found that those with fixed mindsets were more likely to experience negative emotions such as shame, embarrassment, and anger. They were also more likely to believe that discussing the past would impair future relationships, even if the rejection had occurred years ago.

In subsequent studies, using both hypothetical and past romantic situations, researchers found that those with fixed mindsets:

  • Did not take positive lessons away from their experiences;
  • Feared being rejected again;
  • Felt worse both generally and about themselves; and
  • Responded more severely to scenarios.

While more research needs to be conducted, Howe says the findings could apply to other social relationships, as well as in academic or career-related contexts. 

"I think a lot of us have a gut instinct to question ourselves in the face of rejection, but we'll be better off pausing and taking a moment to think about what happened that wasn't about us," Howe says." What were the situational factors that might have led to this outcome? What was going on with the timing or with the other person?"(Torres, Harvard Business Review, 4/6). 


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