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The Half Life Of Enthusiasm (How To Overcome Fear Of Rejection)

They will say no.

That one can stop me right there. No more reasons needed.

Can you guess who “they” are and what they are saying no about? I bet if we asked a hundred people we would get a hundred different answers.

Why? It’s the fear of rejection in action. This fear is a whopper and we all experience it. It runs deep and shows up in the many areas of our lives where we interact with others – work, family, friends, sports, school, neighborhood.

“They will say no” is reason #1 in the humorous essay “Everything I Am Afraid Might Happen If I Ask New Acquaintances to Get Coffee” (read it here) and the writer goes on to include fifteen more possible outcomes, all of them negative. It’s not a wild guess to conclude that with a list like this, you wouldn’t be asking anyone to get coffee soon.

While you may not, like the writer, be concerned with snakes or fratricide when considering coffee, my hunch is that everyone can relate to the writer’s sentiment – how we crush our own confidence before trying something new.

In other words, the start is what stops most people.

Why is the start where we stop? Fear. Here is how it works in four simple steps:

1) You think of doing something new

2) It feels vulnerable and risky

3) Fear kicks in

4) You instantaneously have reasons why the idea in step one is stupid and will fail

The result? No action.

The process can happen so quickly you may not be aware of the distinct steps – you just go from step 1 (“I want this!”) to step 4 (“Why bother.”). I call this the half-life of enthusiasm. A half-life is the amount of time for the quantity of something to be reduced by half. At that rate of decay, it doesn’t take long before your enthusiasm (and confidence) is down the drain.

Fear of rejection is powerful because we are social creatures with a deep biological need to be part of a group. This was an effective strategy for our ancestors’ survival when there were sabre-toothed tigers roaming outside the cave but in our modern world this fear can be over-sensitive in situations that are not so life-threatening.

What can you do when fear of rejection is ramping up?

1) Catch yourself in the act

Notice when your enthusiasm drops. At first, it might be when it’s down to near zero. Catching yourself takes practice and as you get used to seeing your pattern you’ll catch yourself sooner.

2) Be kind to yourself

The part of your brain that generates fear (your inner lizard) was the first to evolve and has helped keep humans alive long enough for you to be here. Recognize that it is trying to keep you safe. Thank it, and let it know you’ve got this situation covered.

3) Notice the thoughts

Look for the reasons your fearful mind created to convince you to stop before starting. Then look at the opposite of each reason (for example: They will say yes). Notice what happens to your enthusiasm.

4) Go

Let your enthusiasm propel you to do the thing you want to do. Fear will still be hanging around the edges, and that’s okay. Taking action, no matter what happens, will build your confidence for the next time (and the next!).

5) What are you making it mean

Sometimes people will say no, and that’s okay. Notice if you are making their “no” mean something negative about you. It’s not true and only serves to reinforce the power of the fear of rejection.

The best part of doing (not letting fear of rejection stop you before you start) is the world of opportunities, adventures and new friends waiting for you. C’mon, let’s go!

"And you ask, What if I fall?

Oh but my darling,

What if you fly?" - Erin Hanson

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