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ONE OF the most common discussion I have at workshops with creative freelances is about how to not take rejection personally. This is a tricky question when you are effectively ‘the product’, so being turned down can feel very personal. However, learning not to take things personally is a key skill that will save a lot of heartbreak over the years.

When you pick a birthday card for a friend, if you are like me, you’ll be looking for something ‘appropriate’, whatever that may mean for you, e.g., something that reflects how you feel about them, or something that will make them laugh.

Imagine if all the designers of the cards you didn’t choose sat weeping in the background, feeling personally slighted by your selection. Doesn’t make sense does it?

In exactly the same way, it doesn’t make sense to feel personally offended when a decision is made that effectively rejects you or your work, no matter how much love, care and attention you have put into it. By all means feel disappointed, sad even - we are all only human after all, but offended? No, these decisions are rarely truly personal.

How to do it!

Let’s look at the two main ways we perceive and remember events:

  • We either see or replay the event as if we are looking out of our own eyes, which I’ll call the ‘Player’ mode or:
  • We see or replay them from the position of a bystander, actually seeing ourselves in the action as a fly on the wall. I’ll call this the ‘Watcher’ mode.

It’s not just how we perceive and remember events, it’s also how we imagine things happening in the future, in daydreams, or dreams. It’s a big part of how we make ourselves feel good or bad, motivated or demotivated. It’s a great one to be aware of and start using more consciously.

Try it out

Imagine a situation where you are having a strong pleasurable experience. For example, eating a cream cake, playing with a pet, or something much more personal (if it’s very personal, keep it to yourself please.)

Whatever you choose, imagine doing it now in ‘player’ mode - looking out from your own eyes: see what you see, hear what you hear and feel what you feel. Take a bit of time to fully experience it.

Now stop that (if you can bear to) and imaging doing it again - only this time be the ‘watcher’, as if you are in an audience watching yourself doing it. It’s happening over there, while you are sat apart from all the action.

Feels quite different, doesn’t it? When you are the player, you can really engage in the experience and feel the pleasurable emotions. When you are the watcher, it feels detached and a lot less fun or a lot less intense.

Learning to step back from a bad experience, from player to watcher is one of the most effective and quickest steps to stop feeling bad in less pleasant situations, and is a very useful way to stop yourself taking things personally.

When something bad happens and you continuously replay it in your head in player mode, it’s hard not to sink into all the horrible feelings of the event, and even create some extra ones that didn’t come up at the time, but which emerge as we imagine all the other terrible consequences that could happen. To put it bluntly, we wallow. An important element of wallowing is being fully immersed as the player in the remembered experience(s). This is the perfect strategy to take things personally!

Being able to step back into watcher mode takes the emotional charge out of the situation and lets you be more rational about it. Both modes are important - learning to choose which you want to experience is the really useful life skill.

When you are having a romantic evening with someone you love, it’s going to be a much nicer experience if you are in player mode, often described as, ‘in the moment’. I’m sure you have all experienced situations where either you or the person you are with is not really present - perhaps so preoccupied with something that is not going on in the same room, or so busy worrying about saying the right thing, that they are mentally detached, i.e., in watcher mode. This rarely goes unnoticed by the other person, and generally impacts badly on the moment or conversation.

However, it’s sometimes very useful to be detached in watcher mode. For example, if you are dealing with an emergency, you will be much more focussed and constructive if you can step back and separate yourself from the emotions of the situation. Imagine working in a busy A&E department if you couldn’t do watcher mode? You would soon be overwhelmed by your own emotions, and the potential consequences for the future for the patients and their families of the more seriously ill or injured patients.

If you are one of those people who feels everyone else’s pain, emotional or physical, I’m talking about those of you who cry at adverts here, then being able to step into watcher mode sometimes would be a handy relief.

If you are habitually analytical, and let that stand back, assessing, watcher mode creep into your personal, relational, sociable moments, you might find more fun and joy in those situations when you learn to spend more time in player mode.

Some people are much better at just one, and would benefit from practicing the other mode. For a balanced, happy life, we need both, and practising allows you more choice and flexibility, especially if you want to learn how to not take rejection personally.

Business skills training
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