After his wife left, fear of rejection nearly paralyzed Jason Comely of Ontario, Canada. He became a bit of a shut-in until he decided to meet his fear halfway.
He turned rejection into a goal. And that set him free, he told NPR's Alix Spiegel.
First it was a mental game as he started asking strangers for rides or breath mints or discounts. His goal was a solid "no way" every day. But a funny thing happened. He started getting into conversations and meeting people and getting over his fear. He even launched a game that others bought, featuring the rejection challenges he'd done himself.
Conquering fear is no small feat, but it is doable, according to Adam Toren, co-founder of a section on Entrepreneur.com for young entrepreneurs. "When you face up to the things that make you most afraid, you often find that they aren’t as terrifying as you could’ve imagined," he wrote. "Often a fear of heights can be overcome by facing it. Other times fear of failure can be defeated by facing your own defeat and learning firsthand that it isn’t fatal. Take the time to face your fears and give up battling them."
Fear is not all negative; it can actually empower people to go beyond what they feel is possible. Psychology Today tells the story of Tom Boyle Jr., a Tucson man who lifted a car off a bicyclist who had been hit, his strength fueled by fear and adrenaline.
Fear, the article said, can provide "super powers." Wrote Jeff Wise: "Most of us tend to think of fear as a negative, as something to be avoided. But fear can have powerfully positive effects as well. The emotion is evolution's way of keeping us safe in the face of danger. When awakened, it can unleash abilities we never knew we had, unlocking reserves that are otherwise hidden. Fear pulls out the stops, turning the dial, as Spinal Tap would have it, all the way up to 11."
Comely's rejection-seeking behavior is an example of what Mill Valley, California, psychologist Melanie Greenberg called "exposure."
"Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous," she wrote in The Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today.
Her tips for overcoming anxiety also include taking a realistic look at the probability what you fear will happen, using relaxation techniques, using problem-solving skills and accepting the fear and choosing to live fully anyway.
Life coach Danielle Vaughn advises people not to take rejection personally. "So the next time that other driver cuts you off, or someone says something less than appealing, don't take it personally, reject it and let it live in their world, don't invite it into yours," she wrote for Huffington Post. "Not taking things personally is a huge step to self-acceptance, which is a happier, more rewarding place to be."