How to Deal With Rejection: Try This Strategy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Algorithms to Live By" by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you deal with rejection? Are you the type of person who keeps trying or gives up hope and moves on?

Getting rejected is painful but it’s not always the end-all-be-all—sometimes it may be worth it to keep trying. In their book Algorithms to Live By, Christian and Griffiths suggest using the so-called “Exponential Backoff” algorithm to handle rejection without totally giving up hope.

Here is how the “Exponential Backoff” algorithm can help you deal with rejection.

Exponential Backoff Algorithm

Christian and Griffiths explain that TCP utilizes an algorithm called “Exponential Backoff” so computers can determine how much of their limited resources to invest in unreliable connections.

If your computer doesn’t receive an ACK when it’s trying to connect to a server, it’ll immediately try again. If it still doesn’t receive a signal, indicating that the server may be down, it’ll either try again immediately or wait slightly longer before trying again, choosing at random. After every failed connection attempt, the range of time during which it will randomly try again to connect will double, waiting longer to retry each time, until it successfully gets through. This is the Exponential Backoff algorithm.

Christian and Griffiths explain the value of this technique: With this algorithm, your computer doesn’t waste resources constantly trying and failing to reconnect. Simultaneously, however, your computer never entirely gives up hope, ensuring that if the server ever comes back online, it’ll get through.

Christian and Griffiths argue that we should use Exponential Backoff to deal with rejection and generally handle everything unreliable in our lives. This algorithm shows us how to invest less in the unreliable without ever completely giving up hope.

For example, the authors describe a friend of theirs trying to arrange a get-together with an old companion who keeps canceling at the last minute. They recommend that she apply Exponential Backoff to the time between invitations—scheduling a meetup a week in advance, then, if they canceled, two weeks in advance, a month, and so on. This way, she can invest less of her time and energy on someone as they continually prove unreliable, while still giving them a chance to change their behavior.

The Cost of Endless Hope 

Arguably, this Exponential Backoff algorithm works better for computers than it does for people. The time and energy that computers waste by trying and failing to connect to an unreliable server are almost negligible. For human beings, on the other hand, repeated rejections can potentially have a severe emotional toll. Continually placing your hope in someone or something unreliable may cause you to suffer the same pain over and over again—sometimes, you may be better off giving up hope entirely.

For example, as the woman in the authors’ example repeatedly tries and fails to reconnect with her friend, she may blame herself, spiraling into regret for any time she offended her friend in the past. Even if she waits weeks or months before trying again, she’s likely to work up hope only for it to be shattered again, throwing her into the same cycle of despair. The best thing for her may be to let the friendship end and move on.

Here are a few signs that indicate it’s time to give up hope:

You’re holding onto the past. If you find yourself trying and failing to return to the way things used to be, it’s likely time to give up hope and move on. The one constant in life is change. By clinging to something that no longer exists, you prevent yourself from discovering better opportunities in the present.

You’re unhappy now because you want to be happy in the future. Another red flag is the belief that all you need to do is hold out hope a little longer until things get better. Unless you have a real reason to believe that your situation will change soon, the only thing your hope does is discourage you from doing something that will actually change things.

You’re avoiding an unpleasant task. Often, people cling to misguided hope to avoid doing something unpleasant. Check your gut: If you know, deep down, that you need to take action (for example, quitting your unfulfilling job or breaking off a toxic relationship) the real problem is likely your illusory hope that the problem will solve itself.

How to Deal With Rejection: Try This Strategy

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  • How to schedule your to-do list like a computer
  • Why making random decisions is sometimes the smartest thing to do
  • Why you should reject the first 37% of positions in your job search

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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