Yesterday we did Rejection Therapy!

For us, what rejection therapy means is that you go downtown, wander around by yourself, and ask random strangers to do you favors.

Examples would be asking for their newspaper, or asking for a few dollars, or a phone number, or to try on their shoes. Or going into a store and asking for some free food.

Now, I’m not a very courageous person, especially when it comes to asking strangers for things. So when I heard we were doing rejection therapy, I was so nervous that I was shaking. But I knew that getting rid of this anxiety is exactly the point of rejection therapy. We walked for about 15 minutes before we made it downtown. I noticed that my anxiety made me very alert and I noticed a lot more things about a lot more people – for example, whether they were carrying something that I could ask for, or wearing something I could try on. Of course, the exercise hadn’t officially started yet, which is how I rationalized not approaching these opportunities I saw. During this walk I also brainstormed questions you could ask people.

Once we got downtown and the exercise officially began, I achieved slightly above my own expectations, which were fairly low. I approached maybe 12-15 people total, in an hour and a half. (Some of the others reported approaching two or three times that number.)

I asked for a number of newspapers. I asked to take the plastic flowers from a storefront. I asked to borrow board games from the board game store. I asked to climb a ladder that a construction worker was setting up – and he let me!

I asked a couple eating lunch on the grass if they would meditate with me for 5 minutes. They didn’t want to, but they said “after lunch maybe.” I went back 20 minutes later and I was too shy to actually ask again, partly because they were cuddling and being rather private and I didn’t want to disturb them. But that’s mostly just a rationalization.

I asked a girl if I could try on her sunglasses and she said “what is this, some kind of psychology class experiment?” Apparently someone else in her group had recently been approached. I was a bit too flustered to ask her for anything else.

I noticed two good effects from the experiment. The first was that I was a LOT less shy once I got into the swing of things. I was still shy about talking to people for any length of time, but approach anxiety was greatly reduced. I was able to ask for something which I legitimately wanted: I smelled malt outside a brewpub, walked in, saw they were brewing, and asked the head brewer for a tour. (He didn’t give me one for insurance reasons, but I got an invitation to come on a Saturday and he would show me around.) This is something I would never or rarely do before, and during Rejection Therapy, I felt a lot more comfortable doing it. I expect this level of comfort to decline somewhat, but just knowing that I can do it is a big step forward in terms of comfort.

Later that day, Anna Salamon gave a talk where she talked about one of the goals of rationality as “building affordances” in everyday life. This is an analogy to physical affordances, like a cup affords drinking and a knob affords turning and a button affords pressing. However, Anna is talking about mental affordances – having flags go up in your brain when you notice that a situation matches a pattern, and knowing how to react in such a pattern. So the other effect from the rejection therapy experiment was that I noticed myself building the affordance that “strangers afford talking” – that now I was noticing situations where I could ask strangers for things, and reasons to talk to them. I expect this effect will decline only a little bit.