I was sitting alone in the middle of a restaurant when I realized I had a huge stain the shape of Idaho across the front of my blouse.
I felt self-conscious. Like everyone was looking at me and my expansive stain. The negative feelings intensified even as finished up my errands by picking up the dry cleaning (yeah, pretty sure they wanted to pull the shirt off me right there and give it a good wash).
But the truth is, probably nobody noticed the stain. In fact, it’s unlikely they even noticed me at all.
What is the Spotlight Effect
Human beings are like that. So often we feel self-conscious and insecure – as though everyone is looking at us — yet everybody else is too busy with their own business to consider us much at all. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the Spotlight Effect, by researcher Thomas Gilovich and his colleagues.
“Because we are so focused on our own behavior, it can be difficult to arrive at an accurate assessment of how much–or how little–our behavior is noticed by others. Indeed, close inspection reveals frequent disparities between the way we view our performance (and think others will view it) and the way it is actually seen by others,” reads the study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published in 2000.
In fact our best moments usually go completely unnoticed and unappreciated too. Yet even with this knowledge in mind, I was embarrassed about the stain and that self-consciousness caused me to act a little more withdrawn in the restaurant and to joke about it at the dry cleaners.
Self-Consciousness Causes Behavior Change
The belief that everyone is looking at us can cause us to act differently and even keep us from doing things that would otherwise be fun and healthy. For example, many people don’t go to movies or meals alone because they feel self-conscious as though everyone else will think they don’t have any friends. Course most of us never even notice.
The Spotlight Effect may keep others from joining a party where they know few people, or participating in a group fundraiser for a charitable cause.
One way to manage this kind of self-consciousness is to stop taking things personally. To create little reminders and habits during our days that prevent us from getting caught up in this kind of single-minded, self-focus. On Wednesday, I’ll tell you how to do it.
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