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  • Brendan Stec

Spotlight on you...

Everyone in their own world

Do you ever put in some headphones, stroll down the street, and pretend you are in a movie? I know I do on occasion - and during these moments I feel like everyone I pass is noticing me: how I'm walking, if I am looking back at that them or not, or even whether or not they see the stain on my jacket. In fact, there are many points during the day when I think people are analyzing me or staring at me more than they really are. I ask myself: did the whole the room just see me trip up those stairs? Did they also notice how wrinkled my shirt is?

This self-conscious feeling, the tendency to overestimate how much our actions and appearance are noticed by others, is what social psychologists call the spotlight effect. The spotlight is on us when we walk into a party for the first time, wear a new shirt, or have a bad hair day, and it convinces us that everyone is noticing. The spotlight tells us we're the center of the world, all eyes are on our us, and so we'd always better look our best.

In reality, people notice much less about us than we really believe, and that's because they too are blinded by their own spotlight. They too are worried about what others think of them. Throughout the day, we're mostly in our own little world, focusing much of our energy inwards while forgetting others are busy doing this too.

When we make a decision about ourselves, we assume others are always eager to see or hear about it. The decision could be trivial, like deciding to try a new hairstyle or picking out a new apartment. The decision could be more serious, like deciding on a risky career path or getting married. Regardless of the decision, it's likely we're overestimating how much people will critique the results. It's very likely - unless they're a close friend or family member - they actually won't care that much.

My biggest takeaway about the spotlight effect is to avoid making decisions purely to please others. Most everyone else is preoccupied with many of their own decisions anyway.


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