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How to Step Out of the Spotlight Effect

Imagine this scenario: You are trying to sleep after a long, tiring day. You are tucked into bed, the temperature is ideal, but the second your body attempts to fall into a deep slumber, your brain deceives you with an embarrassing memory of an event that took place ten years ago.

The recall can pulverise all the hard work of getting yourself into the mindset of sleeping. In fact, this memory can trigger a similar physiological response that you experienced when the event first took place.

To avoid this feeling of constant humiliation, people try to be perfect. This state of achieving perfection turns into a habit which causes them to assume that they are being watched or judged by others. This feeling is referred to as ‘the spotlight effect.’

The spotlight effect is a cognitive bias that makes people overestimate the negative attention that other people give them. For example, if you wear red lipstick to class, you may feel as if everyone is looking at you, and judging you for it. When in reality, they haven’t even noticed.

History of the Spotlight effect

The spotlight effect is not only caused by the judgmental attitude of modern society, but it is also a genetic trait that has been passed on from our tribal ancestors. When tribal societies relied on one another for survival, they followed a certain code of conduct to make sure that they remained as a part of the tribe. Hence, they required validation from others to avoid exile. In case they were exiled, their survival became almost impossible, and death became a certainty. This led them to inspect every initiative they took because if they were caught doing something out of the ordinary, their lives would be at stake.

In modern society, the fear of being exiled still exists. However, the definition of exile has been changed to that of being a social outcast. Today, the presence of social media platforms have placed people back in the spotlight, where each action is on trial under the judgement of mainstream society. Now, every time you upload an image on Instagram wearing a cool outfit with the wrong pair of shoes, you end up in a quandary of whether or not you should delete the post, as everyone would be put off by your shoes.

How it affects your confidence

It is no hidden secret that the spotlight effect hinders your confidence, in one way or another. For instance, if you are standing in front of the class ready to deliver a presentation and you realise that there is a small stain on your shirt, you will immediately become self-conscious. At that moment, all elements in your mind will direct your attention to covering up the stain. Moreover, you will be so concerned about the stain that you will not be able to present effectively.

This phenomenon impedes your level of self-confidence. If it is experienced regularly, it can even become pathological. In fact, people with social anxiety battle with the spotlight effect on a daily basis. These individuals are unable to leave the house, talk to people and function appropriately in their daily lives. As a result, it is essential to learn ways in which you can minimise the occurrence of the spotlight effect.

A recent study conducted by Thomas Gilovich, Justin Kruger and Victoria Husted revisited the phenomenon by examining a sample of students to see how they deemed variability of their appearance and behaviour in the eyes of others. The results further concluded that the spotlight effect could directly be correlated to the development of social anxiety as well as the regret that stems from not taking the required action.

Moving past the spotlight effect

The spotlight effect is a cognitive bias; hence its treatment also revolves around the way you think. To reduce this manner of thought, you can follow the ensuing steps:

Develop self-awareness

The foremost step that you need to take is to develop a sense of recognition when you have these thoughts. If you cancel out the thought the moment it occurs, you can ultimately protect yourself from the dangers it brings with it. For example, if you are looking to get assignment help online in a public library, and you think, “what if someone looks over me and reports me for cheating” then you must stop. Instead, tell yourself that every single person in the library is concerned about their own projects, and you do not matter enough that they would make an extra effort to report you.

Understand that people are egocentric

While you are thinking about how people see you, they are wondering about how you see them. Every person is more concerned with how they are perceived that they do not find the time to make judgments for the minor things that you do.

However, there will always be people who will judge you regardless of what you do. But, you will never be able to please them. Thus, worrying about what they think is just a torment for you.

Challenge your thoughts

Altering the way you think is easier said than done. You may not succeed at first, and you might even get worse before you get better. However, if you persist in your mission, you will eventually achieve what you set out to do.

To change your thoughts, you must learn to accept and embrace your imperfections. You can do this by imagining the worst possible scenario of what would happen if you do not act a certain way. If your Instagram picture has you wearing crocs with a cool romper, then what would be the worst thing that can happen?

If you reflect on this, the worst case may not be that bad.

Bottom line

The spotlight effect can take a toll on your mental health. Therefore, you must reduce its impact by changing the way you think about how others perceive you. Embrace your flaws because even if you are outcast, you will thrive on your own!


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