Overcome social self-consciousness.

For most people, the spotlight effect is what causes them to be unnecessarily self-conscious in social settings. Let's explore what it is, how it affects us, and how we can get rid of it!

Do you ever feel like everyone is watching and judging your every move in social situations? 

You're not alone. 

Many people experience what psychologists call “the spotlight effect" - the tendency to overestimate how much others notice and evaluate our actions and appearance. 

In one study1 on the spotlight effect, participants were asked to wear a t-shirt they found embarrassing and asked to estimate how many of their peers would notice it. 

On average, the participants expected that 50% of their peers would, but in reality, only 23% actually did.

In another study2, participants engaged in group discussions. Afterward, they were asked to estimate on a scale of 1 to 5 how remarkable the other group members thought their “most remarkable” comment had been.

(“Remarkable” was defined by the participants themselves, so they could have considered it impressive or embarrassing or anything in between.)

The participants estimated their own “most remarkable” comment at a 5 out of 5. However, the other people in the group only gave it an average rating of 2.76. 

This means that the participants overestimated by 42% how much attention and judgment the other people in the group gave to their most remarkable comment.

The list of studies goes on, but they all show the same thing—that we tend to significantly overestimate how much other people notice and pay attention to things like how we look and what we do.

Overcoming the spotlight effect can greatly benefit our social lives and overall well-being. 

When we stop unnecessarily worrying about others' opinions of us, we instantly become better able to be our authentic selves, and our social confidence will improve.

We often become more willing to engage in conversations with new people, take more social risks (like extending invitations), and assertively share our honest thoughts and ideas.

And as an extra bonus, social interactions become more enjoyable when we’re not constantly held back by a fear of judgment.

Overcoming the spotlight effect.

So, how can you start to overcome the spotlight effect? 

The first step, obviously, is to internalize the truth we’ve already covered.

Keep reflecting on the fact that your brain really wants to believe that people are watching and judging you far more than they actually are. 

Look for examples in your own life that demonstrate this. Keep proving it to yourself until it becomes so obvious that the exercise starts to feel unnecessary.

And while you’re internalizing this, focus on self-compassion. 

Rather than beating yourself up for feeling anxious or self-conscious if you stumble and fall for the spotlight effect, practice being kind and understanding toward yourself. 

Remember that everyone experiences this sometimes, and it's not just okay—it’s part of your brain’s hardwiring.

Quieting the spotlight effect in the moment.

And if you realize in the middle of a social situation that you’re overly concerned with what others might think of you, here are a couple of things that might help.

First, practice moving your focus from yourself and onto others. 

Focusing on really listening and engaging with others can help you forget about yourself a little, which tends to lessen the spotlight effect.

Secondly, when you catch yourself thinking that other people are just standing around scrutinizing and judging you, challenge those thoughts.

Ask yourself if you have any real, hard evidence that they are judging you or if you are just assuming the worst based on things like insecurities or assumptions.

And finally, accept that some nervousness, anxiety, insecurity, or similar is perfectly normal.

When you stop judging yourself for experiencing emotions that are hard-wired into pretty much all of us, you remove a large chunk of insecurity and anxiety - which makes it a lot easier to deal with whatever might be left. 

Reducing social self-consciousness is a gradual process.

Finally, remember that getting rid of something that is so ingrained in our thinking isn’t usually done overnight.

Take your time and focus on safely going outside of your comfort zone by regularly exposing yourself to situations that make you a bit self-conscious about others' opinions, but are still manageable.

When you do, the spotlight effect will start to lose its power, freeing you up to be more authentic and confident in social settings.

1: Gilovich, Thomas; Savitsky, Kenneth (1999). "The Spotlight Effect and the Illusion of Transparency: Egocentric Assessments of How We Are Seen by Others". Current Directions in Psychological Science.

2: Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: an egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Hi, I'm TJ Guttormsen.

Since 2009 I’ve coached clients ranging from Olympic gold medalists and billionaires, to people who simply want more out life.

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