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The Spot-Light Effect

Updated: May 18, 2021

Have you ever had a day when you felt all eyes were upon you relentlessly? Perhaps at your office or your school/college. Those eyes were all staring at that pimple you had awoken with, or the new wrinkle that had appeared overnight or even at your hair, enduring a particularly bad hair day.

If you answered yes to my question (and I’m sure most of you did), try to recollect how that day had summed up. How was your confidence level all throughout? Did you feel extra clumsy and clammy? Were you able to give your best performance at whatever you were tasked to do? Did you feel like you could conquer the world?

The answer is, almost certainly, a big whooping NO! Why you ask? Well because, you were experiencing the common symptoms of-

‘The Spot-Light Effect’

The SLE (as we’ll call it for now), is a term used to describe the feeling that everyone around us is noticing us and all our doings, flaws and mistakes, essentially putting us under the metaphorical ‘spotlight’. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about, having experienced it at least a few times in life.

Now the problem is, we have a notorious tendency to overestimate how much others are invested in us, known and unknown folks alike. We are at the center of our own mind’s universe, so the phenomenon of the SLE is not so uncommon.

In milder doses, the SLE can be beneficial: it keeps your behaviour in check. However, if you do often tend to think the world has eyes only for you, your SLE is treading on the border of narcissism! For the time being though, let’s assume you’re not in fact a vapid narcissist, but that the SLE still affects your day-to-day activities in a negative way.

Confidence is a key element to a satisfying, fulfilling life! It gives you the ability to know your strengths and use them well. Confident people are not void of nerves or fear, they just know how to control it. Confident folks are not exempted from mistakes, alone and in public, but they do know that those mistakes are not a part of them but rather an opportunity to learn and to grow. So, we can all agree that confidence is absolutely crucial. However, this is where the SLE rears its ugly head for a lot of people. They tend to think that the mistake they’ve just made has been noticed by everyone and that that’s the only thing others are going to remember about them. What are the repercussions on their confidence at this point? Pretty awful!

For example: Person ‘A’ has finally pulled up the courage to take part in the college Elocution Competition. He/she is nervous, but has practiced sufficiently and diligently. Person ‘A’ steps onto the podium and starts reciting the speech. Its going well, the audience is responding appropriately and he/she is feeling good. Then Person ‘A’ skips a line accidently, stumbles and has to restart that paragraph. The audience remains politely silent. Person ‘A’ is now positively sweating, messing up more and more! Why? Because Person ‘A’, who is a victim of the Spot-Light Effect, has started a downward spiral! He/she is thinking – “People are judging me, they are laughing at my mistake, that’s the only thing they’re going to remember from my performance, they’re going to talk behind my back for days, they are going to think I’m so stupid and that I didn’t practice enough…etc.”

Have you ever been in the audience while the speaker made a small mistake? Did you obsess over that mistake? Did you judge the speaker for that? No, if you’re a normal tempered person, you didn’t even think twice about it!

The truth is, everyone is busy focusing on themselves, not the other person. Your mistakes, your errors or the things that you’re self-conscious about are valid, no doubt, but not something that deserves the spot-light (as long as you’re a decent human being in general).

The next time the SLE is affecting you and ruining your confidence, ask yourself: would I have judged someone else going through this? Then, remind yourself that you are your own worst critic and that it is important to turn off the spot-light, or at least dim it down from time to time…

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