the spotlight effect

There were times in my past when I felt awkward and uncomfortable eating in public, whether it be at restaurants, cafeteria, food courts or coffee shops. I can be a messy eater sometimes and whenever I wrestled with a burrito at Chipotle or ate Indian food — making my fingers dirty in the process — I used to feel that other people were judging me and commenting about my lack of food etiquette and cleanliness, the way I was using my fork and knife, and my lack of classiness, if you will. This became more prevalent when I moved to the US and I became overly conscious about eating outside.

Now as I have gotten better with eating outside — in fact it’s one of my favorite things to do when I’m on the go along with people watching — those negative thoughts sparingly come in my head as I have overcome those thought patterns. I have no qualms showing to the world that I’m an imperfect, messy human who savors his food in the best way he can. Heck, sometimes I even flaunt it!

Looking back, I can say people didn’t even care about it much. I was in my head all the time, worried for no reason. In other words, I had became a victim of the ‘spotlight effect’.

The spotlight effect is self-explanatory — it refers to the tendency where we think that everyone around us is noticing us or something about us, may be even judging us based our appearance, mannerisms etc. This phenomenon is a direct result of egocentrism. We all feel like we’re at the center of the Universe. It’s our human nature, to be egocentric, and to live with the impression that all eyes are on us. It’s an innate tendency to forget the fact that even though we feel that the world revolves around us, other people are not thinking the same. In fact in their minds, the world revolves around them. Like us, they’re actually caught up in their own thinking patterns.

We attach our existence to our perception, opinions and judgments. And that leads us to the following thinking patterns:

  • We look at the world through our own lens and that’s why we use our own opinions, judgments and beliefs to evaluate other people’s thoughts, words and behaviors
  • We overestimate the extent to which our perceptions are shared by others and are correct.

The result is that we think more people are noticing our flaws, shortcomings etc. than they actually do.

A few ways to overcome this spotlight effect are:

  1. Replace your negative thought patterns with positive ones.
  2. Stop caring about what other people think about you. They may not be even noticing you or that stain on your shirt.
  3. Even if people notice something negative about you, in a few seconds they’ll go back to their own bubbles and their own lives. Basically, there’s nothing to worry about, so just relax.
  4. Develop your self-confidence. Whether people notice you or not, embrace who you are. Figure out your qualities and accept your flaws. Own who you are and fall in love with yourself and your uniqueness.