No one is Paying Attention to You

People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think they do. It’s a law of the universe. Okay, maybe not of the universe, but it is a law of human psychology.

It’s called the Spotlight Effect in social psychology. There’s a study where college students are asked to do something super embarrasing…wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt around campus. I’m embarrased just thinking about it.


So they did, and when they returned to the lab they promptly told the experimenters that EVERYONE was staring at them and laughing, all day. Are you sure? the experimenters probed.  Oh yes, said the undergrads. It was very obvious…I’m the laughing stock of campus.


Since it was an experiement, the reearchers had ways of catching up with those people the subject had come into contact with throughout the day. The ones he said were pointing and laughing.


You know that guy…what was he wearing? Did you happen to notice who was on his t-shirt? they asked the bullies.


They didn’t know.  They also said they weren’t pointing or laughing, at least not at him or his hunky Manilow tee.


He was embarrased, he was focused on himself, so he had some natural errors in perception.


The point? People don’t notice your bad hair day, or that you stumbled over part of your speech. And even when they do notice, they don’t give it nearly as much importance as you do. What you do is just not that big a deal to them.


You see, you’re your own primary focus, always. You can’t help but see the world with yourself as the referent. You’re the center of your own little universe. So it makes sense that you’d overestimate the extent to which others focus on you.


But that’s true for everyone. So while you’re spending a week under the covers to recover from the embarrassment of what “they” must think, they’re hiding in their own beds worried about what you think of them.


I try to remember that when I’m feeling self-conscious. I look at the people I imagine to be judging me and remember that they’re self-conscious, too. Self-Conscious = conscious first and foremost of themselves, not of me.


And that reminds me that it’s worth it to take chances. It’s always worth it to risk looking bad because as bad as I might think I look, that’s as bad as it gets.

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