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Episode 145 | THE SPOTLIGHT EFFECT


This episode is sponsored by JV Gibson Photography

You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do. Eleanor Roosevelt

In last week's show, I discussed Occam’s Razor, - a problem-solving and reasoning principle that suggests that the simplest explanation or solution is often the most likely to be correct. It’s another important productivity concept that is well worth a listen if you have a few minutes to spare. And remember folks if you listen on a podcast app and subscribe, these shows will automatically appear on your app whenever they are released.


Today, I’m talking about something you may have been aware of. The Spotlight Effect.


Have you ever felt more anxious and self-conscious when giving a presentation or speaking in front of a group? Believed that every small mistake or nervous gesture is highly noticeable to the audience?


Have you ever assumed that people are judging you based solely on your appearance? Have you ever had a spot or skin blemish and felt like it's the first thing everyone sees when they interact with you?


In social situations, have you ever felt self-conscious about your behavior or worried that others are constantly judging you? Have you ever believed that a small social blunder or awkward moment will be magnified and remembered by everyone?


If you have then you have already experienced, the Spotlight Effect - a cognitive bias that often leads us to overestimate the extent to which your actions or perceived flaws are noticed and remembered by others. As Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out in the opening quote though, the chances are that nobody noticed or cared about any of the things that caused you anxiety and dread.


You see our brains tend to simplify and distort information and that’s what is referred to as cognitive bias. These biases can lead us to make irrational judgments and draw inaccurate conclusions. They stem from things like our limited attention, our past experiences, social influences, and emotional responses but by understanding and recognizing cognitive biases, we can strive to mitigate their effects and make more objective and rational choices.


The spotlight effect is a cognitive bias that refers to the tendency of individuals to believe that others are paying far more attention to them than they actually are. It involves an overestimation of how much others notice and remember about our appearance, behavior, or performance in social situations. Here are some more examples:


  • Imagine you have a small stain on your shirt and feel self-conscious about it. You might believe that everyone around you is fixated on the stain and judging you because of it but in reality, people may not even notice the stain or pay much attention to it.

  • Going back to my earlier example – You give a presentation at work, and during one part, you stumble over your words. You likely feel embarrassed and believe that everyone in the room noticed the mistake and is judging your performance, but again, people might be more focused on the content of your presentation rather than the specific stumble.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote “You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” highlights the essence of the spotlight effect. It suggests that people's attention is often preoccupied with their own concerns, and they pay less attention to our actions or appearance than we assume. In this respect, it goes hand in hand with episode 138 Malice or Incompetence. A lovely wee episode even though I do say so myself.


Self-importance is a trap because the moment we start to think that we actually matter is the moment when things start to go wrong. The truth is that you are supremely unimportant and nothing matters. All of man's striving is for nothing; all effort is wasted. To realize that everything is meaningless is tremendously liberating since it then leaves us completely free to create our own lives and ignore the plans that others have for us. Tom Hodgkinson


I’m sorry to say folks that "You are not the centre of the universe." We simply tend to overestimate our importance or how much others notice us. The spotlight effect can lead to a self-centred perspective, but in reality, people are generally more focused on themselves and their own lives than they will ever be on you and yours.


Performance Anxiety is perhaps the best example of this, and that’s where the spotlight analogy can perhaps be most easily understood but recognizing that people are often less attentive to our actions and appearance than we believe can help alleviate the pressure we put on ourselves in social situations.


I am forever grateful that I got some training in the theatre - it reduces performance anxiety. Julia Stiles

I am planning an episode on Chat GPT sometime soon, so I asked it for a clever way to sum up an episode about The Spotlight Effect. It came up with this. "Don't be the director of your own one-person show; remember that the audience is too busy starring in their own dramas to notice every detail of yours."


And so that’s where I’ll leave it. In next week’s show, I’ll be taking a look at Cal Newport’s influential system of Deep Work. I hope to see you there. If you are enjoying the show, please let me know on social media @filmproprodpod on Twitter @filmproproductivity on Facebook or fight_director on Instagram. I’d love for you to screen grab your phone as you listen and post it with a link on that social media platform of your choice as that’s a great help, and the other thing that I’d love to see is reviews on Apple Podcasts. If you haven’t left a review yet I’d be very grateful if you would.

In the meantime, let me end with some words from Earl Wilson, who has a different take on all of this, he said If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.


Now take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!


• The music you can hear right now is Adventures by A Himitsu

• You can view the show notes for this episode on the official website filmproproductivity.com

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SPONSOR: JV Gibson Photography

Official website: www.jvgibson.co.uk


Thanks: A Himitsu Music: Adventures by A Himitsu

Commons — Attribution 3.0 Unported— CC BY 3.0

Music released by Argofox https://www.youtu.be/8BXNwnxaVQE

Music provided by Audio Library https://www.youtu.be/MkNeIUgNPQ8 –––


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