That zit on your nose. The small spot on the back of your shirt. That awkward laugh you made right as the room got quiet. And all the other things everyone silently judges you for. Or so you think.
It’s a human inclination to think the world revolves around you. This is egocentrism, and it is the result of a bias of the mind, something we are born into. The inability to see from another’s point of view somewhat diminishes with age (in varying degree by person), but takes a considerable amount of effort and mental awareness to discard completely.
Psychologists call this the ‘spotlight effect’; the idea that everyone in a social setting is watching, analyzing, and critiquing your every move and everything else about you.
People only know what they have learned from their own experiences and through their point of view. Discussing and reading other’s accounts of a situation can give a better idea, but it is impossible (or at least incredibly difficult) to truly put oneself in someone else’s shoes.
Even in our age of extreme egocentrism and vanity (i.e., social media) the reality is that no one really cares about you.
While this might sounds harsh at first, it is an incredibly freeing realization to learn that no one is judging you because they are too busy worrying about you judging them.
The fact is they are bothered about the stain on their shirt, and with worrying if people will perceive the pictures they just posted on Facebook as a wild party or a lame one.
A study in 2000 demonstrated this idea perfectly.
College student participants were sent candidly into a room full of their peers while wearing a Barry Manilow shirt. While the participants were convinced that the entire room would notice the monstrosity they were sporting, less than 50% of the peer group could recall the shirt when asked in a post-study interview.
So fret not if you get behind on your laundry and have to wear that shirt from the back of your closet out to the store…chances are no one is going to notice, anyway.
When I was about 11, my parents took me to see The Truman Show. In it, Jim Carrey’s character is unknowingly cast into a reality TV show when he is an infant. His every move is watched by a worldwide audience on his own dedicated channel, 24/7, 365.
Seeing this film as an (extremely) late bloomer who had not yet come even close to developing the ability to consider others’ perspectives, it screwed me up. Big time.
As I had not yet dispelled the idea that everyone was obsessed with my every move, my brain now had to consider both the possibility that this scheme was not only true, but to an extreme extent.
I even entertained the notion that the directors of ‘my show’ made me watch The Truman Show in order to plant the idea that my life could also be a reality show, and to see if I would make attempts to figure everything out. Nevermind that I lived in a landlocked state in the middle of the country (the film takes place on a man-made island inside a giant production studio so that Truman could be contained geographically).
This went on for an embarrassingly long time (again, beyond a late bloomer). I am not really sure what finally snapped me out of it, but it was an extremely liberating feeling.
(Unless I am actually on a TV show, in which case my viewers are dying from irony-induced laughter as I write this).
Once the mind is free from this pattern of thinking, it allows you to focus on much more productive things, like the world around you, knowing your true self, and creating great work.
So shed the spotlight, and see the light.
And don’t let your kids watch The Truman Show until they are 25.