The Spotlight Effect (and how it can f*ck you up)

Walking to the front of the bus, hands sweating, voice trembling, a raging hangover, I tentatively whispered: “hey guys, I’m really sorry for the way I behaved last night…”

I said my apologies to an entire bus full of Aussies (there were some others, but mainly Aussies) on my Contiki tour around Europe in 2015. To be fair, I was young, a little skittish and destined to fuck up a little — it’s part of the fun.

The point is not about me getting shit-faced — we’ve all been there. It’s a psychological phenomenon that i’ve been pondering lately: The Spotlight Effect. Basically, your big fat ego tends to think more people are caring about your every move and breath than actually is true. I would argue, it’s getting worse with the rise in social media addiction.

Let’s rewind. When I got drunk and ran around Venice half naked crying (ungodly amounts of Jesus’ juice was to blame), waking up the next morning, one person in particular mentioned how terribly I acted. I thought to myself, fuck…it must be bad. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye getting on the bus that morning. All I could think was how badly I must have looked and how everyone must be thinking how shit of a person I am.

In the end, more than half of the people came up to me and told me they didn’t even realise what happened and the ones who did, didn’t even care that much for it — we were all mangled beyond belief.

Psychology Today does a great job at explaining this phenomenon:

Basically, it is the result of egocentrism. We all are the center of our own universes. This is not to say we are arrogant, or value ourselves more than others, but rather, that our entire existence is from our own experiences and perspective. And we use those experiences to evaluate the world around us, including other people. But other people not only lack the knowledge of, for instance, the stain that you have, but they are the center of their own universes too, and in turn, are focused on other things!

With social media, we are always setting standards for ourselves. We think people are caring about what we do, say and post. But in actual fact, very few — if any — give a fuck about you. That sounds depressing, but its not.

This means that you should speak your mind when you can. Do what you fucking love. Be yourself. Be bold, courageous. Try a new hobby. Learn a new skill. Share your ideas. As the great Bernard M. Baruch said (and Dr. Seuss):

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.