Imagine you’re going to the mall on a weekend. You’re in high spirits, there’s a sale you want to check out… and suddenly you feel that your hair’s a bit of a mess. As more and more people start staring, you struggle to remember where the nearest toilet is. Some are openly laughing at you now as genuine panic settles inside you. It’s a nightmare…

Nightmares are, of course, not real. It’s just that most of us habitually assume that people are watching us. There’s even a special term for this: the spotlight effect—for the imaginary beam that highlights all of our shortcomings. Now, if you’re a Hollywood star walking around a mall in the middle of the day in a tacky T-shirt, then yes, people will stare at you. But more often than not (and this is scientifically proven) we tend to assume that we’re getting around twice as much attention as we actually are. And this is the perfect self-confidence killer…

Dealing with the spotlight effect, however, isn’t so hard. Simply acknowledging that this effect is real and normal goes a long way to help you cope with it.

Then, why not pick under what kind of spotlight you want to stand in? Wearing colorful outfits, pausing for several extra beats for dramatic effect when telling a story, laughing freely when you’re amused… If you do get attention, it’ll likely be positive that way.

And finally, ask yourself the universal question: “So?” If people notice the run on my stockings, they’ll laugh at me. So? If I present my idea at next week’s meeting, my co-workers might think I’m an idiot. So? If I sing at home, my neighbors will think I’m weird. So? So, sometimes our fears are more imaginary than real.

Being socially prudent is a good thing—but more often than not, what really drags us down is the imaginary stares of people looking at your imaginary faults…

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