A Very Brief Look At Parasocial Relationships and Interactions

Recently online, especially on YouTube, there have been discussions about parasocial relationships and interactions. Our relationship and interactions with celebrities and the new age influencer celebrities is different than what it used to be even ten years ago.

The term parasocial interaction was first coined in 1956 by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl. It defines a psychological relationship between a media figure and their audience. What happens is some of the audience forms what feels like a friendship between themselves and the media figure, even though they have never met said figure. With repeated, positive experiences in viewing this figure, the audience will form this parasocial relationship.

Social media has increased the chances of this type of interaction as well as the intensity of this interaction. Online communication with influencers feels much more intimate and real than merely viewing a media figure on tv.

The term ‘influencer’ to describe these new age celebrities is also very fitting as oftentimes those in these parasocial interactions are much more susceptible to influence from the person being followed, whether it be in beliefs or in consuming goods. Because there is a feeling of closeness between the influencer and the audience, the trust that comes with this relationship sways consumers into buying specific goods.

Parasocial relationships have existed though before the internet or even mass media, as people would sometimes form believed relationships with political figures or famous people of the time.

There is a good amount of research on this topic that has looked into ways that this type of interaction works on a cognitive level and who may be susceptible to it. Those that have a dismissive attachment style or find interacting within others difficult and/or anxiety inducing, may find parasocial interaction to be fulfilling.Parasocial interaction is regarded as a normal cognition and extension of healthy social cognition.

In children, girls are more likely than boys to develop parasocial relationships with television or media figures. Boys are more likely to form a PI with a male figure while girls equally choose either male or female figures. A child’s PI and PR with a media figure can have lasting effects on their self-perception later in life as well as relationships. These relationships can also enhance a child’s learning through personalization.

There are obviously negative effects as well. In young girls, some PI and PR can result in a negative body image. These interactions can increase self-comparison and comparison with the character. While with men, those who had experienced prior PI and PR with muscular superhero characters as young boys were less likely to have negative body image than those who had no experience with PI and PR with muscular superheroes.

There is some research in a sub-field regarding parasocial breakups. This is when the fixture of the PI/PR either disappears or something happens to dissolve the relationship. While more research needs to be done, some researchers have found that individuals can experience the same turmoil and trauma, though on a smaller scale, as to a social breakup when a parasocial breakup occurs.

Parasocial interactions and relationships are more prevalent and easier to fall into these days with social media platforms like Youtube, Instagram, and Twitch. We the consumer are afforded what appears to be vulnerable moments and glimpse into the lives of internet celebrities we enjoy, thus building trust with viewers. Over time there is a sense of friendship or closeness that is built between the content creator or influencer and their audience. Audiences these days are more than a fandom, in many cases these individuals feel like they are involved in the creator’s life.

Being aware of parasocial relationships and interactions can help you identify these views in yourself and others and help mitigate any negative effects these relationships might have. These relationships can provide a wealth of good, but also a destructive hobby. I encourage you to check out the research and articles out there as there is ample reading out there on the topic.

What Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Has Taught Me

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is known as the gentle art. It was created by the Gracie family in Brazil in the 1920’s after Carlos Gracie learned Judo from a Japanese judoka. It developed into its own martial art through the years as BJJ evolved and techniques were developed. You might recognize the name or the style if you watch MMA fighting as it is a fundamental part of MMA grappling. 

I started BJJ in 2017 after I moved away from my hometown and quit a job that wreaked havoc on my mental state. The choice to start BJJ was more centered around self-defense than learning a martial art. I was living completely on my own for the first time and wanted to feel like I could handle myself. After some googling, I decided to join the local BJJ gym. I don’t think I knew exactly what I was getting into but I’ve learned a lot in the years I’ve been practicing. The pandemic and a move across the country has definitely slowed my progress, but I still practice weekly in a padded area in my home with my husband who also does BJJ. 

One of the first things you’ll learn in BJJ is get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

My first class I realized very quickly I would need to drop the need for comfort. People will be sitting on your chest, twisting your joints into uncomfortable positions and your face will get squashed into some awkward places. Nothing will feel good, unless you have the upperhand and when you start out, that will be pretty rare. Rolling, which is essentially the ‘wrestling’ part of BJJ, is hard, especially when you start. You’ll be gasping for air trying to keep up, your head will be spinning trying to figure out what you are doing.

As someone who is anxious and worried on a regular basis, this was difficult. No one likes being uncomfortable, but I was the type of person who would avoid so many things because I thought it would make me a little uncomfortable. BJJ has shown me that by putting myself out there, getting in uncomfortable situations, I end up learning so much more and leveling up my discomfort tolerance.

This also means dropping the ego.

When you roll with another person, there is a good chance the person you are rolling with is going to be better than you, strong than you, or even just bigger than you. Starting out, you’re probably going to be submitted a lot. For some, this is a huge ego buster. These people will either quit shortly after or ramp up the intensity in order to compensate. Neither of these groups are doing themselves any good. 

Just like anything, you have to suck before you can get better. The quicker we all realize this fact, the easier it is to be submitted. Because then we know that while it’s fun for everything to click and to be able to submit someone else, we have to lose to learn. Without losing, without being uncomfortable we don’t learn anything. It’s so easy to let your ego get in the way of learning something new and difficult, but the quicker you knock it down, the more fun you’ll have.

Sometimes we are stronger than we realize.

Oftentimes, young women are raised to feel helpless or weak. While my parents never actively did this, I was friends with young women who were taught this and therefore picked up those thought patterns. College definitely started the process of breaking those thoughts, but BJJ really showed me I am stronger than I realized. 

BJJ’s main focus is typically physics. Using momentum and angles in order to gain control or submit your opponent. It’s the kind of martial art where smaller people can submit larger people simply through technique. Because of this, I’ve learned that not only do I have more physical strength than I realized, I can handle myself among people bigger than me. I can handle myself in a situation where I could easily panic, but instead have learned to remain calm and quickly analyze my options.

To get to that point, you need to focus on the process, not the results. 

BJJ can be a long and arduous journey. It’s not like other martial arts where you test every so many months or weeks and get awarded a new belt color. Instead, many BJJ schools award their belts as they see fit. It can take years to move from one color to the next, take a decade or more to go from white,the lowest, to black, the highest. And oftentimes, you have no idea where you are in your coach’s eyes as far as progress goes.

Learning to focus on the process of learning BJJ rather than trying to achieve a belt will enhance your experience. You’ll have taken away another aspect of ego from the sport. Frequently people will quit because they can’t measure their progress or they feel they aren’t progressing fast enough to that next belt. This type of focus can mean your progress will stagnate. By only worrying about your next achievement you miss the learning that could be done in that time.

Also, remember that showing up is half the battle of learning something new. Just being there, getting yourself out the door, on the mat or whatever it may be, is the biggest, most important step you can take.

In the end, while I am no expert at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I can say that it has taught me a lot. I encourage you to check out your nearest BJJ gym and see what it can do for you.

Why Self-Help Doesn’t Work

So many of us love self-help. We ravenously consume the latest and greatest, hoping that with every page we read, we will become a better and better person. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably experienced the moment when you realize, “Wait, nothing has changed despite having read all these articles and books”. Now sure, some of you out there will have taken these books and become a better person, which is great. But I can bet that there are many of you out there that have wondered this same thing. 

So what’s happening? Well a few things. Have you ever noticed the content feeling you get after deciding to chase after a goal or how good it feels to make a to-do list for the next day, the decision that tomorrow is the day that everything changes? It feels great! It feels so good to say to yourself this is it, this is the moment that I’m going to be different.

But then you wake up the next day, look at that to-do list and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”. Sometimes we can get started and keep the momentum going through the next day, or maybe even a few days, but for many, the momentum doesn’t carry us very far.

When we read self-help books, they elicit a similar response, we resolve to do better and are inspired to be successful. Many times though, that’s as far as it takes us. What’s happening is a brain response that creates a feeling similar to the one we get when we accomplish something. Essentially, we feel as though we’ve done something and therefore do not need to continue.

What I liken these responses to is a study done by Peter Gollwitzer and colleagues where they examined what happens when we announce our goals and the effect that has on our goal completion ability. 

This study looked at individuals pursuing higher education. The students were given a questionnaire regarding how they felt about their chosen field and their intentions in pursuing this field. There were two groups that answered this questionnaire, one whose intentions were recognized and those whose intentions were ignored. 

The study found that those who had their intentions recognized regarding their field worked less than their ignored counterparts. Those that had been recognized were more likely to end their studying early and feel a sense of completion sooner than the group that had their intentions ignored. Having our goals affirmed by others makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, leading to an internal sense of accomplishment.

I know for myself, I can create this feeling all on my own. Sitting down and reading an inspiring and interesting pop psychology or self-help book honestly makes me feel accomplished. Watching motivational Youtube videos? Yep, same thing. I feel as though I’ve done something, my brain rewards me with a rush of dopamine. All the while, I’ve accomplished nothing. 

This is why it’s easy to get in this self-help, motivational loop. We’re seeking that next hit to make us feel good, make us feel accomplished. We read another book, watch another video, make another list. All the while we’re accomplishing nothing.

What needs to be cultivated is self discipline. Self-help books can provide a framework, but they will not put the work in for you. Sometimes the books we read provide us with really great advice or anecdotal evidence we can take and apply to our own lives. More often than not, we don’t do this. Being able to put into practice all the information we’ve gleaned on how to stop procrastinating or how to save money, would lead to more success than just reading it and hoping it somehow changes your life.

Self-help books won’t help you unless you act on them. We all want a quick fix, a quick change, instant gratification. We are hardwired to find the easiest way to do something. We’re also hardwired to seek out things that make us feel good. Videos, books and articles won’t do the work for you, but they’ll make it feel like you’ve done the work. If you find yourself reading all these motivational, inspirational, how to improve your life books, but you don’t see any change, it’s time to rethink your strategy. Maybe these books actually do nothing for you and that’s fine. Maybe these books could do something for you, if only you put the work in.

Take a step back next time you put on an inspiring video or read an article on how to study better and ask yourself, “What can I take away from this?”. Then work to apply it. See how different things in your life will be once you are able to self-reflect in this way.

Thoughts to New College Students From a Returning Student

When the pandemic first hit the US, it became clear to me that I would need to leave my job due to safety concerns. After a period of time trying to wait things out, I realized this was not going to be over as simply as we initially thought. After a lot of talking, consideration and a promise for financial support from family I decided to go back to school. I had been working as an administrative assistant since I graduated college. I had an academic background in psychology but had decided after graduation that, while I loved the topic of psychology, it was not a field I wanted to pursue directly. On top of that, my degree turned out to be not as lucrative as I imagined it would be.

So I made the decision to pursue a new field and delve into the world of computer science and data science. Now it’s been around six years since I had taken a college level course. Now that I am a year in, I’ve come to realize some things that I didn’t realize my first time around.

Make Your Learning Efficient

As I mentioned above, I love psychology. I love educational and learning psychology especially. And if you know about these areas, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that there are so many opinions and theories on how we as humans learn. I myself do not have a firm opinion on this matter in regards to people as a whole, but I myself know that I learn differently than those around me. 

Generally, my advice would be to quickly learn what is most efficient for you. Now, this is not always possible and may take a lot of experimentation. My own learning style didn’t become apparent until my junior year of college. Be cognisant of how you’re studying and what the result of that studying is. Take notes if this is helpful, because the faster you figure this out, the faster you can start learning efficiently.

For myself, I know to differentiate subjects and how I will need to learn them. For subjects that require me to remember hard facts, rote memorization and space repetition are the way to go. But if I need to understand a concept such as how DNA replicates itself, or how a computer’s memory works, I instead I work on my understanding of the topic. To do this I oftentimes will create flashcards or study notes that have questions and an explanation/answer to the question. My goal then when going through these questions is to make sure that I can explain in my own words what I believe the answer is. I try to combine this method with spaced repetition as well. 

Essentially, finding something that works for you and can be done efficiently is the best route to take. I recommend the book ‘How to Become a Straight A Student’ by Cal Newport. He writes about learning and efficiency which I recommend all students read.

Manage Your Time, Seriously

I probably won’t go on about this topic as much as the last as it is somewhat self-explanatory. Managing your time is so incredibly important and can make a world of difference in your experience. As someone who is doing all online classes, even after the pandemic ends, I am in full control of my own schedule (for the most part). This means that I have to be careful to make sure that I get everything done on time and manage deadlines efficiently. 

I know though that this is not inherent or easy for most people, especially those who have just graduated from high school. You are most likely going from having your days scheduled and planned out by your school, to having so much free time you might not know how to deal with it. It would be easy to spend most of your time hanging out, exploring, partaking in the wonders of the web, and just generally not doing school work. Let’s face it, the last minute college student stereotype is sometimes more common than we’d like to admit.  

Cultivating the self discipline to start projects, readings, and assignments days to weeks before they are due is something that will make your life so much easier as a college student. It’s been so vitally important for me to maintain my schedule and stay on top of assignments. This habit has even helped me get ahead of my work for times when I had other life events happening.

Check out my planners and time blocking sheets on my Etsy shop below to help keep you organized : here

Respect All Around

This one isn’t so much as a practical tip but more something for you the student to remember. Something I realized when I started school again a year ago was how much I didn’t know what to expect my first time around. I went through every class not questioning anything and being too afraid to speak up. Please know that as a student you still deserve quality education and respectful treatment. If something isn’t clear or a link is missing, whatever it may be, please respectfully speak up to your professor. If they aren’t clear in their instructions, ask them nicely to clarify. 

This might be obvious to some, but for me coming from a situation where I was taught to go along with whatever I got, I never thought to speak up or say anything. Now I make sure to communicate my needs to my professors. 

And I want to make it clear, I am not saying you should be confrontational with your professors. Instead, just remember that at this point in your education, you have a voice and that voice is valuable. But do remember that your professors are people as well, who also deserve respect. Know that they are sometimes juggling a lot, just like you, the student. Many professors are doing research, managing a lab, teaching 2-3 courses, grading for those courses, working on projects outside of those stated, all on top of having a life outside of their career. 

I guess what I am trying to convey is that respect should be valued on both sides, remember you have a say in parts of your education. Reach out, question things, and start a conversation.

Overall, your educational career through college will be an evolving experience. For some, it can be easy to let the ‘learning’ part of your college experience just sort of happen. But instead, try and take stock, learn about yourself. Depending on your future goals, be it graduate school or a career, figuring out these things about yourself will be so important in your success. Take control of this process, don’t let this be something that happens to you and instead use it to your advantage.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is the feeling that something you have earned or achieved is more a fluke, by chance or pure luck rather than skill and hard work. You’ve likely experienced this feeling before. For many it will happen in a new job, entering college or within personal relationships. I know I’ve experienced the feeling of starting a new job and wondering why in the world they hired me, that they would soon find out I was not competent for this job.  Many others will experience this in a new relationship, where they fear their new partner will discover who they “really are”, or when a young student starts college and doesn’t feel like they are up to par with their classmates.

Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes first introduced the concept in 1978 as the impostor phenomenon. They examined very high achieving women and their perceptions of their abilities and experiences. These women experienced internal feelings of inability and fraud within the positions they held, even though there was plenty of external evidence to show their achievements and worthiness in those positions. The researchers believed this may have occurred due a variety of different factors including gender stereotypes, culture, and the style to which they attribute causes of events and behaviors.

There’s been a lot of research on impostor syndrome since, which has gone on to investigate additional aspects of the phenomenon. Now it is called the impostor phenomenon because recent research examines this event as an experience or reaction to stimuli and is not considered to be a mental disorder. It is also not recognized by the DSM.

Part of experiencing this phenomenon is the impostor cycle. The first part of this cycle is receiving an achievement-related task. This task will soon follow with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. These feelings will then produce one of two reactions: over-preparation or procrastination.

With procrastination, those experiencing these sensations will put the task off, leading to a last-minute effort to complete the task. While completion of this task will lead to a sense of relief, the nature of its completion will lead the experiencer to ignore positive feedback. Any achievements will be seen as luck or chance and will then be discounted.

When the experiencer over prepares, the individual will attribute their success to their hard work, which is seen as being outside of their personal ability. Instead of viewing their work as an achievement, they will view it as a lack of natural ability. All of this together will create a cycle where every time this occurs, it reinforces the idea that the individual is a fraud.

Impostor phenomenon is shown to equally experienced by men and women, though this is sometimes debated. It is sometimes argued that women experience impostor phenomenon more frequently than men. Men generally experience impostor phenomenon concerning success and the fear of not being good enough, while women experience it with relation to performance ability.

It has also been examined how race and gender play a role together in the experience of the impostor phenomenon. Some studies have shown that women of color tend to experience the impostor phenomenon due to a combination of racism and sexism. Men of color can also experience impostor syndrome, but being a woman of color can mean the individual is more susceptible because of these factors. 

Many of us will experience impostor syndrome at some point in our lives, whether it be in a new relationship, job, or education. There are a few ways to prevent or alleviate these feelings in order to help you realize your potential. The best way is to seek out professional counseling. Many times, this phenomenon is accompanied by feelings of anxiety, depression, and lowered self-esteem. If you are experiencing these feelings, as well as the feeling that you are a fraud in whatever you are pursuing, seeking out help can be one of the best ways to help with these thoughts and feelings.

Another way to reduce feelings of being an impostor is to improve feelings to intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you are motivated by a personal or internal reason. Instead of trying to achieve something for your parents, or to make someone happy, finding reasons you should do something for you can help switch the negative self-talk and turn around self-doubt. Examples may be wanting a career that helps others, or receiving a degree for yourself.

Mentors are also suggested as being helpful. Having someone who has gone through what you are looking to pursue means you will have someone to express any feelings of inadequacy. This person will have most likely experienced these feelings as well and will be able to empathize and provide advice and feedback regarding these feelings.

As stated previously, many of us will most likely experience this phenomenon at some point in our lives. But knowing what the impostor phenomenon is and how it works can help you begin to recognize it in yourself and take action when it becomes too great. Remember that if you are experiencing distress or feelings of depression and anxiety, please seek professional help. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Practical Everyday Self Care

Self-care has become incredibly popular as of late. Recently though, it seems as though self-care has become more of a competition, an aesthetic goal to reach. If you watch videos of people’s self-care night routines, you might have noticed that while they are fun to watch, they seem difficult to execute in the real world. For myself, I find that many of the activities, tips, and tricks that people give for self-care, are not so relaxing or rejuvenating. I don’t particularly like taking baths or spending an hour on skincare when I’m dead tired. And I certainly don’t have the money to be spending on all the aesthetic self-care items that are out there. I found myself thinking, what are some practical habits we can incorporate into our day to have a little more self-care in our lives? These are things that don’t necessarily require money spent or a boatload of extra time in the day. Instead, these are practical little ways to be kinder to yourself on a daily basis.

Create a Daily Meditation Practice

So many people recommend a daily meditation habit, myself included. It’s not just because it’s trendy but because it has so many brain-boosting benefits.  Meditation is used in so many mental health settings because it can transform lives. It is essentially training your brain to become aware of the thoughts that go whizzing through your brain. Many times, in guided meditation you are told to clear your mind, but that’s not the purpose, to have an empty mind. Instead, it’s practicing the ability to recognize the thought and let it go. Instead of chasing every rabbit that runs in front of your mind’s eye, you simply acknowledge it and let it pass. You may get to a point where you can sit in the quietness of your mind.  Meditation takes practice, but once you start getting the hang of it, you will notice changes in your ability to handle your emotions and thoughts. Take five minutes to practice every day, and gradually increase if you have more time.

Journal Frequently

Journaling is a good way to get us thinking about our emotions and the state of our being. Journaling regularly can help you not only reduce stress but also help you work through any problems you might be experiencing. Throughout my life, while I have not always journaled frequently, I found it to be a very cathartic experience. To be able to write down all my thoughts and feels, was a way of helping me process through them and find solutions. Even if I did not find solutions to my problems or feelings, I was able to put them out there and recognize them in a similar way to meditation. I encourage you to do the same. Journaling through all your worry and anxiety can help you gain clarity on what may be causing it and how to deal with it. I also found it helpful to return to previous passages to gain further insight into a problem. Take a bit of time to journal a page or even just half a page. Think of something that has bothered you and put it down on paper. You might even find it a bit liberating to get it out of your mind and onto paper.

Set a Time to Stop Working

Many productivity gurus will recommend this as a way to stave off burnout. I think it’s a great way to be kind to yourself daily. Instead of pushing yourself for hours and hours, taking work home with you, set a time where you are done for the day. No more work, no more stress. Continuous work won’t produce better work. I understand if you have many things on your plate that you need to get done but please do be kind and give yourself a little freedom. Otherwise, burnout will appear on the horizon sooner than you’d like. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day either since many of us have many different obligations at different times. But when you do set a time, be firm with yourself, and stop when it’s time to stop. If you wait until you are burnt out to give yourself some breathing room, it’s too late. You will be taking time to deal with mental exhaustion and health as well as physical symptoms before you can relax. Try different times of the day. Even if it is only an hour before bed, take a bit of time to step away and take care of yourself.

Develop hobbies you thoroughly enjoy

Finding a hobby you truly enjoy is another fantastic way to care for your mind. I know for myself when I am working on a hobby project, it gives me something to look forward to at the end of the day. I love being creative and working with my hands so when I get the chance at the end of a long day, I find it to be incredibly relaxing and fulfilling. It can feel especially good when our hobby is something we are passionate about, but may not be able to pursue full time. So many are in stressful jobs that they do not want. Having something you can pursue on the side is worth exploring. Burning yourself out on a job you hate is an awful experience for anyone. Take some time and explore. Maybe when you stop working for the day at your set time, as suggested previously, you can take some time and learn to draw or knit or play guitar. Even the exploration of hobbies can be exciting and fulfilling.

Dedicate One Day a Week

I like to dedicate my Saturdays (or whichever day works best), to a day where I don’t have to do anything at all if I don’t want to. Generally, I do end up working on something, but there are some days where I just need the time to recharge. Now, it’s completely understandable if this is near impossible for you. Many of us have so much going on that we simply can’t sacrifice a whole day. I encourage you to try and pick a half-day if you can. Or if neither of those is possible, go back to my previous tip of setting aside time every night to be done. Maybe set aside a day once every two weeks. Many times, we feel lazy about those days we end up doing nothing, but they can be incredibly restorative. You can still work on things on these days, but make sure they are not work-related, or at least very lightly work-related. Do not trick yourself into thinking you want to get work done when in fact you merely feel obligated to get work done. Take this time to get some errands done or clean your house. Whatever you do, take this dedicated time to unplug your brain from work or other stresses.

Practice Being Easy On Yourself

Monitoring your self-talk is a simple, yet effective way to practice self-care all day long. The best way to start this is to start taking notes or journaling when you find yourself becoming stressed. If you set out to track this, it’ll become more cognizant for you and you’ll start noticing patterns in your thinking. Once you start noticing your thought patterns, you can start correcting them. Often, we don’t notice that we are having negative thoughts or destructive self-talk when something stressful is happening. If this is the case with you, as it was with me, take some time to think back on your day and evaluate either your overall thoughts for the day or a particularly stressful situation. Why was it stressful? Were you thinking anything in particular? Why were you thinking of those particular things? Simply taking time to reflect on your thoughts can be incredibly helpful for breaking down where your thoughts and feelings turn sour. You can incorporate charting your thoughts into your daily journaling habit as well.

Tough Love Self Care

We all put things off to some degree. Usually, because something about doing that one thing scares us. We don’t want to tackle the mounting dishes in the sink because it seems daunting. We don’t want to confront our bills because we don’t know if we have the money. While these tasks seem like insurmountable mountains, getting them done can be some of the most gratifying self-care out there in my opinion. I call it tough-love self-care because we often do not want to do these tasks and find them stressful. But in fact, it’s one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves, including our future selves. When we take care of those scary things, we are reducing the worry and stress that keeps mounting when we put them off. Instead of letting those things build bigger and bigger, tackle them head-on. This will take that stress off of you, making one aspect of your life that much easier. Think of your future self and what kind of things you can do for them. Prep all your meals for the week so that future you don’t have to stress about finding healthy lunches during the week. Organize your closet so future you does not have to stress about finding outfits for work.

I hope this list of practical self-care tips will inspire you to find simple and effective ways to be kinder to yourself. If you are experiencing burnout, anxiety, depression or anything else, please make sure to talk to a professional.

Let me know if you have any simple ways you take care of yourself and keep burnout at bay. I’d love to hear.

What is the Spotlight Effect?

We’ve all had the experience doing something embarrassing in public and immediately thinking that everyone saw that embarrassing thing. You trip and fall in a store and suddenly it feels the world is watching you. Negative thoughts rush through your head as you bolt away. “That was so stupid!” “Everyone saw me and is laughing at me!” “I hope no one caught that on video, I looked like a clutz!”

 In reality, most people don’t even notice the things that you do, even when those things are embarrassing. But why do we feel this way then? Why does it seem as though you can feel everyone’s eyes on you?

This is the spotlight effect. The spotlight effect is a psychological term used to describe the sensation of being noticed more than you really are. While it was first coined by Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky, this idea was not entirely new. Many before them had researched similar topics. In one of their early studies, The Spotlight Effect in Social Judgement: An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance, participants were asked to either wear a flattering t-shirt or one with a potentially embarrassing image on it to a college lecture. The students who wore the potentially embarrassing t-shirt greatly overestimated the number of people who noticed their shirt.

This is similar to an experience that most people have where they drop food on their clothes and now, they must walk around with a food splotch on their shirt all day. We tend to overestimate how much others notice about us. Most people won’t even notice the stain on your shirt. Other people are so focused on themselves that they don’t spend the time picking through your every word and move.

Other factors play into the spotlight effect, such as the idea that we see our perceptions of the world to be unbiased and correct. Through our thoughts, feelings, and experiences, we often wrongly evaluate the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of others. We are the centers of our worlds, causing us to place our worldview onto others. Our embarrassing moment is so big to us we assume it must be big to others. But if you boil that down, you’ll realize that since you are the center of your world, everyone else is the center of their world, meaning they don’t see your mistakes. Unfortunately, the spotlight effect can manifest into other problems such as social anxiety.

How do we combat this? The simplest way is to acknowledge it. Know that while it may seem like everyone is stopping to snicker at you after you fell in front of that crowd., the majority of the crowd has all but forgotten your trip up moments after it happens. Recognize in yourself how often you focus inwards rather than outwards when it comes to others. This will help endorse the idea that many others feel the same way as you and don’t see your every move. Do you remember that one time Bob tripped up the stairs? Or when Alice had BBQ sauce on her shirt? Probably not and maybe you didn’t even notice. Remember this when you are hard on yourself and experiencing the spotlight effect.

Another mindset change I find helpful is telling myself that those who hone in on anything embarrassing you do, say or wear aren’t exactly people I should be concerned with. The idea is that those who focus on the negatives of others, looking for something wrong, are people whose opinions don’t matter as much to me. It has helped me develop a more care-free attitude regarding mistakes and choices I might make. When I first started going to the gym and running outside, I told myself this often and still do.

Mindset changes can be very difficult, but with persistent positive self-talk and internal introspection, you can overcome something like the spotlight effect. If you find that you have a difficult time with social anxiety or the spotlight effect, I highly encourage you to reach out to a professional to discuss this further. They can be immensely helpful when we need direction.