You can’t see me — The Spotlight Effect – Sherry Lin, CTE Co-op Student

spotlightThinking back to before I can remember, my peers and educators have identified me as a shy and quiet individual: slightly inadequate in class participation, but excelling with regard to listening skills. After acknowledging this about myself and given time to reflect, I have since been challenging myself to become more outspoken and pushing to leave my anxiety-neutral condition — to step outside of my comfort zone.

Just last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to sit in on and participate in the CTE Fundamentals of University Teaching workshop “Teaching with Confidence”, facilitated by Angela Nyhout. Participants were able to reflect on aspects they were less confident about in their teaching methods, and discuss why this may be so. One of the most relatable and interesting concepts I took away from this workshop was the social psychological aspect of confidence.

I believe we have all felt it at some point in time: the feeling we’ve coined as ‘butterflies in our stomachs’. The psyche holds much more power than we think, and this reflects in our actions; it could be in the form of an uncharacteristic stutter, quivering of the voice, or an uncontrollable tremor of the hands. These behaviours are a result of what we call “The Spotlight Effect.”

The Spotlight Effect phenomenon refers to the tendency to overestimate the attention you are receiving from the audience you are interacting with. One is left with the constant awareness brought on by a glaring forehead zit, or the paranoia about whether or not there are pieces of spinach stuck in between the teeth. Were your hands too clammy when you shook the ones of your future employer? What about the possibility of a mustard stain on your shirt, when giving an important speech in a sea of attentive eyes? If we take a moment to think about it, each and every one of us can probably recall a situation where self-consciousness took over and the impulse to fold into yourself and self-destruct, or run away, arose.

Speaking to a few participants in the workshop, I realized anxiety and self-consciousness is a trait we all hold – it’s just that some people have it to a greater extent than others. Regardless of whether you are far skewed on the extrovert side of the scale, or a shy and introverted individual, feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness are universal, and do tend to occur now and again. I also learned that, to my dismay, anxiety will likely follow me to postgraduate studies and beyond. Fortunately, through taking this workshop, I have discovered ways to combat this predicament. The key, as I had always known but had trouble acknowledging, is practice and experience. More practice will provide one with more experience. By accumulating more experience, confidence will naturally be boosted through familiarity and routine. Other tips and tricks include eating something small or chewing a piece of gum. This will trick the mind into thinking that if one is eating, there is no imminent danger. Without the threat of danger, it will rid the mind of the “fight or flight” adrenaline response that may kick in.

Narcissistically speaking, we are the centres of our own universes and therefore we are apprehensive of judgment from others. Unfortunately, we are also our own worst critics. In the clashing of these two fates, we tend to beleaguer ourselves regarding our letdowns, and overlook or make light of our achievements. We subconsciously believe that the only way to feel accomplished, that we did a job well, is to please everybody. I think something we often forget is that we spend so much time worrying about ourselves that we do not have time to worry about others. The figurative double-edged sword runs both ways, in that others likely do not find the time to worry about you. Thus, it turns full circle. You can’t see me; so I can be confident, because there is nothing to worry about.

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