The Cure for Self-Consciousness
How to Free Yourself from the Glare
1. Double everything.
Just knowing that the spotlight effect is real and ubiquitous can begin to liberate us from its inhibiting clutches. I find it very comforting to have an actual number associated with my shame-based illusions: Spotlight effect studies suggest that people typically pay about 50 percent as much attention to me as I think they are. The first time I actually stood under a spotlight, in a high school play, the director told me, "Small gestures look embarrassed, so they're embarrassing. If you're going to do something, and you don't want to look foolish, do it BIG." Now, thanks to Gilovich, Medvec and Savitsky, I know how big to make my actions—about twice as big as I think they should be.
I've been experimenting with this in many different circumstances: raising both my hands, instead of one, to ask a question of a lecturer I much admire; pausing twice as long for dramatic effect while telling a story to some friends; eating two servings of a fabulous dessert at a literary club luncheon. The result? I do seem to have attracted more attention, but rather than the disapproving judgment I expected, most people seem to feel pleased and liberated, made safer in their own skin by my willingness to live large in mine.
I believe this reaction is a major reason a lovely lady from Hawaii named Brook Lee once won the Miss Universe pageant. When asked what she'd do if she had no rules to follow, she replied, "I would eat everything in the whole world—twice!" That one word—"twice!"—struck a chord with me, the audience and the judges, landing Ms. Lee squarely beneath the spotlight she actually wanted. Why not join her by doubling the social behaviors you usually limit: the energy with which you communicate, the intensity of the colors you wear, the number of times you laugh, the clarity of the opinions you voice. You may think this will attract massive disapproval from others. Actually, you'll be lucky to attract more than a passing glance, and my experience (not to mention Ms. Lee's) suggests it will be more approving than not.