Under The Spotlight

Most of us tend to worry about what other people think of us. We are naturally egocentric and we are the centre of our own universe so we do concern ourselves with the thoughts and opinions of others.

It can be debilitating too and stop us from doing things we could actually enjoy and excel at. This can “contribute to social anxiety and gnawing regrets of inaction” which is never a good thing.

There are some who say they “couldn’t care less what others think of me” but deep down that’s just not true.  We are all focused on ourselves.

But are people even looking at what we get up to? Do we simply imagine that we are attracting a lot of interest when actually no one gives a stuff?

Teachers are high profile people in their communities and what they get up to doesn’t go unnoticed. And for good reasons. We don’t want poorly behaved teachers who behave without integrity. We are always on show and so what we do matters.

But do we worry about what our colleagues think of us?

We are assessed and appraised pretty much all of the time, formally and informally. Everyone we come into contact with makes a judgement and people will be watching and forming opinions about us even when we aren’t aware. Don’t get paranoid but yes, people will be spying on us from the staffroom window.

But it can go to our heads sometimes and we might tend to get a bit too bogged down in what other people think of us. We can be overly anxious of our own appearance and actions, and we have trouble recognising other people might not be as focused on us.

Gilovich et al (2000) called this the ‘spotlight effect‘ and said that “the social spotlight has less wattage” than we believe and so isn’t shining on us as much as we think it is. Their research found that many of our fears are misplaced and exaggerated and others are less likely to notice or remember our shortcomings or gaffes than we might expect.

The lesson of this research, then, is that we mightall have fewer regrets if we properly understood how much attention – or inattention – our actions actually draw from others. We
might take a modest step toward more fulfilling lives, in other words, if we took stock of a few of Abraham Lincoln’s more memorable words and understood that “people will little note, nor long remember” what we say or do.

Why does this matter? It matters because we need to remind students that life is for living and that having a go is important. Who cares if something doesn’t work out or we make a mistake, people care less than we think and they aren’t staring at us giggling. All eyes on me? Far from it.

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