In life we go through an interesting slow change as we get older…
We start getting a little more afraid of failure.
It’s not true for everyone, but it seems to be true for many people. I don’t know when it happens exactly. I can see it starting to creep into my life and I’m trying to fight it off.
But if you flip things around and think about how you look at others you realize that people don’t really pay attention to every little detail about other people’s lives.
The Spotlight Effect
Okay, it’s just one interesting study, but it’s pretty insightful for this topic.
Here is an excerpt from the study:
Participants were asked to sit down with a room of 20 strangers wearing an embarrassing Barry Manilow t-shirt. Later the person with the shirt on is taken to another room and asked to guess how many other people noticed who was on the t-shirt. At the same time the 20 strangers are asked to guess who was on the t-shirt. T-shirt wearers thought many more strangers would know it was Barry Manilow than actually did.
Wearing a Barry Manilow shirt would usually be very embarrassing for the person wearing it. But other people really don’t care at all. They might register a quick, What the heck?, but that’s about it. They just don’t really care.
This whole thing is called The Spotlight Effect.
We think the spotlight is on us at all times. We spend time making sure our hair is right, our clothes are right, we smell good, etc. And we also try to make sure that we’re not doing anything embarrassing and that includes embarrassing things in life.
But others think the same way (for the most part). The reason they don’t care much about what you or I do is because they’re too busy thinking that we’re thinking about everything they’re doing all the time.
The Good And The Bad
I’m not really sure what the evolutionary reason is for The Spotlight Effect. There is some evidence that when we feel we’re being observed that we do better things in life. One famous study found that students in school cafeterias acted better simply when the school put up posters of people making it feel to the students as if they were being watched.
So maybe the reason we think others care about us and are watching us is to kind of force ourselves to make better decisions. Maybe we don’t really trust ourselves to be ethical all the time without someone else watching us.
Recently we looked at how you can avoid falling into the trap of dirty business tactics. I think that’s very important. If you have to put a poster up in your office to help you when you’re making important decisions then go ahead and do it.
That reminds me of something quick. One of my favorite TV shows was King Of The Hill. Hank Hill had high character. He rarely did the wrong thing. He had a poster in his garage of Tom Landry, the famous coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe that poster made Hank feel that he was being watched so he would act morally.
But is it all good when you’re acting as if others are watching?
In business, it’s necessary sometimes to listen to your gut. It’s important to use your experience and to sometimes go against the grain when you think it’s the right thing to do even if you think others will scoff and ridicule you.
This happens all the time in the NFL on some teams.
I’m a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Ted Thompson is the general manager of the team. He always seems to do his own thing without regard for how the fans feel about it.
When an important player at an important position gets injured the fans will immediately wait for Ted to bring in an available veteran to replace him. But Ted will almost always bring in a rookie or young player as a replacement. It drives fans nuts.
The same thing happens in the spring during free agency. Teams can’t afford to keep all their good players so some players leave in free agency. Some teams also bring in high-priced free agents from other teams.
Ted lets some players walk. He rarely, rarely signs free agents from other teams. Packers fans go nuts every spring.
But Ted keeps doing what he’s doing. He doesn’t seem to care what others think. And that has served him sell. The Packers have been one of the most successful teams during Ted’s tenure.
The Final Lesson
The whole key to this thing is that you have to do what you feel is right even if you think others won’t agree. And the reality is that other people don’t really care that much about your life. We all care about our own lives. We’re busy thinking about ourselves and don’t really give much energy to what others are doing. Maybe we do for a few moments during the day, but that’s about it.
Know that fact should help in making decisions. That should make it easier to go against the grain when you think it’s the right thing to do because even if you fail, others won’t really care at all. You might let yourself down, but that’s the only thing to be afraid of. Others don’t really care if you fail. They’re too worried about failing themselves to care about your failures.