All posts by Tom Carroll

Spotlight effect

Our mind can either be our best friend or our worst enemy, depending on how we use it. When we develop an awareness of our potential blind spots we will be better able to navigate through life without our mind playing tricks on us.  Life is a Laboratory is dedicated to helping readers make the most of their lives and psychological blind spots can distract or derail us from our goals.  Therefore an understanding of the various psychological blind spots is important.  The first of these I want to discuss is the Spotlight Effect.

All people, but especially those with social anxiety, are very focused on themselves. We are very aware of ourselves, our actions and our appearance and believe everyone else is just as aware.

The “spotlight effect” refers to the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they do.  Research by Thomas Gilovich (Professor of Psychology at Cornell University) and colleagues (2000) gave the spotlight effect it’s name.  So why do we think everyone’s paying attention to us? Gilovich and colleagues suggest its because we are so focused on ourselves. We are acutely aware of our own appearance and actions, and we have trouble realising other people might not be as focused on us.

The essential point: No need to blush and hide the next time you embarrass yourself since you are probably the only person who was really paying attention to your mishap. But you also have to give people a break when they don’t notice your new dress or compliment you on that really smart comment you made during a meeting. They aren’t paying as close of attention to your appearance and actions as you are because they are too busy paying attention to themselves!

Is your ladder leaning against the right wall?

“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

― Stephen R. Covey

Some of our goals in life are big and may take several years to complete.  But what happens when you reach your goal and then you realise ‘So What’?   Is this what I have been chasing all the time?  Is this what I have sacrificed so much for?  You realise that you were chasing the wrong goal all along.  Perhaps it’s the new job or promotion that you struggled for.  Perhaps it’s the course you struggled with for years.

Looking back at some of the things I have done in my life such as my doctorate (PhD) which took me 6 years to complete I think ‘So What’!  Was it really worth all the effort, the money and the struggle?  At this stage I can say probably not.  I don’t really want to be an academic.  I visualised myself completing the PhD but I had no vision for myself post PhD as an academic.  We can pursue big goals that really are not worth it when we look back.  We can realise in hindsight that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall and we made a bad decision. I wrote about what I learned from my PhD journey in a book.  The lessons I learned are wider than just about doing a PhD.  I struggled with to quit or not to quit and wrote about that struggle and what I learned from it.  The journey towards the PhD was much more important than the end result for me.  I learned a lot along the way and the struggle has changed me for the better.  However I want a goal where both the journey and the end result are both worth it. 

Make sure that the goals you are working on are the right goals for you.  Take the time for adequate reflection.  Reflection is not a waste of time.  Make space in your busy calendar for time out to think and reflect deeply and adjust.    Don’t feel guilty about taking time out to think.  Don’t be  a busy fool. The action research model is useful:  Plan – Act – Observe – Reflect.  This cycle repeats in an endless loop.  Reflection leads to new and better plans. What we are aiming for is a virtuous circle of improvement.  If things are off track make adjustments as you go along.  If you find that you are pursuing the wrong goal and need to change direction completely  then being able to walk away is key.  That is a hard one and takes courage.  We can think to ourselves ‘I have invested so much time and money in this that I must finish’.  However in economics and business decision-making, a sunk cost is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.  Don’t be trapped buy sunk costs as they cannot be recovered.  Cut your losses and move on!  If something is not for you and you are certain of it then don’t be afraid to walk away.  Another barrier to dropping a bad goal and replacing it with a better goal is that perseverance and grit is a prized quality in our society.  We can falsely tell ourselves that we are losers when we quit something.  However if we persevere at accomplishing the wrong things this will have detrimental effects on our health and well-being.  When you replace the ongoing stress and frustration of one goal that you know is wrong for you with a new one that excites, inspires, and motivates you then quitting becomes not an end, but the beginning of a whole new experience.

If you are struggling with a tough decision or uncertainty about whether to continue pursuing a goal then I am here to help you clarity the right direction to take.  Please get in touch: tcarroll@lifeisalaboratory.com and we can schedule a Free Skype call.  I look forward to supporting you 🙂 Tom.