What are cognitive biases?

Way back in the 1970’s, Psychologists Tversky and Kahneman coined the term ‘cognitive bias’ to describe people’s systematic, but purportedly flawed patterns of responses to everyday judgement and decision making, and there are many of these cognitive biases.

Cognitive biases are an inherent part of how we think and how we see and interact with the social world around us, and many of them are unconscious.

You may not even be aware of them, and/or feel that you have any control over them, because they are such strong and dominant preconceived notions of the world around us.

They effectively become cognitive shortcuts in our brains, quickly making sense of what it is seeing, but the thing with cognitive biases is that they distort our thinking which can lead us to making connections between things or events or situations that aren’t necessarily true.

The spotlight effect

Ever feel like you are constantly in the spotlight, with everyone watching your every move and making judgements about you. Seeing your flaws, weaknesses and vulnerabilities and making assumptions about your failures or your inability to cope, anticipating your at any point ‘falling down’ moment?

Well you are not alone.

This is all related to the ‘spotlight effect’ – a cognitive bias linked to how other people see us, meaning we often overestimate how much other people notice about us – it can feel like everyone is watching our every move and making judgements about us, a lot, or a little of the time.

It can make you feel like you are constantly on display, and when we feel like we are being judged or under surveillance, we’re more likely to try and mask how we really feel, especially if we come from a place of wanting to please others as a form of self-validation.

That somehow, if we can prove to others that we are OK, then maybe everything will be OK, or indeed is OK.

But the fundamental flaw with the mask approach, is that it’s an exhausting way to operate and function.

Always ‘being on’ and masking how you really feel means containment – keeping a lid on emotions and feelings.

  • It means never really putting your needs first.
  • It can mean feeling unable to say ‘No’ to all the extra plates you are being handed to spin.
  • It can also mean that the emotional load just keeps getting bigger, and the reality is that we all have a tipping point.
  • It reinforces the negative core belief eco-system that you believe to be true about yourself.

How to reduce the spotlight effect

One of the ways to reduce the spotlight effect is to use a self-distancing technique, what this does is it helps to reduce the egocentric bias that promotes the spotlight effect in the first place, and here are 5 ways you can do that:

1. It’s not all about you

Think about this rationally for a moment…

How much time do you spend putting other people in the spotlight? In a world full of 7 billion+ people how much headspace and time do you actually have to scrutinise and put others under surveillance?

People are busy with their own lives, and have their own struggles, challenges and hang ups, so much so that they are not focused on yours.

2. Everyone else doesn’t have it all together

Now I know that social media *might* make it appear this way, but what you are seeing (and this is where some of the cognitive distortion comes in) is a snap shot of a world that people want you to see.

The truth is we ALL have our own struggles, and pain points, and curveballs to contend with.

You are not alone. Other people are also hanging on by a thread and trying to show the world that they are OK, when really they are not.

3. Switch off the spotlight

I want you to take some control here and turn off the spotlight that you feel is on you. Visualise yourself doing that, in whatever situation you find yourself feeling under the spotlight.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the power or permission to follow you round with a spotlight. It’s an invasion of your privacy, so take that power back.

4. Refocus the spotlight

Shine the spotlight instead on people, or the things that bring some much needed light into your life. The people who don’t judge. The ones you don’t have to wear a mask with. The people or the things you feel you can be your true self with.

Pro-actively welcome that light and energy in, because that’s the good stuff.

We all need more of that.

5. Stand on someone else’s mountain top

When thinking about how other people see you, look at yourself from a perspective that is different from your own.

Visualise standing on someone else’s mountain top.

What do you see from a distance?

How much of what you *think* others can see about you can they actually see from a mountain top on a range at the opposite side of the world?

These all create a sense of psychological self-distancing.




Back to my blog