Self-Conscious And Loving It!

Finding Yourself Out the Front of Your Life

Recently I asked a friend for feedback on an aspect of my behaviour. I badgered her. She deflected. I badgered again. She gave in and chose her words with care. And horror of horrors I did not like what I heard. I reckon I did a pretty good job of appearing nonchalant. On the inside however I was reeling. Rapidly re-evaluating my entire life from this new perspective, I shifted from disbelief, anger, denial and sadness in 30 seconds. Then I stuffed myself with cheese and crackers.

What I noticed over the next few weeks was how self-conscious I felt. I wondered if everyone I’d ever met saw this flaw and judged me accordingly. Ha! I thought. This explains a lot. I suspected I had a problem. Here is the proof!

The problem gained epic proportion while I shrunk and fell through a hole in the floor.

Not So Special

Feeling self-conscious is being aware of yourself, as yourself. It’s a good thing. Means you are alive and you have the conscious awareness to know it! Self-consciousness allows you to perceive your similarity and difference to everyone else.

So yes, you are special and no, you are not so special. We all have an inner tension between wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out from the crowd. You see this tension played out on social media. And sometimes you feel it first hand when you are up there speaking in public. You up there, them down there.

I’ve briefly defined self-consciousness. But what about how it feels? The pain, the loneliness, the rejection? The dredging of all that old stuff you thought you’d successfully buried? And bugger it but there it all is, back on public display, reflected in the pitying eyes of your listeners.

But is it pity? Or is it relief that it’s you, not them, up there? Could it be admiration, that you are doing something they could not? Or, might they be thinking about dinner, and not you at all?

Safety Versus Risk

When you speak in front of others you do stand out from the crowd. And there is risk in being rejected for standing out. Finding your peace and place within this balance is the mysterious realm in which I work with my clients.

When you speak to a group, you visibly and energetically set yourself apart from the herd. Speaking up requires courage. The courage to show yourself to others. When people listen to you speak, they want to hear, you. Not a perfect cardboard cut-out. Not a series of excuses. You.

Embrace Wabi-Sabi

I love the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. It means “beauty is in the imperfection.” Doncha reckon there’s our Permission Card right there? Flaws are beautiful! Ergo, we are all beautiful! There is nothing more boring than perfection.

People relate to flaws, not to perfection. We love to witness transformation; it gives us the courage to pursue our own. We watch people take risks, stick their heads above the parapet and wait with baited breath – will they rise to the challenge? And what can we learn from their mistakes and successes?

Self-consciousness is our opportunity to mature, learn, expand. It’s OK to be fearful, but not OK to stay stuck forever, clinging to an outdated notion of how you wanted things to be.

The Spotlight Effect

Positive Psychology describes the Spotlight Effect as the belief that others are always looking and judging us. As if we are the centre of their universe… because we are the centre of ours. Feeling self-conscious blossoms with such fertile imaginings. You can read more in my related Blog article “The Spotlight Effect is On You.” The Spotlight Effect clues us in as to how to love the opportunity of feeling self-conscious by learning from it, rather than shrink with fear and shame.

The Self-Conscious Seagull Flies Again

When I crawled off to lick my wounds, I really invested in feeling sorry for myself. I could be my own 10-part mini-series. Pride. Drama. Pain. And finally, seeing myself on A Hero’s Journey, triumphing over the perils of self-consciousness to emerge an older, wiser and infinitely more attractive human.

This could go on and on or we could cut to the chase with a story that doesn’t involve so much gut wrenching drama. Or copious cheese and crackers.

I emerged from my hole after a few weeks and realised:

  • Much of what my friend said is true. I needed a hefty dollop of self-acceptance for my quirky behaviours. They can’t really be changed. And they make me unique. I like unique.
  • If you ask for feedback, you have to be prepared to hear it. Suck it up princess!
  • Good old Gratitude… works every time to appreciate what I’ve got, rather than what I haven’t.

A Work In Progress

Am I going to divulge my friend’s feedback to you since you’ve so patiently read to the end of this article?

No way!

Just because you share a personal story doesn’t mean you have to strip your soul bare. You don’t have to expose everything. Just the bits you are ready to.

When it’s your turn to be out the front, whether for 5 minutes or for 5 days, breathe in and connect to your purpose in making a difference when you speak. We really are Works in Progress. And I know I’m not alone in wanting to hear and see the real you. To admire your unique beauty, imperfections, quirks and all.

(c) 2018, Geraldine Barkworth, All Rights Reserved.

The Spotlight Effect On You

No One Notices Your Bad Hair Day

It’s true! According to social psychologists, the Spotlight Effect is the tendency for people to believe that others pay more attention to us than they really do. Simply put, the Spotlight Effect occurs because we are egocentrically the centre of our own universe. And because we think we are fascinating, we assume, we must be fascinating to everyone else! However, everyone else is terribly busy being the centre of their own universe, so really, no one notices your bad hair day.

Quick Quiz

  • If you trip and fall, do you quickly look around to see if anyone has noticed?
  • If your shirt has a small stain, do you find yourself covering it up with your bag?
  • If you say something brilliant at a meeting and no one else comments on it, do you find yourself getting annoyed or doubting the validity of your contribution?

How did you go? If you answer any more than one “yes”, you are NORMAL. These everyday examples of the Spotlight Effect, affect all of us, some of the time.

Legends In Our Own Mind
Spotlights magnify and enlarge and what is under that lens appears… bigger. So big, that we are sure others will be able to see us in all our glory, good and bad.

People generally overestimate their impact on others. I see this often with clients who assume that everyone in the group or audience has superhuman powers of perception and can see how nervous / incompetent / unprepared / a fraud they really are. Not so.

Groups Not So Scary
Interestingly, when people are members of a group their attention is split between themselves as an individual and that of the whole group. Ever spoken up in a group and felt “ignored”? Or felt the pressure of “so many eyes” that your every move will be scrutinised? Again, not so. At least 50% of the group’s attention at any one time is focussed on the whole group, not on you. It’s not that your contribution isn’t valued, it’s that there are so many contributions for group members to focus on. You just can’t have all the attention all the time.

Nervous About Looking Nervous
Research has found that an audience does not notice you are nervous as much as you imagine. You are often the only one who knows. People routinely overestimate that their internal states (feelings and thoughts) are leaking out and that others can see. They become nervous about looking nervous and that others will think less of them.

It’s a bit like worrying about not falling asleep. The worry increases adrenaline, activates the stress response and you have trouble falling asleep. When people worry about public speaking nerves, adrenaline courses through, the stress response activates, generating sensations of fast beating heart, shortness of breath, constricted throat, feelings of panic, trembling limbs, shaky voice and so on. The fear of social judgement flags potential embarrassment, magnifying the Spotlight Effect to make speaking in public a bigger deal than it needs to be.

Your brain is plastic, which means that anything you have learned in the past can be unlearned. If fear is getting in the way of you achieving your potential, this article “Overcoming Your Fear” by Verity Chadwick at Neuronation explains how you can learn how to change it by changing your brain.

Give Yourself A Reality Check

1. Transfer your attention away from yourself to others. Remind yourself that the Spotlight Effect works both ways. You are not the centre of their universe; they are! Remember that in a group, everyone’s attention is split, so you will be doing well if you receive even 50% of their attention.

2. Shift and broaden your perspective by asking yourself: will I remember this moment in 5 years, 20 years, or at the birth of my first grandchild? And, will this audience group remember my presentation in 5 years, 20 years or at the birth of their first grandchild? I think you know the answer.

3. Listen and watch body language from your audience group when it’s feedback time. If someone says: “That was really good” and smiles warmly at you…. well, believe it. Notice if you habitually ignore positive feedback and focus on “the awful experience.” When we focus on the fear inside, we miss the valuable, character building, good stuff on the outside.

You Can Choose To Ignore The Spotlight Effect On You

Consistently speakers rate themselves as more nervous than what their listeners would rate them. Next time, why don’t you choose to listen to your listeners first, rather than the grandiose, fear-mongering, exaggerations generated by your personal Spotlight Effect?

© 2015, Geraldine Barkworth, public speaking coach. This article or review is the author’s opinion only.