Overcome the spotlight effect to exercise outside with confidence.
Anyone with social anxiety can tell you that exercising outside is not always a walk in the park, so to speak. Namely because there are other people outside and your every move is on display. It may seem as if all eyes are on you, waiting to watch you trip or gawking at how much you sweat. Concerns like these about how others perceive us can become so overwhelming that we may forgo the workout entirely.
Skipping a workout is a sacrifice you shouldn’t have to make. Instead, it helps to keep in mind that everyone feels watched, to an extent, due to a psychological phenomenon called “the spotlight effect.”
What is the spotlight effect?
Social psychologists describe the spotlight effect as the tendency to overestimate how closely others watch us. Everyone does this. We imagine we are always in the spotlight, every mistake we make illuminated for all to see.
The spotlight effect can be debilitating for people with social anxiety. We are all extremely preoccupied with ourselves, which misleads us to believe that everyone else is equally as focused on us. They are not. They are thinking about themselves, too. Understanding how the spotlight effect shapes our nervousness helps alleviate the pressure, but social anxiety is pervasive. Even when you realize that anxious thoughts are irrational, that doesn’t make them go away.
The spotlight effect and the illusion of transparency:
In order to cope with the spotlight effect, it helps to understand the “illusion of transparency.” Another pesky tendency of the self-consumed mind, the illusion of transparency refers to the misguided belief that our internal thoughts and feelings are visible to those around us.
The illusion of transparency works in tandem with the spotlight effect to make us feel anxious. For example, if you stumble while running and silently shame yourself for looking silly, you may assume everyone else is judging you as harshly. In reality, it’s much more likely they are focused on their own behaviors.
Conquering the spotlight effect:
The best way to overcome the spotlight effect is by looking around. If you feel anxious about others watching you, survey your surroundings to see if anyone actually is. Sure, people may glance in your direction, but then they will probably go right back to whatever they were doing.
Looking around redirects your attention outward, rather than focusing inward and aggravating your anxiety. You will notice that everyone is focused on themselves, not on you. This should hopefully bring you peace of mind, allowing you to enjoy your workout uninhibited. You may also try putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Keep in mind how different someone else’s perspective is from your own. This tactic will get you out of your own head and is an excellent way to practice empathy.
If you do catch someone looking at you, consider that maybe they are anxious too. Perhaps they are watching you, wondering if you are watching them.