All Eyes On Me: The Art of the Spotlight Effect

A couple months ago I did a really ‘strange’ thing — I went to a concert by myself. How it came about was simple really: I wanted to go to a show and couldn’t find someone to go with. I suffered the internal battle of deciding whether I just forego it or go and risk being embarrassed that people would think I was by myself.

I chose the latter.

Since then I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s so taboo to do things by yourself. In the past I thought that if I couldn’t find someone to go with to a show, movie, event, or even dinner, that meant that I couldn’t go. I think it’s safe to say that most people have that mindset, which is really unfortunate. The short and sweet answer is that people think others will think they’re a loser or that they have no friends or companions if they’re alone.

This is called the spotlight effect. It’s the tendency to think that people are noticing something about you waaaaay more than they actually are.

With that said, my main points of self-consciousness the night I went out alone were as follows:

a) I would run into someone I knew
b) I would be standing awkwardly by myself waiting for the show to start
c) People would notice I was alone

Naturally we think about ourselves a lot, which in turn makes us think that everyone else is thinking about us a lot too — which they aren’t. You know when you have a stain on your shirt or zit on your face, and you bring it up to your friend and they say they didn’t even notice? They’re probably not lying. The spotlight effect is entirely true. No one gave a shit that I was by myself and fairly quickly I didn’t either.

Being wary of doing things alone isn’t always about being self-conscious either. Some people might not feel embarrassed about being alone, but genuinely believe that they won’t have as much fun compared to being with others. This is totally valid, however a recent study proves that most people will report that they have the exact same amount of fun doing an activity whether they’re alone or not. Just saying. 

My biggest takeaway was this: when you have a preconceived notion that something is going to be completely different or worse because you’re not in your comfort zone, you’re probably wrong. It’s usually better. In my case, I got to go to the concert as early as I wanted, leave when I wanted, no one talked to me through my favourite songs, I could go as close to the stage as I wanted, and I could move around as much as I wanted. You’d never believe it, but it’s significantly easier to push through the crowd to get a good view when you aren’t linked to three or four of your closest friends. Who’d a thunk it?

Don’t get me wrong, 99% of the time I wouldn’t choose to go somewhere by myself over going with others. The one thing I did miss was being able to talk about how awesome the night was afterwards — it’s just not the same when you’re explaining it after the fact. But, now I can say that I’ve done it and I know that I could do it again. I think the majority of the population won’t be able to say the same, all because of the stigma attached to doing activities alone.

People think that always being surrounded by others means that you’re secure, when really it’s the opposite.

Claire Owens is a Digital Account Executive at 88 Creative.