Here’s A Little Secret…

I will let you in on a little secret…you aren’t as memorable as you think. And neither am I.

No, this isn’t a post about modesty or why we should be humble. It isn’t even a post suggesting we should share the spotlight with others.

It is simply a post that explains that we really aren’t as memorable as we might think. Meaning, we think people will remember every little thing that we do…but they don’t. In fact, they don’t even notice.

The other day I washed my hands after arriving at the gym. The water pressure must have on steroids because water rocketed out of the faucet and covered not only my hands, but also my midsection. It looked like I had gone to the bathroom all over myself.

I had just gotten to the gym so I couldn’t just go home and I didn’t want to go out of the bathroom looking like I had peed my pants. I tried to use the automatic hand dryer to cover up the damage, but it just seemed to push the water even further down my shorts. I stretched my shirt as far as it could go, but I wasn’t fooling anyone.

Realizing I couldn’t stall in the bathroom (pun intended) any longer, I put my head down and walked out into the gym floor. I expected to be greeted with a chorus of laughter. I thought the other gym members would take one look at me and immediately start posting embarrassing photos on Instagram. I feared that the kid working the front desk would get on the PA system and tell everyone to point and stare at the guy who didn’t know how to use a urinal.

Guess what? None of that happened.

No one laughed. No one pointed. No one took pictures. In fact, I don’t think anyone even noticed. And if they did, they didn’t seem to care.

Why is that? Why did I expect such a huge reaction, only to find absolutely no response?

Scientists call this the “spotlight effect.” This means that people tend to believe that they are noticed more than they really are. We think people notice every little thing about us, but the opposite is actually true.

In 1999, psychologist Thomas Gilovich asked a group of students to wear an embarrassing T-shirt (featuring a picture of Barry Manilow’s face) and then walk into a room full of strangers. The students were told to guess how many of the strangers would notice the humiliating shirt.

Participants expected that nearly 50% of the strangers would notice the shirt, but in reality the result was closer to 20%. Their estimations were twice as high as the actual number.

Gilovich concluded that we are under the spotlight much less often than we actually think. We are so focused on ourselves that we very rarely notice the little details about others.

Take my example from the gym. I feared that everyone would notice my awkward situation. But the only person who was focused on me, was me. The other weightlifters were far more concerned with how they looked to notice how I looked.

Like I said earlier, we aren’t as memorable as we think. And that is often a good thing. We might not be able to hide the pee like stain or the Barry Manilow shirt, but it is comforting to know that no one really cares.



Photo credit: Wikipedia