Growing up, I was a notoriously messy eater.
Ask my mom. I often spilled, splattered, and smushed any liquid or solid food-based product onto myself. White shirts were out of the question.
Unfortunately, this trait has continued well into my adult life. Despite refined eating habits, an occasional oops will land squarely on my clean shirt. Last summer on the recruiting trail, I was eating watermelon and it dripped onto my shirt in a big way.
As a rule, it is difficult to gain my attention mid-watermelon-enjoyment, so I did not realize the size and scope of this dripping until well after I finished.
It left me with a giant pinkish stain squarely on my white lacrosse shirt.
Sorry, mom… old habits die hard.
Of course, this made me self-conscious. How am I supposed to continue recruiting with a stain like that? What will recruits think? What will other coaches think? “Man that guy can’t even eat watermelon… we better not trust him.”
Those thoughts, while maybe not 100% logical, are not without precedence. In psychology, this is called the spotlight effect. It’s the theory that we are biased to think others notice more about us than they do and, additionally, that they care.
In life and in lacrosse, falling victim to the spotlight effect can be detrimental.
Just like a stained shirt can wreck one coach’s confidence, applying the spotlight effect to performance can affect the confidence of an athlete in the same way. It’s been studied and measured that athletes consistently overestimate the extent to which their ups and downs (in relation to their athletic accomplishments) are noted by others.
As a student-athlete, I often focused on the little mistakes I made, thinking that my coaches or teammates would judge me thusly. Now as a coach, I’ve come to realize that my cognitive biases were untrue. I do not spend my days cataloguing the minor offenses of a player on my team. In fact, I’m often only measuring the great things they’re doing.
However, if a player sees themselves more critically, they’ll subconsciously hinder their own performance. How does one overcome the spotlight effect to achieve maximum results?
Dismantling the spotlight effect.
I present to you that answer is rooted in the freedom of humility.
Before we go any further, I think it’s important to make a distinction on what true humility looks like. I’m sure you’ve seen so-called “humble people” who make it very known that they’re worth less than dirt. That’s not humility; that’s pride.
The Bible says in James 4:6 that God resists you when you are proud, but continually pours out grace when you are humble. Humility is not casting yourself down as a wretched, worthless sack of bones, but rather understanding your true worth and finding sources of authentic identity.
In C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity, he writes about encountering a truly humble man:
He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
The spotlight effect would say to you that one must be keenly aware of all flaws to improve and protect oneself. Humility would say that improving oneself begins by thinking less of yourself. After all, why should my identity be determined by some watermelon-colored stain on my shirt?
If I believe that I have the freedom to make mistakes (like being a sloppy eater), I will disassociate my actions with who I was truly created to be. In my case, I was made to be a powerful coach and a great recruiter. Knowing this (my true identity) allows me to act with security. No longer will I be focused more on how others see me. Freedom from insecurity is paramount to the freedom we need for success.
The Little Win*
Unlike the crunches you’re doing to see new definition, the muscles of confidence are only redefined when we take time for self-reflection. So let’s reflect.
Do you evaluate yourself more based on how you think others see you? When someone offers a compliment, do you brush it off? What areas do you think are your “watermelon stain?” Do you have friends you can seek honest insight from?
There are several ways to practice freedom from the spotlight effect.
First, you could try taking a bottle of mustard and spraying it on your shirt. If you can walk around all day without feeling judged, you probably don’t suffer from the spotlight effect.
If that’s too much for you, here’s some good practice:
Determine to change something about yourself for one day. Perhaps you’d change something about your appearance, like wearing a visor for the first time since 2003. Maybe you’d change the way you laugh to something less or more obnoxious.
Figure out what that is… and do it. For one day. Then, a week or two later, ask the people around you if they noticed anything different about you. Chances are:
If they did, it’s probably not the thing you changed.
Bonus points if you don’t mention the change and see how long you can go before somebody mentions the change.
*The Little Win is a call-to-action that helps us become the best version of ourselves.
Thanks for reading!
Creating Future Wins is my blog about life, leadership, and lacrosse. My heart is to create a mixture of writing that you can’t find anywhere else and I’d love for you to be a part of this journey. Hit that subscribe button and of course, if you value what I’m doing here, I’d love for you to subscribe to my premium content.