CommunicationLeadership: Say it like a leaderResiliency & attitude

The spotlight effect: how your brain can mess up having your say

By May 22, 2018December 6th, 2019No Comments

Your brain is hard-wired to keep you away from risk, to preserve you (and the species). It triggers warning signs when it perceives something is a risk.

That can work against you.

Every success you’ve had in life involved taking risks. Learning to walk, talk, express your opinion, drive a car, get a job, getting married, having a child – every success, big or small, involves taking risks.

One of the ways that your brain protects you is called “the spotlight effect”. This happens when your brain magnifies risk to keep you away from it, to pull you away from something that it perceives as a danger. These problems cause the brain to wake up, become alert and cause you to hesitate in your action. Your brain is warning you that there’s danger ahead, wait up, don’t go there. It gives you cause to pause.

Mel Robbins, a well-known researcher into success strategies, purports, “You can trace every single problem and complaint in your life to silence and hesitation.” She suggests that taking action isn’t a question of motivation, it’s a conscious decision to proceed even though it feels uncomfortable.

Let’s take this lesson to the workplace.

Imagine you’re in a meeting. You’re listening to the dozen people joining you discuss a problem with a project you’re all working on when suddenly, you have a flash of brilliance, a likely solution. Instead of blurting it out, your brain, through no logic at all, perceives every possible bad reaction or outcome you could get. Your brain works so fast that in a split second you’ve convinced yourself that the risk is too great of your idea being shot down, of you being ridiculed, or of your brilliance being challenged, leaving you feeling downtrodden and beaten up. Before you’ve even made an effort, you’ve given up.

Your brain is quite likely amplifying the risks

Remember the spotlight effect. Your brain is quite likely amplifying the risks thinking it’s protecting you, when in fact what it’s doing is stunting your growth.

Growth is almost always accompanied by pain – that’s why they’re called, “growing pains”.

Don’t let your brain talk you into avoiding all risks. Some, sure avoid, but not all. If you currently look back at your life and painfully regret critical times when you didn’t speak up, it’s not too late. You can change your behavior and change your results.

Your brain is hard-wired to protect you. Like a parent who smothers a child by being overprotective, your brain is designed to keep you away from risk. Unfortunately, it may cripple you from developing coping skills in the process. You don’t want that, do you? Of course not. You want the confidence to speak your mind and share your expertise. In the workplace; that’s what you’re paid for. In your private life, authenticity is the currency of healthy relationships.

Next time when that little voice inside of you shouts to be heard, give it a voice. When the world doesn’t fall down around you, your brain will learn new patterns and not interpret similar situations as high-risk ones –and that spells opportunity for you.

PS: want access to a pile of workplace communication tips? Visit my blog at   Your comments and posts are welcome.

Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein, Workplace Communication Consultant, travels across Canada to help business people and organizations communicate in the workplace to get better, faster, easier results. She can help you too. 289-969-7691 OPT-IN to Marion’s Workplace Communication Tips enews at
Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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