March 21, 2018


Are you sometimes haunted over your most embarrassing moments? For #BORNATDAWNLIFE this week, we are taking an agonising look at awkwardness - why we feel it and why even the most cringe moments can be a good thing. We’re inspired by Melissa Dahl’s book ‘Cringeworthy: How to Make the Most of Uncomfortable Situations’.

Melissa defines awkwardness as ‘self-consciousness tinged with uncertainty’. Cringeworthy situations happen regularly - tripping up on your commute, making a bad joke at a networking event or having a full blown “cringe attack”, where a past humiliation routinely comes back to haunt you. 

But why do we feel awkward? Melissa believes it’s when the “you” you think you presents clashes with the way the world actually sees you. Our natural instinct is to run away from the moment, but it could be an opportunity to make it better. To consider the other person’s perspective, how what you meant to say was taken in another way and to put it right.

The author also draws on our tendency to overestimate how closely others notice what we do, how we look or our personal quirks. It’s a dynamic defined as “the spotlight effect” and she reminds us that no one is looking at us for long, keeping track of what we said or laughing at our foibles - they’re far too busy worrying about themselves. 

The book offers some great practical tips on how to co-exist with awkwardness:

  • If you’re struck by a ‘cringe attack’, shift the focus to other details surrounding the memory; what the room looked like, who else was there, as this can lessen the emotion attached to it
  • Avoid re-running ‘mental footage’ of the date, the awkward goodbye, the bad joke - it’s likely the other person has already forgotten.
  • Share your awkwardness with someone else; it may make you feel comfortable with that part of yourself again.

It might be time to embrace our awkwardness, rather than berate ourselves for it, and use it as our secret weapon. “Little humiliations can bring people together, if we let them,” Melissa writes. “The ridiculous in me honours the ridiculous in you.”

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