Self-Handicapping Habits

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Welcome back reader’s. I hope that I have kept you on your toes since the last article. We have begun a series on becoming unstuck from your present circumstances. To catch up any new readers to this series, I started last week by recognizing the fact that at times we all feel a little stuck, immobile in our lives. This can lead to frustration, depression, anxiety and at times resentment towards others. As mentioned last week, the best place to start is exactly where you are. It is quite possible that you have not been able to live fully because you are stuck in whom you are. This person that you have become is a mixture of bad experiences, good experiences, mistakes, failures, successes, great achievements, all the while, there is still so much that you want to do for yourself and for your family. Last week we looked at how our own attitudes could possibly be one of the reasons that we are feeling so defeated. I want to remind you that this attitude is present when you have thoughts or behavior that effect your motivation and personal growth. Another way that this can happen to us is when we have self-handicapping habits. Let us explore what these habits could be in your personal life and how to deal with them. My goal is to teach people how to learn about themselves. Growth can only occur if we are completely aware of what could be causing our lack of growth, so let’s begin.

I was a fortunate attendant at the Summer Institute, 2013 Lecture 5: The Double Vision Strategy for Becoming Unstuck. It was presented by Dr. Paul T. P. Wong, one of the main contributors to Meaning Therapy and Positive Psychology. For those who are interested, you can find Dr. Paul Wong’s ideas and philosophies at  Self-handicapping habits, what exactly are those? Well, these can be different and range in intensity. Self-handicapping is a strategy that is used by individuals to avoid anticipated failure. This can involve creating an obstacle that allows the handicapper to blame poor performance on a factor outside of themselves. An example of this is a person knowing that you have an important presentation at work the next day and having one too many glasses of wine the night before. If the handicapper does not do well, they can blame it on the fact that they are hung over. Interestingly enough, a self-handicapper will not take into consideration that they were the ones who were in control of the amount of wine they were drinking. Other examples are not getting enough sleep before the night of a final exam or important meeting, as well as using illnesses to withdraw from social events and life in general.

Why do people do this? Well before you get judgmental, I want you to take some time to look at ways that you might be self-handicapping. By externalizing your own poor performance, you are able to protect the belief that you are competent. This has a lot to do with our egos, which is why keeping your ego in check in so important. In most situations, people search for accurate information about themselves and their environment, so that they are able to make appropriate choices. This is not the case for an individual who self-handicaps. They would rather not have accurate information if it reflects on them poorly. I can understand this. No one wants to hear or be informed about their inadequacies, so when faced with situations that may expose uncomfortable truths, self-handicappers become defensive and begin to utilize these above strategies to protect their self-concept. What needs to be understood is that the self-handicapper is not trying to fail. They will accept the outcome as long as it does not make them look bad. It is a very flawed, yet understandable way of living. It is easier to say, “I didn’t do well in the presentation because I was so hung over,” than, “I didn’t do well in the presentation, because I am terrified of presenting and have not developed my presentation skills.”

Again, in the two statements you can see how protection of the ego is the most important goal. How does this behavior begin? Well, like most behaviors, it is spawned during childhood. It may be the case that as a child, the handicapper was praised for their successes, but these praises were not attributed to their individual abilities. The success might be attributed to be a member of a smart family, luck or having been coached in their success. These are all external factors for success, not internal. The person may not feel that they are able to repeat this behavior again and if they do, they continue to second guess themselves.

It is a perilous situation to be in and being here can make you feel like you are an imposter, or a pretender. You may live in fear of being exposed as a fraud, not being as great as you appear, so hence, you begin to self-handicap. I want you to be able to expose the ugly truths about yourself. It is much better that you expose them, then have someone else expose them. Think about it this week. Are you guilty of self-handicapping?


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