Is Self-handicapping Taking Over Your Work?

If after reading this post you realize that you don’t like it, I apologize. After all, I didn’t spend too much time on it. Maybe a few hours here and there. See, I was cramming so I didn’t give it my best. And that’s probably why the writing suffered. Oh, if only I had enough time I’m sure I would’ve done better. Also, I had a headache so that probably had a negative effect too.

Does the above paragraph sound familiar? If it does, then we have something in common:  self-handicapping. It’s finding excuses and obstacles that explain why we’re not responsible for our mistakes, failures, or poor performance. Most of us start experiencing it as students during our first few years at school, but the habit also tends to stay with us even when we turn into capable professionals. An article from The New York Times cites a study where, in workplace scenarios, people’s “…impressions of a character began to sour after the second time the person cited a handicap.”

To avoid self-handicapping at work, we need to recognize it when it occurs. Here are some behaviors associated with self-handicapping:

  • Decreased effort. Sometimes, this comes in the form of procrastination, especially when you expect to be evaluated. Self-handicapping also shows when you spend less time preparing or practicing. Research shows that giving in to self-handicapping in one task may lead to having less motivation to complete a succeeding task, too.
  • Setting unrealistic goals. Aiming high or having ambitions is a good thing, but it helps to be aware of your true motivations. Sometimes setting unattainable goals is a form of self-handicapping.
  • Creating or emphasizing physical or psychological handicaps. We sometimes tell ourselves that we don’t have the right training, state of mind, experiences, and other traits that would make us perform well for a certain task. We make excuses — even flimsy ones — just so our mistakes will be the fault of some external force instead of our own.

The bad news is that like most qualities deeply ingrained in us, there’s no magic pill, no one-size-fits-all cure for self-handicapping. But there are a couple of new mindsets that I’m trying out:

  • Praise our own effort rather than talent. While it’s OK to recognize innate skills, acknowledging effort, practice and hard work as the source of your success has greater benefits. This kind of attitude leaves us less afraid of failure, more inclined to try again, and even to have better performance.
  • Accepting pain as part of the job. Not physical pain, but the painful idea that you won’t always be as good as you want to be, that sometimes you’ll fail. Self-handicapping is all about protecting your self-image, so one way to “hack” it is to come to terms with the fact that failing is normal. It comes with being human. A few mistakes won’t make you less of a good worker or even a good person. It’s rare that you’ll fail hard enough that it’s irreparable or unforgivable.

Do you experience self-handicapping or self-sabotage? How does it affect your work and how do you deal with it?

Photo by stock.xchng user somadjinn

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