How Self-Handicapping is Holding You Back in Life

Self-handicapping means we never commit fully to anything because of our fear of failure. It is an attempt to protect our self-esteem, but all it really does is hold us back in life. Self-handicapping often means we sabotage our own efforts so we can have an excuse for failing.


I like handicap signs a lot

The Fifty Percent Man

I remember during my nursing training, I’d always do the bare minimum to pass my assignments. I knew that so long as I followed the listed requirements exactly, and didn’t try anything too fancy, I’d be sure to end up in the fifty to sixty percent range.

I would sometimes mock the students who worked their arse off to get a good mark. I felt superior because of my ability to pass with so little effort – it also meant that I’d more time to spend in the pub (my gold standard for a good life back then).

It was all complete bullshit of course, the real motive behind my half-arsed approach to assignments was fear.

I deliberately self-handicapped myself because I didn’t want to try my best yet fail to do as well as other people on my course. Getting an average mark didn’t seem like such a big deal while I had the excuse of not really trying.

Claimed Self-Handicapping and Behavioral Self-Handicapping

There are two main ways we can self-handicap ourselves when trying to achieve something in life. Behavioral self-handicapping is where we deliberately make the task harder than it needs to be so we have an excuse for failing. Claimed self-handicapping is where we provide a justification for why we might fail.

Different Types of Self-Handicapping

Here are some of strategies I’ve used in the past in an attempt to protect my fragile self-esteem:

  • Getting drunk the night before an exam or job interview (behavioral self-handicapping)
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  • Starting an argument with a loved one, so I can blame them for my bad mood and subsequent poor performance
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  • Talking about a recent illness or bad experience that is going to prevent me from achieving my best (claimed self-handicapping)
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  • Using cynicism to explain why I’m not taking things seriously
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I Could Have Been a Contender

Self-handicapping means we can feel like a success without ever achieving success – it’s a type of delusional thinking.

If we are performing okay at a task without making too much effort, we can see this as evidence that we would be brilliant if we tried harder. It’s all pure fantasy of course, but we get to pretend to have hidden talents so long as we don’t actually put this to the test.

Self-handicapping is a good strategy if we are not willing to leave our comfort zone – we get to feel a bit less of a loser by believing we could have been a contender. So it’s okay if we tell people we could have been the next Stephen King, so long as we don’t ruin things by trying to write a book.

Doing the bare minimum is not enough if we want to be actually successful in life. We have to be wiling to risk it all to have a chance at the big rewards. This means we have to let go of the comfort blanket provided by self-handicapping