I finally started on my new year’s fitness routine. I got an app that reminds me to drink water throughout the day and keeps a graph of how well I’m doing. I’m currently on the 20th percentile, meaning that I’m only managing to drink two out of the recommended eight glasses a day. It’s fairly hot in Nairobi right now so I should be thirsty. I shudder to think what it’ll be like in July – I may not drink any water at all. I’ll admit, it doesn’t look good. Drinking water is not difficult, but making it a routine is. I have all sorts of excuses for it. We all make excuses from time to time – some of us are on expert level at it. Deep down though, I think that I’m just afraid that my fitness efforts won’t stick, so I make excuses, I self-handicap.
Self-handicapping is a cognitive strategy in which people avoid putting in effort in a particular task so as to keep potential failure from damaging their self-esteem. A person will normally do this in order to either preserve or enhance his self-worth on a personal level, or manage the impression he makes on other people.
Most of us have been to job interviews that never panned out. We know that when you’ve gone to several of those, the rejection can start to seep into your psyche and begin to batter your self-esteem. So what happens the next time you have an interview? You go out drinking the night before. If you pass the interview, great – you didn’t even have to put in that much effort so you must be awesome. In this way, you internalize that success. If you fail though, you find a way to externalize that failure. You say, “Well, I had this terrible hangover and I didn’t even have ample time to prepare.” By so doing, you protect yourself from having to deal with the sting of rejection.
This is applicable in all areas of our lives. In school, for example, you can distract yourself with music and partying to avoid studying for a test you are afraid to fail. In relationships, it gets even crazier. You push a partner away by unleashing all your emotional baggage in a most unhealthy fashion so that if they do leave, you get to say, “He couldn’t handle me anyway”. In dating, the most common way to self-handicap is to reject a potential partner before they reject you.
Self-handicapping is a self-protection mechanism. It is your attempt to create a wall of armor around you to keep yourself from getting hurt. Now, there’s nothing wrong with self-protection – it’s how it’s done that matters. Creating impediments to your own success not only holds you back, it is self-destructive. It keeps you from growing and learning the necessary mental skills to handle challenging situations – and life has no shortage of those. It also denies you a fair chance to reach your full potential. It is a deception and betrayal of yourself. Underneath that false armor, you know you can do better. So what happens is that you actually start to feel bad about yourself for not giving it your best shot and the cycle of negative self-talk and self-handicapping continues.
Ways in which we self-handicap and how to stop
Internal dialogue is perhaps the most important tool there is for improving self-esteem. From the moment you wake up every day, an internal dialogue stirs in your mind. You have probably caught yourself on more than one occasion talking yourself out of something, and this goes on for hours, consuming all your energy. You keep thinking, “I’m not good at this kind of thing,” or “It won’t be good enough”. Read more on how to turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk here.
You must first acknowledge procrastination and the role it’s had in your life before you can tackle it. Have you been stuck in a rut for a while now, missed great opportunities? Do you always seem to be doing things at the last minute? Do people always complain about your tardiness? Once you’ve fully understood the impact it has had in your life, don’t feel bad about it; just take the next step. Read more on how to beat procrastination here.
“I don’t have the time, I’m too busy,” or “I’m at a disadvantage.” Those are some of the most magnificent lies we tell ourselves and others. One way or another, everything you are working towards boils down to the desire to improve your life. So to put self-growth at the bottom of your priorities list is tantamount to putting the cart before the donkey – it simply doesn’t work. I think that this, like most other lies is fear-based. It is wedged in the area of thoughts like, “If I don’t invest anything, then I won’t be disappointed.” Read more on how to quit self-deception here.
So many of us have little understanding of who we really are, what our purpose is and what our place in society is. We spend most of our time searching, unaware, but searching for our true selves. We seek out a range of experiences, some of which we enjoy and desire to experience again, and some of which we swear off. Superficially, we say it is because we liked or didn’t like them. Unconsciously we might even say, “It’s just not me,” or “They’re not my kind of people.” What we’re really saying is, it doesn’t resonate with our true selves. Sometimes though, we persist in seeking out experiences that don’t honor our souls, and that creates an internal discord. This is self-betrayal. Read more on how to honor your true self here.