I mentioned this in my previous post about Failure Avoidance, and I would be remiss if I didn’t go a bit deeper on this one. As long as I am offering you some performance psychology tidbits to help you with yourself or with clients, I might as well start with the ones I am notorious for using.
After all, I know them quite well.
Self-Handicapping is when we have excuses readily available so that, in the event of a failure, we are able to justify why we didn’t perform well. If this sounds lame, well, it IS lame. As a coach, it is often difficult to keep a straight face if you recognize this, because you almost can’t wait to see the athlete, just to hear what they will come up with next. I cringe, knowing I have driven more than one coach insane by doing this.
Oddly enough, this was a stop on the journey for me. First, I was a failure avoider, but once I took steps to mitigate that with enhanced self awareness and strategic goal setting, I found that self-handicapping crept in.
I wasn’t avoiding competition or challenge anymore, but I sure had a vast array of excuses set up JUST IN CASE things didn’t go as planned:
– “I tweaked my back last week while ceremoniously burning an effigy of my ex, so my squat was not be as good as I wanted it to be.”
– “I had a few beers last night to celebrate Festivus, So my 5k felt awful.”
– “I spent all night moaning about my existential dread…so I wasn’t rested fully for my workout.”
– “My dog is suffering from acute depression, which explains why my heart wasn’t in the Badminton semi-final match.”
And so on, and so on, and so on.
Interestingly, this doesn’t not necessarily suggest a lack of confidence in the handicapper, but rather indicates a preoccupation with winning or performance over other parameters such as: trying one’s best, executing tasks, learning, and improving. EGO over TASK…
This preoccupation has to do with the Goal Orientation we have, as well as the Motivational Climate we find ourselves in. Ultimately these two topics need to be addressed in another post, but it is critical that we move away from an Ego orientation and start to embrace the process.
Unchecked self-handicapping can create negative thinking and set the stage for a multitude of performance degrading thought, mental images, and behaviors. This can snowball into a full-filling prophecy, creating a negative feedback loop the perpetuates bad performance…nasty stuff.
If you, or one of your athletes, is constantly self-handicapping, you need to ask why there is such a need to avoid the perceived embarrassment of “failure”. Most of the tike, this can be traced back to a climate the emphasizes winning and being better than peers over improving and being better than ourselves.
Do you find yourself doing this?
Awareness is key! Be very aware of the language you re using in your own head and question your motivation behind the thoughts you play with.
And, as I’ve stated before, the PROCESS is where the good stuff happens, so embrace it.