Self-handicapping is defined as a cognitive strategy by which people avoid effort in the hopes of keeping potential failure from hurting self-esteem. Meaning, we may self-sabotage because we are afraid of failure. My question to you is, are you afraid of failure or rejection? How do you work through the fear of failure? Do you avoid the initial emotions that come along with fear? How has that affected your personal and work relationships?
As a teen, I remember the start of self-handicapping as not raising my hand in math class because I was terribly afraid of sharing the wrong answer out loud. This came from a childhood upbringing of only being praised when I did something right and being shamed when I did something wrong instead of being encouraged to dissect the mistake and think about how I could have done it better. The shame and fear of not getting it right would overcome me, and soon, the same reaction to “not wanting to be wrong” or being afraid to fail resulted in behavior like not raising my hand in classes I enjoyed in college, not speaking up in meetings, not setting healthy boundaries, and not asking questions even though I wanted to learn. This is something I have reflected on as I have gotten older, and I realized that this kind of self-handicapping can easily pour into our personal and work lives as well as our subconscious.
We shouldn’t be afraid of failure, fear, or making mistakes. When we do fail, we must be kind to ourselves and practice self-forgiveness to build more positive self-esteem. We all fail, but what is important is how we speak to ourselves when we do. The way we lead and thrive derives from the actions we take even when we are fearful of the outcome, or of failure. For me, changing the way I looked at failure came from the pride I took in being brave during the moments I feared failure. Releasing impostor syndrome, speaking up when I wanted to learn, and not being afraid of sharing knowledge in a room full of strangers were all positive “side effects” of undoing years of self-handicapping. So, where do we start to unravel the self-handicapping we are so used to? We start small. Below are four things I’ve worked on over the years that have helped me remove self-handicapping behaviors and really thrive.
- Make goals not excuses.
- Watch for the warning signs like drawing down your efforts, generating more lists of excuses, and heavy procrastination
- Generate goals instead of excuses
- Identify factors within your control
- Don’t neglect your emotions; recognize and manage your negative emotions
- Connect with a mental health professional
- Go for mastery and own it!
- Assume responsibility, even when it’s hard. Brainstorm ideas to get yourself moving in the right direction. Stay present; don’t assume. Work with the facts, not with the fears.
- Use positive self-affirmations
- Build self-esteem, confidence, and a positive sense of self, even when you have failed.
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