Master in Self-handicapping


Are you Self-Handicapping your growth?

It was during my college days that I got this habit.

Wondering what is that habit?

I started under-preparing for the exams. What was my excuse?

I was helping my parents in the business. So, I did not find time to study.

However, I used this excuse to study less. I would request my best friend to provide the gist of the chapters to be covered in the exam.

Armed with that knowledge, I would take the exam and score 80% whereas my friends with all the best of preparation would score 90%.

I would say “If I can score 80% with minimal preparation, I could score over 90% if I prepare well”.

The question that begs to be answered: “Have I ever scored above 80% in any exams even with adequate preparations?”

I do not know. Why?

Because I never prepared adequately. In fact, this trend continued even when I started my journey in Public speaking in Toastmasters. I would be under-prepared for the contests.

Whenever I taste success, I can proclaim that I could win even without proper preparation and when I lose; I have the excuse already lined up.

Psychology calls this act “Self-handicapping”.

Stephen Berglas and Edward Jones define Self-handicapping “as any action or choice of performance setting that enhances the opportunity to externalize (or excuse) failure and to internalize (reasonably accept credit for) success”. In simple words, creating a barrier or a handicap on their path to success. So, when they fail, they have the handicap to blame and when they succeed, they can claim extra credit for their ability to succeed despite the handicap.

The challenge of self-handicapping is that it will never allow you to find your true potential. It will never allow you to reach a pinnacle in the chosen field.

The first step in the Personal Development journey is knowing where you are now in that journey. If you don’t know where you are now, you can never move in the right direction of growth.

Self-Handicapping acts like a shield that prevents you from knowing where you stand in the journey.

I lost few years in the journey of Public Speaking with the self-handicapping habit. I will purposefully delay preparing for a speech so that when my speech cannot impress the audience, I can blame it on lack of time for preparation. However, on the sunny side, if my speech got appreciated, I can boast of winging it.

I was using a self-handicapping strategy to lessen the impact of the failure on my self-esteem. But what I failed to notice is how self-handicapping was dampening my growth trajectory.

Why did I use Self-Handicapping?

When I reflect on this question, I realized the worry about the result and its impact on my perceived self-image pushed me to use this technique.

The real problem lies in the term perceived self-image. It is just a perception. Your actions help you build your actual image and self-handicapping cannot help you in building anything concrete. It can only lead to a false sense of comfort.

When I give my 100% with a willingness to fail, life shines a light on the impediments in my skill set that handicaps my growth.

When I detached myself from the result of the action, and instead focussed on the intricacies of the action, I learned the art of improvement.

When I removed my focus from my perceived self-image, my actions lead me to improve my actual self-image.

When I stopped Self-Handicapping, my real handicaps gradually disappeared.

Are you Self-Handicapping your growth?



mentormeenakshi- Meenakshi Sundaram Hariharan

Chartered Accountant with an eye for inspiring stories in everything around