Self-handicapping is behavior that protects a person from being responsible for failure. Self-handicapping can be a form of self-sabotage: Some people may not apply for their dream position because they self-talk themselves into believing they do not have a chance, so “why bother?” The same failure-avoidance, failure-guaranteeing behavior occurs in a social setting when people may not approach a potential mate because their internal critic convinces them that rejection is the probable outcome, thus insuring failure under the guise of protecting from failure.

Self-handicapping also occurs when people do not give their best effort or procrastinate until they lack the time to do a good job, allowing themselves
the solace of telling themselves they “could have” done it well, but some external factor stood in their way so they dodge (in their own minds) responsibility for failure.

How to overcome?

– Self-awareness (journal, set written goals, make a plan and follow it!)

– Positive mindset (believe in yourself, in your ability to grow; surround yourself with like-minded people)

– Manage your moods, direct your emotions (“One who masters himself is greater than one who conquers a thousand on the battlefield.”  — Buddha)

– Monitor your self-talk (you may not be able to completely control the thoughts that come to your mind, but you can control the thoughts that STAY in your mind)

– Be your own best friend, your own cheerleader, your own coach (form a support network, coach and cheer each other on)

Closing quotes:

“We fail at 100 percent of the things we do not attempt.”

“If you could’ve and should’ve, you would’ve.”

“Our doubts are traitors, And make us lose the good we oft might win, By fearing to attempt.”  — William Shakespeare; 1564-1616, “Measure for Measure”, Act 1 scene 4

REFERENCES: I do not normally footnote my blog posts but in case anyone wants to handicap themselves via denial that self-handicapping is a real issue, here are scientific studies on the trait, courtesy of

Baumeister, Roy F., and Brad J., Bushman. (2008) Social Psychology & Human Nature. United States: Thomson Wadsworth. Berglas, S., & Jones, E. E. (1978). Drug Choice as a Self-Handicapping Strategy in Response to Noncontingent Success. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(4), 405-417.

Harris, R. N., Snyder, C. R., Higgins, R. L., & Schrag, J. L. (1986). Enhancing the Prediction of Self-Handicapping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1191-1199.

Hirt, E. R., Deppe, R. K., & Gordon, L. J. (1991). Self-Reported Versus Behavioral Self-Handicapping: Empirical Evidence for a Theoretical Distinction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61(6), 981-991.

Hirt, E. R., McCrea, S. M., & Boris, H. I. (2003). I know you self-handicapped the last exam: Gender differences in reactions to self-handicapping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(1), 177-193.

Jones, E. E., & Berglas, S. (1978). Control of attributions about the self through self-handicapping strategies: The appeal of alcohol and the role of underachievement. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(2), 200-206.

Kolditz, T. A., & Arkin, R. M. (1982). An Impression Management Interpretation of the Self-Handicapping Strategy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(3), 492-502

Leary, M. R, & Shepperd, J. A. (1986). Behavioral self-handicaps versus self-reported handicaps; A conceptual note. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51(6), 1265-1268.

Martin, A. J., Marsh, H.W., Williamson, A., & Debus, R. L. (2003). Self-handicapping, defensive pessimism, and goal orientation: A qualitative study of university students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(3), 617-628.

Smith, T. W., Snyder, C. R., & Perkins, S. C. (1983). The Self-Serving Function of Hypochondriacal Complaints: Physical Symptoms as Self-Handicapping Strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44(4), 787-797.

Tice, D. M. (1991). Esteem Protection or Enhancement? Self-Handicapping Motives and Attributions Differ by Trait Self-Esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(5), 711-725.

Urban, T. (2004) Predictors of Academic Self-Handicapping and Achievement: Examining Achievement Goals, Classroom Goal Structures, and Culture. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(2), 251-264.