From time to time a project will come along that seems so big and challenging you start to question your ability to succeed. It could be as epic as writing a book or directing major motion picture or it could be something more pedestrian like passing a final exam or delivering an important speech to your corporate boss. Naturally, some doubts will float through your mind when ever failures possible.
Sometimes, when the fear of failure is strong, you use a technique psychologist call self-handicapping to change the course of your future emotional state. Self-handicapping behaviors are investments in a future reality in which you can blame your failure on something other than your ability.
You might wear inappropriate clothes to a job interview, or… or stay up all night drinking before work – you are very resourceful when it comes to setting yourself up to fail. If you succeed, you can say you did so despite terrible odds. If you fall short, you can blame the events leading up to the failure instead of your own incompetence or inadequacy.
When you see your performance in the outside world as an integral part of your personality, you are more likely to self-handicap. Psychologist Phillip Zombardo told the New York Times in 1984, “Some people stake their whole identity on their acts. They take the attitude that ‘if you criticize anything I do, you criticize me.’ Their egocentricity means they can’t risk a failure because it’s a devastating blow to their ego.”
David McRaney, You are Not so Smart