Do You Secretly Want to Fail?

We’re about halfway through January. How are those New Years’ resolutions coming? For those of you who are rocking it, congrats. For those of you that are struggling (and for those of you who are rocking it, too!), your number one obstacle in succeeding might not be your lack of work ethic or external factors, but your own secret desire to fail.

Yes, maybe you don’t actually want to lose those ten pounds. Maybe you don’t want to start eating healthy. Maybe you don’t actually want to learn that new sport.

Why would I say that, you ask?

It’s this funny little thing called self-handicapping. Self-handicapping is a psychological phenomena by which we purposely don’t try our best so that when we fail, we can say that it wasn’t because we just weren’t capable of succeeding. It’s just because we didn’t put in the work. We do this because we want to protect our self-image. If you worked as hard as you absolutely could at a goal, and still couldn’t meet it, that would be awkward, right?

“So Bob, why didn’t you do well in that half-marathon you trained for?”
“Well, Sally, turns out I’m just not a runner. Trained my absolute hardest, but turns out I’m incapable of doing any better.”

That seems like an awkward conversation for most of us. No one wants to admit that they’re inherently not good at something.

Self-handicapping comes out of fear. In high school, I was a master self-handicapper. My sport in high school was debate (yes, it’s a sport), and I loved it more than anything. But looking back, I wasn’t confident that I was that great. So I didn’t put in the work. I didn’t spend the twenty or thirty hours required to write a good case, and I didn’t spend hours and hours perfecting my speaking. I put in enough to do pretty well but I didn’t put in my 100%. Now I can see that I only did that so that when I didn’t achieve my goals or didn’t get first place, I had an out. I could say, “Well, you know, I could do that too if I put in fifty hours of work.”

I probably could have. But unfortunately life does not operate on the maxims of coulda, shoulda, woulda. Life only counts action.

So when you’re looking at your New Years’ resolutions, whether they’re going well or not, be sure to catch yourself when you’re self-handicapping. When you don’t want to run that extra mile or put in the extra hour of studying, ask yourself why. Is it because you’re scared to go out on a limb and give it everything you’ve got?

Sure, it’s completely possible that you end up like hypothetical Bob and you don’t make your goal. But that shouldn’t keep you from trying. While it seems awkward to be Bob, I think if I were Sally I wouldn’t think a thing of it. I wouldn’t go, “Wow, Bob. What a loser. Sucks that you tried your best and still failed.” I think most of us would be like, “Props to you, Bob. Way to try your hardest.”

Even if you don’t attain your goal or keep your New Year’s resolution 100%, there’s value in the effort you put forth. I think Gandhi puts it beautifully. “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.”