Self-Handicapping “My dog ate my homework.” “I had a flat tire.” “My alarm didn’t go off.” “My phone battery died.” “I had a bad headache.” “The referee blew the call.” On occasion, people make excuses for past performance. Some- times we come up with excuses in anticipation of future performance. When people are afraid that they might fail in an important situation, they use illness, shyness, anxiety, pain, trauma, and other complaints as excuses for the possibility of failure. The reason people self-handicap is simple: By admitting to a limited physical or mental weakness, they can shield themselves from what could be the most shattering implication of failure—a lack of ability.
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One form of excuse making that many of us can relate to is procrastination—a purposive delay in starting or completing a task that is due at a particular time. Some people procrastinate chronically, whereas others do so only in certain situations.
Some people use self-handicapping as a defense more than others do—and in different ways. For example, some men self-handicap by taking drugs or neglecting to practice, whereas women tend to report stress and physical symptoms. Another tactic is to set one’s goals too high, as perfectionists like to do, which sets up failure that is not interpreted to reflect a lack of ability.