Tuesday, January 06, 2009


One of my central goals over the past few years has been to understand why I seem compelled to sabotage myself. Anyone who's read this blog knows that I struggle to hack through and improve my attention to the details of day-to-day life and relationships.

My history of self-sabotage goes back much farther, however, to taking tests ill-prepared to partying before an important exam to not pursuing a good job opportunity until it has slipped away to any myriad of other spots in my life where I feel like could have done better; what I had in every case was an excuse. There was always a reason why I didn't do better or didn't need to do better than I had, and in this way I was protecting myself from something. Usually, I believe I was protecting myself from the need to follow up a success — it was easier to be just good enough and live down to that than to repeat excellence.

In this case, though, self-awareness has been of little use. I know I do this, and yet too often I've slipped back into the self-sabotage habit. I didn't really have an excuse until I came across an article today courtesy of Neatorama and LifeHacker that brought it all into relief. Apparently studying this tendency is a fairly new (since 1978) idea in psychology:

This is one reason that genuine excuse artisans — and there are millions of them — don’t wait until after choking to practice their craft. They hobble themselves, in earnest, before pursuing a goal or delivering a performance. Their excuses come preattached: I never went to class. I was hung over at the interview. I had no idea what the college application required.

“This is real self-sabotage, like drinking heavily before a test, skipping practice or using really poor equipment,” said Edward R. Hirt, a psychologist at Indiana University. “Some people do this a lot, and often it’s not clear whether they’re entirely conscious of doing it — or of its costs.”

This idea that those of us who intentionally stumble aren't always aware of it is dead-on, as is the reliance on excuses. There are innumerable times that I've slipped up even though I knew getting a few more hours of sleep or doing a little more advance work would ensure better results.

Like most aspects of self-growth, you can hope it's just a matter of time before you take what you know and actually uderstand it enough to put it in practice. Sometimes, that matter of time is now.