For months now you’ve been furtively eyeing up/stalking the object of your affection. Months spent feigning interest in the finer aspects of rugby/shopping/German sci-fi. Finally, they ask you out. The night of the big date you turn up late, drink too much and end up talking about your ex. They never contact you again.
Or – you’re chasing your dream job. After a series of rigorous interviews and exams, you’re finally on the home stretch. It’s basically a formality – until you end up saying how you’re not sure you really want it and they should have hired someone else. They do.
It’s Christmas. After four years of horror, courtesy of Aunt Ethel and her endless Charades, you’ve promised yourself you’re going somewhere fun. Alone. You book the flights, but come Christmas, end up going to the family do instead. You’re miserable and martyred.
What’s going on?
According to Oliver James, these are all examples of self-handicapping. This means that when a challenge arises, you do something to make sure you do badly. Why? Because you’re scared of failing and want to protect yourself. If it all goes belly-up, you’ve got something to blame it on. If it goes well, you can say you’d have done even better without the handicap.