“I’m late because it’s difficult to get out of the door with my baby.”
“I’m late because the traffic is terrible, not to mention I gotta clear the snow on my driveway before I can drive.”
“I really want to exercise, but I’m too busy for it.”
“I struggle with doing devotions because the bible is too difficult to understand, plus I just don’t have time.”
“I learned nothing from this course because the teacher sucks.”
“I did really bad on today’s exam because I pulled an all-nighter writing a paper for another course.”
Do these excuses sound all that familiar to you? Have you used them or heard others using them? No kidding, I have used all of these excuses in my life, especially the last one which I just used after flunking my Hebrew final exam.
New York Times columnist Benedict Carey writes about this psychological phenomenon of “self-hadicapping”, as a way of protecting our self-image and cushioning the blow to our self-confidence when failure strikes. Edward R. Hirt, a psychologist at Indiana University comments further, saying: “Some people do this a lot, and often it’s not clear whether they’re entirely conscious of doing it — or of its costs.” And what are the costs? Dr. James C. McElroy says: “What happens here is that if you do it often, observers attribute your performance to you, but begin to view it as part of your disposition, i.e., you’re a whiner,” often as soon as you cite a handicap for the second time.
I can identify this phenomenon stemming from two problems. The first one is sloth. More often than not, it is our laziness that causes us run into circumstances we cannot control. And we immediately blame the circumstances and victimize ourselves, as if we have no control over it. At the end of the day, it’s just too hard to accept the fact that, yes, we are fundamentally lazy procrastinators.
The second thing is our inability to face our own failure. The greatest challenge for us modern people is not to be more successful, but to live with failure. We tend to want everything in sight, to be capable of doing all things, and to look sleek and shiny good in front of others. Yet, when the reality strikes, we compensate by giving excuses, extending the self-delusion that if we just have enough time (or any other resources), we can be all that we want to be. And I can call this pride.
Is it a surprise I just named two of the seven deadly sins?
Well, I don’t have an immediate solution, but being aware of these self-handicapping behaviors is at least a good start.
May God have mercy on us and deliver us from these self-deluding behaviors.