"I had bad luck"
Look for other reasons & try again
After a disappointing performance, it is important to ask yourself,
"Honestly, now, what were the causes? What can I do about each of
those causes?" A wise person will guard against assuming
unchangeable factors are the sole causes of his/her problem and learn
instead to concentrate on the factors (causes) he/she is able to
change. Almost no complex behavior is totally caused by fixed factors,
such as heredity, innate ability, physiological factors (height), etc.
Most behaviors can be improved. Don't discount the importance of
learning in any performance. Remember how many hours goes into
making an outstanding star in any sport, often 4 to 6 or more hours a
day for years, starting at 6 or 8 years of age or younger. If any of our
current "stars" had an identical twin who had never played their sport,
no doubt the twin, like you, would say, "Wow, I could never skate or
dive or shoot or hit like that." Humans can learn a lot more than they
think they can (I didn't say easily). Most failures don't prove a lack of
ability, they reflect a lack of effort or learnable skill. In most areas we
will never know our limits because we will never push ourselves to the
It is obvious that some of the "reasons" above are excuses for our
failures. Self-handicapping is a similar process, except it occurs before
the performance rather than after. Common excuses arranged in
advance for a poor performance are: I'm very tired, sick, drunk,
anxious, unprepared and so on. In these situations, the person is using
the old TA "Wooden Leg" game, "how can you expect me to run fast
when I have this wooden leg?" Self-handicapping excuses do reduce
some immediate anxiety and disappointment after failure, but in the
long run they usually lower our self-esteem and increase our fears.
Why? Because we haven't performed very well in the past and because
a part of us knows we are deceiving ourselves and others. Pride is
primarily felt when we truly "do our best." See the discussion of
underachievement in chapter 4 and self-handicapping in chapter 5.
In summary, sometimes we are too hard on ourselves, expecting
too much, and sometimes too easy, not expecting or trying to do our
best. You may be too uptight about achieving your dreams; you might
not be uptight enough to achieve them. Ideally, I suppose, one would
be inspired by his/her ambitions and visions of the future, but down-
to-earth enough to accept (for the moment) whatever he/she actually
accomplishes. All of us need to ask, "How can I do better?" It reminds
you that you are in control and don't have to do poorly. Review the
sections on self-efficacy and optimism in chapter 14.
Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get.