Setting Yourself Up for Failure

Every student has strengths and weaknesses in certain academic areas. Some breeze through math, while they can barely scrape up a C in English. While of course, students have better abilities in some subjects than others naturally, does their attitude play a role?

The answer? Mostly yes. While natural ability of course makes a difference, a student’s attitude toward a certain subject or course can affect their behavior and success.

A bad attitude toward science may seem like a normal response toward this subject, but it can do more harm than one would expect. Going into a science class with the expectation to perform poorly can be self-handicapping- “creating barriers to successful performance prior to an achievement task.” (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012) In a way, this negative approach toward a task that hasn’t even be worked on yet can essentially set one up for failure. This approach can lead to behavior that avoids the “dreaded” task at hand, such as socializing. Failure becomes almost inevitable at this point. Repeated use of self-handicapping can have detrimental effects on performance, responsibility, and achievement over time. (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012)

Self-handicapping is a negative coping mechanism, and it’s use creates a vicious cycle. The more this coping is used, the more performance goes down. The more performance goes down, the more self-esteem goes down. (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012)

Classrooms where ability is emphasized may be a place where self-handicapping can be encouraged. (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012) With that being said, classrooms may also be the place where self-handicapping can be reduced. Classrooms that emphasized individual accomplishments, learning, and effort tend to have lower instances of self-handicapping occurring than in ability emphasized classrooms. (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012)

Perhaps another huge responsibility lays in teachers hands. Teachers should help students set achievable goals, emphasize enjoyment of learning, and communicate that students should not be ashamed when they do not understand material. These strategies have shown effective- students were less likely to engage in self-handicapping behavior. (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2012)

Education is such an important part of our lives as a society, and we should attempt to do the best that we can in all subjects and materials. Self-handicapping is a premature response to an expected failure, and it does no good except increase the odds of failure itself. It is important to try to nip this in the bud, and look to where we can fix this problem. With better confidence, students will rise and perform better than before.

A personal outlook:

College is hard, no one will disagree with that. But as college students, we’ve elected to be here. We’re paying money and spending valuable time¬†choosing to further our education. There are classes we may dread, but it is important to remember to just try.



Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications

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