I am guilty of self-handicapping. I don’t want to try too hard or raise expectations too much. I want people to think I’m smart and accomplished. If I fail, I will look dumb.
Knowing this about myself, I am always on the lookout to try new things. I want to push myself in new directions. If I fail, and I almost always fail, I try not to feel too ashamed. I want to learn something from the overall experience.
To some people, I look brave. To others, I seem like a dilettante. But you can’t live an exciting life if you’re carefully crafting your personal brand to appease an audience that probably isn’t thinking much about you in the first place. Self-handicapping makes you lame.
So when I want to attempt something new but I’m super-cynical and pretty sure I will fail, I engage in thought-experiment called “prefactual thinking” and consider my options.
* I try not to get too caught up in my anxiety
* I imagine all possible outcomes
* I don’t value the positive scenarios over the negative (or vice versa)
* I list all of the various situations and see what I’ve got
Do I want to open an art gallery? Do I want to take golf lessons? Would I be interested in speaking about leadership at a pre-conference workshop at the 2016 National Truck & Step Van Driving Championships? Would I accept sponsored content from Gun Owners of America, the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington according to Ron Paul?
I don’t know. Let’s play this out without being too optimistic or pessimistic.
A lot of people it will tell you that you don’t know what you don’t know. For example, you’ll never understand what it’s like to be married until you’ve been married. And that’s correct to some extent, but it’s also wildly inaccurate. Smart people can guess that marriage is hard and won’t work if you have a history of being an insensitive jerk. Are you an insensitive jerk? When looking at your options for relationships, maybe don’t get married.
Prefactual thinking requires you to be self-aware and honest, so it’s not for everyone. And sometimes I ignore certain outcomes and choose what I want to choose. The heart wants what the heart wants, and sometimes the heart wants me to be crazy and learn lessons the hard way.
But you should give this a go.
Do you have decisions to make? If you like paper, get a Moleskin or a legal pad. If you like your phone, use voice-to-text and take notes. Think through the possible outcomes of your decision, one at a time, without comment or judgment.
Then sit with those different results and ask yourself — am I honest? Have I looked at all the different outcomes? Is this true? What are my blind spots and how have they impacted this list?
If you can make it work, don’t be lame. Take a risk and say yes to whatever it is you’re considering. Failure won’t kill you, and self-handicapping is no way to live life.