How You Create Your Own Failure

We like to externalise failure and internalise success, so we create bad situations in order to have something to blame.

Photo by Pedro da Silva on Unsplash

When I was 17 I threw the biggest house party imaginable.

My parents were away on holiday, I found my way into the booze cupboard and invited a “couple” of friends over.

Things escalated.

In the end there were people hanging out of windows trying to climb on the conservatory roof, one of our friends’ cars was covered in every for sale sign from the estate, and the garden had a massive banner from the local McDonalds promoting the McHotDog (which probably dates the incident quite well).

I remember getting to 6am and thinking I ought to start getting ready for my day at college so I didn’t miss the bus.

Only it was quite an important day, I was due to sit a crucial A Level exam.

Truth was I hadn’t put in the work, I hadn’t done my revision and I was not ready. But I was also not ready to be called a failure.

There is no rational reason for throwing a party the night before an important exam… is there?

When we externalise failure we essentially find a way to remove our faults.

With self sabotage (or self-handicapping as it is known) we unknowingly or unintentionally create situations and conditions where we can fail and point the finger at a good reason for why.

These self-defeating behaviours can be seen when we choose obstacles to performance, enhancing the opportunity to excuse failure while taking all the credit for success.

We like to think the poor performance was not as a result of inability, but instead it can be blamed on the lack of preparation or lack of sleep.

We tell ourselves if only I had done the revision, got the sleep, done the work, then I would still be able to have succeeded.

These situations can be simple things like procrastination, and late nights or more chaotic like pointing the finger at others and creating blame which leads to social consequences. They’re also rarely rational, but our brain lets us believe it is.

Procrastination is one of those things that might seem inconsequential in the short-term but can be massively self-defeating in the long-term.

Procrastination doesn’t just have to be wasting time doing things like browsing social media or reading nonsense articles, it can also be prioritising the wrong tasks or focusing on tasks that we think we can do quickly and tick them off our list.

Unnecessary obstacles aren’t always a bad thing though, I’ll talk more about that in future posts.

But this mindset has a big role to play when it comes to being able to take risks and fail in the name of entrepreneurship.

If you don’t own the failure then you can’t learn as much. Even if the shortcoming is truly external, that’s ok. Your risk assessment or pre-mortem could have picked this up, but either way you can own the mistake and implement it next time.

The bigger risk is when we blame the world for all the bad stuff that keeps on happening to us, without recognising the world that we are creating and designing for ourselves.

When learning about cognitive strategies like this it is very tempting to think we are above them, and that sure, this might be true for others but it isn’t for me.

An important lesson I have learnt is to instead question: is this true for me? By shifting my mindset on this I unlocked that long forgotten story of the party before my A Levels.

Next time you think you don’t have enough time, or that you think you’ve got something you can blame for your shortcomings, question whether it is the your brain creating a convenient excuse through self-handicapping.

As always, please do get in touch if you identify with this, and even more so if you don’t. I’m grateful for every share on socials — it’s rewarding to see the new subscribers continue to grow.

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Gareth I. Jones

Founder of TownSq, focused on building communities of entrepreneurs, supporting startups and B Corps - businesses that are better for the planet.