Ed Hirt, professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University Bloomington, discusses how self-sabotaging behavior might happen when we think we’re at our best.
Ed Hirt is a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.
As a researcher, Hirt is interested in issues related to motivation and performance, including how mental depletion can negatively impact performance and reduce self-control. He is also interested in the phenomenon of self-handicapping, or “self-sabotage,” specifically looking at the ways in which people sabotage their own performance by embracing handicaps which can later serve as viable excuses for poor performance. Recently, he published a study in the journal Experimental Social Psychology finding people are more likely to self-handicap during their hours of “peak-performance,” with night people more likely to self-handicap at night and morning people more likely to self-handicap in the morning.
He is also interested in the topic of social identity and allegiance, particularly the ways in which many sports fans identify themselves with their favorite teams, and regularly provides commentary on the topic to outlets such as ESPN, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, New York Times and radio and television. He has also served as an expert witness on several legal cases related to the subject of sports licensing.
Hirt is a fellow of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology and American Psychological Association. He holds a bachelor’s of science degree in psychology from the University of Dayton and a doctorate in social psychology from IU Bloomington.
Morning people excel in the morning; night people, at night, right?
You would think so. But in human psychology, things are rarely simple.
As a psychologist, I’m interested in motivation and performance; in failure and success. And unfortunately, people sometimes set themselves up to fail.
Ironically, this ‘self-handicapping’ behavior – or, ‘self-sabotage’ – comes from a desire to protect the ego.
When faced with a challenge, people get nervous, and nerves can cause them to make bad decisions. Maybe they don’t study before a big test. Or they stay up until 2 a.m. binge-watching their favorite TV show.
Then, if they fail, they can blame it on circumstances “beyond their control.”
But self-sabotage takes mental energy. So much so, in fact, that my lab recently found strong evidence you’re more likely to do it when you’re feeling the most alert.
We tested 237 students to learn if their internal clocks were tuned to morning or night, then gave them intelligence tests — some at night, others in the morning. And we told half that stress could cause poor performance on the exam.
Then we surveyed everyone about how much stress they felt before the test.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, the morning people reported less stress when they took the test at night; the night owls, in the morning.
We also found that, at “off-peak” hours, students prone to excuse-making reported the same stress levels as classmates who don’t self-sabotage. Only at peak hours did they report higher stress levels.
Based solely on this study, you might conclude you should tackle your hardest tasks at your “off-peak” hours. But that would mean challenging yourself when you lack all the cognitive tools you need to achieve top performance.
Although it’s not always easy, you’re better off working on your self-confidence, not trying to “outsmart” a self-sabotaging tendency.