Self sabotage
December 22, 2010 10:07 AM   Subscribe

What is self-fulfilling failure called?

I do this thing sometimes where I'm doing really well at something (e.g. chess problems, blitz chess games, any reflexive quick response type activity), I realize I'm doing really well, and then immediately start failing, hard. It's extremely frustrating, and I'd like to stop. I mentioned it to a friend I study chess with and he had experienced something similar. We haven't been able to find a name for it, but he thinks it might be a well known phenomenon in sports. Any idea what I'm talking about, and if so, what it might be called?

I've also given thought to the possibility that I'm doing some sort of confirmation bias where I'm misinterpreting a string of unlikely successes as the norm and then being surprised when failure starts to pull me back towards an average success level and then interpreting that as a mental issue, rather than just a normal situation. I also realize I may be over-thinking this.
posted by nzero to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's often called choking, although that's not a perfect fit.
posted by milarepa at 10:10 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: The usually phrase is "psyching yourself out".
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:11 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: We call it "can't stand prosperity."
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:12 AM on December 22, 2010

Response by poster: Any advice on how to stop "psyching myself out"?
posted by nzero at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: "Fear of success"
posted by dersins at 10:15 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: You've answered your own question. You're over-thinking. As soon as you "realize you're doing really well," you've stopped paying true attention to what you're doing. And you cock up.
posted by Paris Elk at 10:21 AM on December 22, 2010

The opposite, for whatever it's worth, is "clutch."
posted by rouftop at 10:25 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Any advice on how to stop "psyching myself out"?

Distract yourself. Music, conversation, internal dialog - whatever it takes. The point being, your brain has developed your talent at this particular activity to a degree where it's faster for the relevant part of the brain to simply execute without consulting your conscious-oversight faculties. Once you DO start to consciously think about it, you're just getting in your own way. So, think about something else.
posted by rkent at 10:26 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: It's also just known as "fear of failure" - that is as soon as the prize looks like becoming reality, the fear of not getting the prize takes over.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:30 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: I completely agree with dersins. I would say that fear plays a large part in the issue that you're describing, at least as far as I believe it occurs in my own life. A quick look at a few physical symptoms of fear includes:

•heart rate and blood pressure increase
•pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible
•veins in skin constrict to send more blood to major muscle groups (responsible for the "chill" sometimes associated with fear -- less blood in the skin to keep it warm)
•muscles tense up, energized by adrenaline and glucose (responsible for goose bumps -- when tiny muscles attached to each hair on surface of skin tense up, the hairs are forced upright, pulling skin with them)
•trouble focusing on intricate tasks (brain is directed to focus only on big picture in order to determine where threat is coming from)

Possible solutions which have improved my abilities with regards to this are: Meditation, repetition of the task to inure yourself against the fear reaction, trying to stay in the moment and focusing on the task/game/etc. instead of the results.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:31 AM on December 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You end up psyching yourself out because you are focusing on how you are succeeding instead continuing to succeed by focusing on the task at hand.

Basically, it takes you out of "the zone."

Goaltending is a very mental position. It's a lot like a very physical game of chess. At high levels, you have to be extremely focused at all times. You need to keep relaxed, analyze plays, analyze where a shot is going in less than a second, execute the correct physical save, etc...
I learned early on that beginning to think about any one part of it would lead to doom.

What you're talking about is something sports psychologists deal with a lot. I think everyone that is able to get over it does so in different ways.
For me, it's feels almost like turning off my I'm in an autopilot mode.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:44 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
posted by Cuppatea at 10:57 AM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The yips. The wide range of synonyms for this problem suggests to me that it's familiar to experts in widely different spheres.
posted by foursentences at 11:03 AM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In sports there's a reference to being "out of your comfort zone." For example in golf, this often happens when someone realizes after 17 holes that they will have their career-best score, if only they can par -- or even bogey -- the last. Inevitably, the person will then hit a shot out-of-bounds or in a lake and end up with something like a quintiple bogey, and their career low score is safe for another day.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: I've heard this described as "cratering."

It's a vicious circle -- you realize you're doing well, which makes you lose your focus on your next move, you blow it, then the turn of events further unhinges you until you're so flustered, you can't think about anything other than the meta-situation of how you are performing. The key is to snap yourself out looking at yourself from the outside and refocus on the smaller issue of the move you're about to make. When I catch myself doing this, I mentally say STOP, and take 2-3 breaths to regroup before making the next decision.
posted by *s at 11:20 AM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: Defeatist.
posted by JJ86 at 12:02 PM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: This sounds like it's related to the notion of flow. When you're in the flow, you're in the moment and not standing outside yourself looking in. Doing, not thinking. As soon as you jump up to that level of meta-awareness, you're out of the flow.
posted by adamrice at 12:04 PM on December 22, 2010

Best answer: It's natural. The difference between success and failure is that successful people treat failure as a natural progress toward success and failures see failure as judgment that they are not worthy of being a success. People often overreach then fall down to earth - because they haven't built a base of knowledge and skill to cushion their fall. Continue of from where you land and build incrementally and you will reach your goal. Once you've blazed a trail you'll have less fear of failure and hence you'll fail less.
posted by any major dude at 12:19 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Malcolm Gladwell has an essay on the phenomenon:
Human beings sometimes falter under pressure. Pilots crash and divers drown. Under the glare of competition, basketball players cannot find the basket and golfers cannot find the pin. When that happens, we say variously that people have "panicked" or, to use the sports colloquialism, "choked." But what do those words mean? Both are pejoratives. To choke or panic is considered to be as bad as to quit. But are all forms of failure equal? And what do the forms in which we fail say about who we are and how we think?We live in an age obsessed with success, with documenting the myriad ways by which talented people overcome challenges and obstacles. There is as much to be learned, though, from documenting the myriad ways in which talented people sometimes fail.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:57 PM on December 22, 2010

In the book The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis, the heroine is a young chess prodigy. She wins game after game. Finally, she is playing Mr. BestPlayer, and for the first time ever, gets nervous and has trouble concentrating. Suddenly she realizes to herself, "I'm not playing Mr. BestPlayer - I'm playing CHESS," and simply takes what was making her nervous out of the equation.
posted by Ellemeno at 2:04 AM on January 2, 2011

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