Sometimes students' motivational goals actually undermine academic achievement. Often they are a negative byproduct of the competitiveness of performance goals (Urdan, 2004). If teachers (and sometimes also fellow students) put too much emphasis on being the best in the class, and if interest in learning the material therefore suffers, then some students may decide that success is beyond their reach or may not be desirable in any case. The alternative—simply avoiding failure—may seem wiser as well as more feasible. Once a student adopts this attitude, he or she may underachieve more or less deliberately, doing only the minimum work necessary to avoid looking foolish or to avoid serious conflict with the teacher. Operating this way is a form of self-handicapping—deliberate actions and choices that reduce the chances of success. Students may self-handicap in a number of ways; in addition to not working hard, they may procrastinate about completing assignments, for example, or set goals that are unrealistically high. Another self-handicapping strategy is to become involved in too many other activities or place undue importance on other tasks. The main idea here is that self-handicapping allows individuals to attribute their failure to factors other than their own ability. Blaming my poor performance on the project on the fact that I'm really busy is less damaging to my self-esteem than blaming my performance on the fact that I didn't really understand the concepts.
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