Thinking Errors 2: Moving the goalposts

A common way to discount our achievements is to move the bar higher or change the goalposts. At the start of a project, we tell ourselves that if we could just do a good job we’d be happy. But when we do a good job we say, “But I could have done so much better”.



Before the exam we say, “If I just pass I’ll really happy”.

But when we do pass we aren’t happy. Instead we say, “If I was any good I’d have got a credit, or a distinction.”

Some examples are:

  • I gave a good talk but spent way too long preparing. I won’t be able to go on like this.
  • I did make the sale but it was only to a small customer. I wouldn’t be able to pull it off with our major customers.
  • I did OK in the interview but I was anxious when I was answering questions.

Groucho Marx had a famous line that captures how we can change the goalposts and make sure we can never win.

I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that had me as a member.

Groucho Marx, (1890-1977), US comedian

Extract from The Imposter Syndrome.

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