What's the meaning of "have a hard time staying out of our own way" in this context?

DUBNER: But Marcus, what’s the lesson we should take away from the slime-mold story? Because one could imagine a conclusion whereby humans are stupider than slime mold, which I think we would agree on most dimensions is probably not true. Or maybe there’s a conclusion whereby humans have a hard time staying out of our own way.

It's from this transcript.

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"staying out of our own way" means to avoid making things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves. Prepending "have a hard time" just means we're not good at what follows (i.e. avoiding making things unnecessarily difficult for ourselves).

In other words, we (humans) have a tendency to make things harder for ourselves. Other ways this could have been said include...

"...whereby humans tend to trip themselves up." "...whereby humans cause themselves unnecessary trouble."


Normally one stays out of other people's way, often literally; if you see someone coming along the sidewalk and stay on the bench where you are sitting, you do not get in his way. Figuratively, you stay out of someone's way if you avoid making whatever he's doing difficult.

I would think it a bit jocular because of the figurative impossibility: you can't literally stand where you want to walk and thus obstruct yourself, and therefore it's not a good image of interfering with yourself.


When you “get in the way of” someone, you obstruct them. When you “get in your own way,” you obstruct yourself. That is, you make whatever you’re trying to do harder for yourself.

When you stay out of someplace, you avoid going there. So, when you stay out of someone’s way, you avoid blocking their path. (The connotation is that you’re not going to interfere.) This gives me the illogical but humorous image of someone compulsively standing in his own path, in front of himself, and stopping himself from going anywhere. If someone hadn’t asked who hadn’t grown up hearing this expression, though, I wouldn’t have thought about it so literally. It’s also possible the author meant that some human beings are standing in the way of other human beings.

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    – user99622
    Dec 18, 2021 at 3:46

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