Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to successfully manage or cope in a particular situation. When we have a low sense of our own self-efficacy, we may feel a lack of self-confidence and control which can lead to distressing feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
Since Psychologist Albert Bandura published his 1977 research paper, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” the subject has become one of the most studied topics in psychology. Self-efficacy is an important topic among psychologists and researchers because it can have a profound impact on everything from our psychological states to our behavior and our motivation.
When we want to reach a goal that we have set for ourselves, self-efficacy is essential to help us move forward towards a positive outcome. This is why people with mood disorders might remind themselves that they have gotten through a depressive episode before and that they have the ability to get through it again. This kind of hope and optimism can help us to see ourselves as capable human beings with the skills to work through tough times.
If we don’t have strong self-efficacy, what can we do? How can we get more of it? Thankfully, there are strategies that we can use to change our efficacy beliefs. The originator of the theory, Albert Bandura describes four sources of efficacy beliefs:
- Mastery Experiences
The most powerful source of self-efficacy is having a direct experience of mastering a task or an environment. Having success reaching a goal through effort and perseverance will help us to build our self-efficacy and our belief in ourselves. If we are feeling unsure, we can start with mastering a relatively easy task and then increase the difficulty and complexity as we begin to feel more competent.
- Vicarious Experiences
The second source of self-efficacy comes from our observation of people similar to ourselves succeeding while using perseverance and effort to overcome obstacles. Seeing that other people learn and grow can strengthen our beliefs that we too can master the activities needed for success. One great way to increase our vicarious experiences is to read biographies of people who we admire in order to greater understand the paths they took to became “masters” in their field.
- Verbal Persuasion
The people who have influenced our development such as our parents, teachers, siblings or coaches may have either strengthened or weakened our belief that we have what it takes to succeed. Having people who persuade us that that we can master the skills needed for life makes it more likely that we will put it the effort and sustain it when we have set-backs.
If we weren’t lucky enough to have people encouraging us to keep trying as we grew up, we can make it a priority as adults to surround ourselves with people who are supportive and who let us know that they believe in our abilities.
- Emotional & Physiological States
Our self-efficacy is also impacted by the emotional or physiological state in which we find ourselves. Depression, for example, will decrease our confidence. When we are feeling tired, sad or anxious, we may perceive our self-efficacy as weak. When we are well-rested and happy, we may perceive our self-efficacy as strong. Reflecting on our emotional state before we start a new task will help us to understand that we may be underestimating our abilities. Learning to self-regulate our emotional states and practicing self-compassion can also help us to have more realistic appraisals of our abilities.
Psychologist James Maddux has suggested a fifth route to self-efficacy through “imaginal experiences”, the art of visualizing ourselves behaving effectively or successfully in a given situation. If we can visualize ourselves completing a task successfully or handling a difficult interaction competently, we can increase our optimism about our potential for success.
How do you feel about your level of self-efficacy? Although it is not something that most of think about regularly, we can see that having a belief in our ability to cope and even thrive in life can be a welcome boost to our self-concept and quality of life. Building self-efficacy cannot be done in a day, but each day we can take steps to learn new skills, handle disappointments, and deal with whatever life throws at us.
By Polly Guetta