What is Self-Efficacy and How Can It Improve Our Quality of Life?

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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 toself-concept 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:

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

 

 

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What does recovery mean to you?

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I was recently speaking with some people who work in the mental health field just as I do, and someone asked me the question, “what does recovery mean to you?” My first thought was that mental health recovery will look different for everyone because no two people will follow the same path while they work towards positive mental health. I stumbled through an answer touching on my own experiences of depressed mood and anxiety.  I can say that I have recovered from depression and anxiety because I now feel that I have enough self-awareness and self-compassion to recognize when I am struggling, and because the coping skills and support network that I have developed over the years allow me to feel confident that I can face my concerns head-on. That doesn’t mean that I am not susceptible to future periods of depression and anxiety, and so, I have accepted that I will always have to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to my mental health.

The question about recovery got me thinking, and I started wondering about how other people and agencies define recovery. The Mental Health Commission of Canada answers the “what is recovery?” question like this:

” The concept of “recovery” in mental health refers to living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life, even when a person may be experiencing ongoing symptoms of a mental health problem or illness. Recovery journeys build on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be supported by many types of services, supports, and treatments. 

Recovery principles, including hope, dignity, self-determination, and responsibility, can be adapted to the realities of different life stages, and to the full range of mental health problems and illnesses. Recovery is not only possible, it should be expected.”

Because mental illnesses vary greatly in severity, duration, and presentation, recovery cannot be narrowly defined as the absence of any symptoms of the illness. While someone who has experienced an episode of depression may go on to never experience the symptoms of clinical depression again, someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (for example) will most likely live with some symptoms of the illness throughout their life. However, if we look at the way recovery is defined in the quote above, the person living with an illness can still recover because they can become empowered to live a satisfying life. Therefore, a person who is living with a mental illness can also be a person with good mental health.

The recovery model of mental health service recognizes the importance of looking at mental health holistically while supporting people with mental illness to create their own recovery plans, set their own goals, build on their strengths, and engage with the communities in which they live.

Perhaps recovery is best thought of as a process or even a practice. It is a journey rather than a destination. To everyone who is living with ongoing mental health concerns and who is practicing recovery, I hope that you will find the path towards wellness that is just right for you.

By Polly Guetta