An efficacious attitude works as a driving force – an individual with a strong sense of efficacy is more likely to become self-motivated, committed and assured in the face of a challenge. With high self-efficacy, one can attempt goals and conquer stress more readily, and as a result, experience better wellbeing. On the contrary, those who have doubts about their own abilities ruminate on personal flaws, slacken efforts and lose faith in the face of failure – a mind-set that in the long run can act as a brake on one’s ambitions and increase proneness to mental illness. But how does one develop self-efficacy? Is it something that can be moulded and strengthened to the level we want it to be?
Efficacy beliefs shape the course of our lives – what goals we choose to pursue, how much we commit to those goals and how much effort we put into given endeavours. Our everyday realities are filled with obstacles, frustrations and limitations. However, it is not the difficulties we face that influence our strength and wellbeing, but the beliefs we hold about them. Our beliefs determine how much stress we experience when confronting challenges, and how long it takes before we give up altogether. We must, therefore, develop a robust sense of self-worth to sustain the enduring effort needed to flourish.
Psychologist Albert Bandura, known primarily for his research on behavioural modelling, suggests we can improve our self-efficacy, ironically, through failure. After all, if people only experience straightforward successes, it becomes an expectation that makes them far more vulnerable when things don’t go as planned. Therefore, if one comes to realise their self-worth and capability through sustained effort in overcoming adversity, they can emerge with more resilience rather than disheartenment. He discovered this during his research on fear arousal, where he saw the mediating effect that strong self-efficacy had on phobics, war veterans and hurricane survivors in overcoming incapacitating trauma.
“In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life” – Albert Bandura
A second way in which Bandura suggests we can shape our efficacy beliefs is through second-hand experiences provided by social role models. When we see people similar to ourselves accomplish goals, we can foster our own beliefs that we too have it in us to master similar challenges. With this in mind, we can see others’ achievements not as unattainable comparisons, but as an inspirational framework to guide our own aspirations and plans of action we set ourselves. So, instead of becoming envious and measuring our success through triumphs over others, we can do so through focusing on our own self-improvement and sharing encouragement.
Finally, because our self-efficacy can vary as a function of our physical and mental state, it can be difficult to approach a task that arouses a sense of debility or anxiety. Some people experience a nervous state as an added driving force to their motivation, whereas others view it as a sign to remove themselves from the situation as quickly as possible. This can be a particularly tough thought pattern to eradicate in the moment, but through a structured process of identifying, eliminating and replacing maladaptive or irrational thoughts and behaviours (such as through cognitive behavioural therapy), we can transform what holds us back into a force that pushes us forward. For example, we can break down large challenges into smaller, more manageable steps.
Bandura offers some useful suggestions for how we can manage our own levels of self-efficacy – a skill that can motivate us to change ineffective attitudes and behaviours that might be holding us back. However, these are not limited to themselves – there are a range of other methods to be explored if these do not fit for you or every aspect of life. If you have any ideas or have had personal experience trying the above strategies or any others, please comment or message me with your thoughts and suggestions.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self‐efficacy. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
Bandura, A., & Adams, N. E. (1977). Analysis of self-efficacy theory of behavioral change. Cognitive therapy and research, 1(4), 287-310.
Bandura, A. (2005). The primacy of self‐regulation in health promotion. Applied Psychology, 54(2), 245-254.
Benight, C.C. & Bandura, A. (2004). Social cognitive theory of post-traumatic recovery: The role of perceived self-efficacy. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 42 (10), 1129–1148