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You Can If You Think You Can: 4 Ways to Build Self-Efficacy

You Can If You Think You Can: 4 Ways to Build Self-Efficacy

When you face an obstacle or a setback, do you sit back, throw your hands up, and cease to fight for your goals or do you rise to the challenge that has come your way? Are you like the little engine that could constantly telling yourself, “I think I can, I think I can!” or do you allow self-doubt to control you? Do you persevere through difficulty believing that something is better on the other side or do you feel you are incapable of achieving success?

“They are able because they think they are able.”
— Virgil

Questions like these are central to our understanding of self-efficacy. Who we become and what we accomplish in life are largely a result of what we choose to believe in regards to our ability. Pop psychology teaches that belief in one’s self matters. However, it is not just a statement randomly applied in self-help books and pep talks. Psychologist Albert Bandura in his social cognitive theory, defined self-efficacy as the belief a person has in his ability to succeed at a task or to achieve a goal.

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Believe in your ability

According to Bandura, our attitudes, cognition, beliefs, and abilities are central to the system of the self. This self-system helps to determine how we perceive situations and other people. It also helps us to perceive how we will behave, respond, or react to these different situations. Self-efficacy then is a part of this system in that it is our belief in our abilities to take a certain course of action in order to reach a desired result or goal.

Since Bandura published his groundbreaking discovery in the form of the paper, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” the subject has become highly studied and used among psychologists and educators as a way to demonstrate its impact on mental states, behavioral process, and even human motivation. All people have a goal or dream they want to achieve in life, but “easier said than done” as they say. Self-efficacy shows how we are able to achieve these goals.

Make the effort

Self-efficacy affects behavior choices, motivation, thought patterns, situational responses, choices in behavior, productivity at work or in academics, as well as one’s idea about destiny. People with a high level of self-efficacy view challenges and problems as opportunities to learn and grow whereas people with a low level of self-efficacy aim to avoid problems. Those with a high level of self-efficacy are confident in their ability to achieve while those with a low level of self-efficacy lack a good deal of confidence, are unsure of themselves, and doubt their abilities.

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People with a high level of self-efficacy are more likely to make an effort to complete a project and persist through until it is finalized than those with a low level of self-efficacy. Bandar also believed that self-efficacy has a strong correlation to one’s worldview as well. People with a high level of self-efficacy believe that they are in control of their lives and that their own choices and action determine the outcome of their lives. On the other hand, people with a low level of self-efficacy see their lives as outside of their control, in the hands of someone else, or completely uncontrollable by anyone.

While we stop growing physically and over time, some of our beliefs come set in concrete, self-efficacy does not really end. It evolves throughout the various stages of life. Recently in a developmental psychology, we discussed self-efficacy and how it can be developed in our lives. Here are 4 ways we can build our level of self-efficacy for greater achievement:

1. Build one success on top of another.

All successful people started out small. Don’t despise the small success, the small achievements or accomplishments. These set the foundation for what is to come next. Success is not automatic. It begins with the belief that you can be and then taking one small step at a time to get there. Every little task you are faced with, mastery its process, do it to the best of you ability and allow yourself to grow with it no matter how difficult it is.

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2. Observe the endurance and success of other people.

Watching other people complete a task or reach a goal successfully is an important point of self-efficacy and also serves subtly as a motivator. You’ll think to yourself, “If he can do it, so can I” or “If she can get there from where she was, so can I.” Seeing other people success through effort raises the belief in ourselves that we too can make an effort to succeed as well.

3. Surround yourself with people who believe you can succeed.

Social persuasion is powerful. Surround yourself with people who believe you can succeed. There are some people who will even persuade you to believe that you are capable of succeeding. Sometimes, they come in the form of a parent, a coach, a teacher, a mentor, or even a close friends. Verbal affirmation from other people can help in overcoming self-doubt and focusing on putting your best foot forward.

4. Work through your own psychological responses

Our own responses and reactions to situations are developed largely by unseen psychological processes. Emotional states, stress levels, and moods impact how we view ourselves and what we believe about our abilities. By learning how to minimize stress (not by avoiding the situation or challenge) and increase mood to a positive level, you can improve your level of self-efficacy.

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“Ability is what gives you the opportunity; belief is what gets you there.”
— Apollo

Research has shown that self-efficacy is a much stronger predictor of outcomes in behavior and achievement than other aspects of motivation. My professor in development psychology, Dr. Chad Magnuson said, “success is not just a matter of capability, but really a matter of how capable we think we are.”

Featured photo credit: Azrul Aziz via unsplash.com

More by this author

Daniella Whyte

Psychology Researcher

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Published on March 19, 2019

How Your Attitude Determines Your Success

How Your Attitude Determines Your Success


Do you remember the last time you faced a major setback–when you felt so low, that nothing seemed to make you happy? No matter how hard you tried, you just felt like the world was against you. Perhaps it was a bad relationship, or the loss of a loved one… maybe something bad happened at work? Whatever it may be, could you recall how your attitude was towards that situation?

Often when we’re caught in an unhappy situation, we feel limited and sometimes trapped. We want to get out of it as quickly as we can, but it’s never quite that simple.

Unfortunately, some people can remain in that terrible situation for weeks, months or even years; while others may come out strong and ready to start over–or continue from where they left off–fairly quickly.

So what sets these two groups apart?

The answer is their attitude.

Attitude is everything when it comes to achieving a goal, and tackling a setback or problem. 

When you’re able to have a positive mindset, you’ll be able to break free of your limitations that are holding you back.

A positive attitude also goes a long way in ensuring you come out victorious from whatever limitations that were holding you back before. It transforms not just your mental state, but your physical and emotional well being. It is the key to lasting total transformation.

Positive Attitude Brings About Positive Health 

When you’re stuck in a rut, often the first thoughts that run through your head are negative, thus your outlook likely becomes pessimistic. But, if you can transform those thoughts into more positive ones, then you’re on your way to talking yourself out of that rut, which allows you to move forward.

Of course, positive thinking doesn’t mean ignoring all the bad or unpleasant feelings altogether. It just means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way–instead of taking everything as a victim to negative circumstances, you see it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Be aware of self talk!

These automatic thoughts can be positive or negative. Some of your self talk comes from logic and reason, while other self talk may arise from misconceptions that you create. Others could come from external sources such as negative people around you, or messages from the media.

The key is to surround yourself with positive influences that can help turn those negative thoughts into positive, more productive actions.You’ll not only feel better about the situation, but in the long run, positive thinking can lower your levels of distress and depression and give you better coping skills during hardships.

Researchers studying the effects of positive thinking and optimism on health have also found that positive thinking may provide increased life span, better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and even greater resistance to the common cold!

It’s unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits, but one theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

It’s also thought that positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles — they get more physical activity, follow a healthier diet, and don’t smoke or drink alcohol in excess.

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Suffering is Inevitable, So It’s Best to Accept It 

Now, one thing that everyone goes through at some point, is suffering. It’s a harsh reality, yet you can’t actually avoid it. We experience suffering as the result of unhappiness, fear, anger, loss or frustration. In fact, it would be hard to even imagine the feeling of happiness if we never experienced suffering! How would we ever compare it?

So instead of wallowing in sorrow about the suffering you have endured, take the suffering as an opportunity for change. Did you get laid off from your job? Perhaps this would be a good time to re-assess your career goals.

Rather than feeling negative and stuck, use your time and energy to find opportunities which will put you ahead. With the right attitude, anything can seem possible.

This may sound crazy, but suffering is the secret to being successful! 

Here’s what I mean. It’s impossible to think of new ideas or understand new experiences without stepping outside of your comfort zone. Anyone who has met great successes has also faced many failures, as nobody wins on every try.

To propel you toward success, find a way to track your progress and to set and celebrate small benchmarks. It may be helpful to conduct a weekly review to assess where you are and acknowledge all of the small wins of the week. Every accomplishment, no matter how small, is an achievement; so, be sure to take note of them.

Tracking your progress is also a great way to find and mitigate triggers and hindrances that impede your progress. The point is, you’re making progress; even if it feels like suffering, you can see that it’s leading you to joy.

Remember, don’t compare yourself to others. Only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. Each step you make towards progress is making you a better version of you.

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Gratitude Goes a Long Way in Shaping Attitude 

Now, this may seem difficult to do when you’re already feeling down, but having gratitude is a very useful when you’re trying to navigate your way out of a setback. Being grateful for existing accomplishments and the supports in your life will help you see them more clearly, build your own confidence, and give you a better overall outlook on what your limitations really are and what you have to do to overcome them.

With a grateful attitude, you limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

Being grateful, even during the toughest of times, steers your attitude towards a more positive one, allowing you to get back on your feet much more quickly. Many studies done on gratitude have shown positive results for people who practice regularly, such as improvement in relationships and in mental health. There’s even studies that show higher motivation in work settings due to a simple ‘thank you’ from managers to their subordinates.

Believe in Yourself and Your Truth

This is often easier said than done, but is also the most empowering truth to overcoming your setbacks and limitations in life.

Many people find it hard to keep a positive attitude during tough times because they lack inner confidence. They doubt their abilities because of the ‘failure’ that they’re experiencing, and don’t think that they can rise above again.

But, confidence doesn’t just come from talent, luck or easy opportunity. Confidence comes from overcoming difficulties and facing your fears head on. 

Confidence is a result of getting out of your comfort zone. The more you do this, the more confident you’ll be, and the more positive your attitude will be. Confidence will help you see your goals more clearly, find your strengths within, reach your goals and overcome your limitations much more quickly.

Here’s a quick story about my own struggles helping me get ahead:

When I first started Lifehack, it took a long time to gain a solid readership. Just getting 100 visitors was a challenge and took a good bit of time. I had great ambitions for this site, yet it seemed like I was doomed to fail. I received plenty of criticism, too. Some people thought that the world didn’t need yet another self help site, others offered the opinion that there was something wrong with the idea itself and I was making a mistake.

It was hard for me not to listen to them and, at some times, agree. But, persistence is key, and in the end I chose to believe in my truth.

I worked tirelessly changing the site layout, restructuring articles, and making the site more user friendly. Slowly, I expanded to a team with the hiring of some extremely dynamic and talented people. With each determined effort, the site grew in popularity, and a few years later, we had influenced millions–and continue to do so.

Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and facing every challenge head on were the greatest contributing factors to increasing my confidence. So welcome the challenges that come; don’t avoid them, as they’re all opportunities in disguise to feed your growth.

Your Attitude Sets the Tone for Success 

Do you see the importance of having a positive attitude? It is so much more than a mindset or state of mind. Your attitude sets the tone for every action and behavior that follows after, and that will determine how long it takes for you to break free from your current circumstance.

So if you’re currently in an unhappy situation, why not give it a try and look at things from a more positive outlook? As mentioned, not only does having a positive attitude bring about favorable outcomes, it also brings about positive health in the long run.

Embracing hardship as it is, and using it as a learning experience to grow, will also make you stronger. And, whether you’re going through good or bad times, practicing gratitude will no doubt help to limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

Lastly, in any circumstance, you are your greatest barrier to success, which is why it’s important to always believe in yourself!

You will always have the power to be in control of your situation because your attitude is determined by you. So start harnessing all that positive thinking to turn those limitations into strengths!

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Featured photo credit: Photo by Jonathan Francisca on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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