By Luis S. R. Vas
Self-efficacy is the key to success outside and peace within. read on to know how your self-efficacy currently rates and ways of raising it
Professor Albert Bandura, Stanford University, has defined perceived self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes”.
Bandura points to four sources affecting self-efficacy:
• Experience: “Mastery experience” is the most important factor deciding a person’s self-efficacy. Simply put, success raises self-efficacy, failure lowers it.
• Modelling based on “vicarious experience”: “If they can do it, I can do it as well.” This is a process of comparison between a person and someone else. When people see someone succeeding at something, their self-efficacy will increase; and where they see people failing, their self-efficacy will decrease. This process is more effectual where the person sees himself as similar to his model. If a peer who is perceived as having similar ability succeeds, this is likely to increase an observer’s self-efficacy. Although not as influential as past experience, modelling is a powerful influence when a person is particularly unsure of himself.
• Social persuasions: Social persuasions relate to encouragements/discouragements. These can have a strong influence: most people remember times where something said to them significantly altered their confidence. Where positive persuasions increase self-efficacy, negative persuasions decrease it. It is generally easier to decrease someone’s self-efficacy than it is to increase it.
• Physiological factors: In unusual, stressful situations, people commonly exhibit signs of distress; shakes, aches and pains, fatigue, fear, nausea, etc. A person’s perceptions of these responses can markedly alter a person’s self-efficacy. If a person gets ‘butterflies in the stomach’ before public speaking, a person with low self-efficacy may take this as a sign of their own inability, thus decreasing their efficacy further. In contrast, a person with high self-efficacy is likely to interpret such physiological signs as normal and unrelated to his or her actual ability, which will continue to be seen as high regardless of trembling hands etc. Thus, it is the person’s belief on the implications of their physiological response that alters their self-efficacy, rather than the sheer power of the response.
“A strong sense of efficacy enhances human accomplishment and personal well-being in many ways,” says Bandura. “People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious outlook fosters intrinsic interest and deep engrossment in activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them. They heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure. They quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks. They attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills which are acquirable. They approach threatening situations with assurance that they can exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces personal accomplishments, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to depression.”
Below are some of the conclusions Bandura has drawn from his research:
Biological systems are highly interdependent. Biological systems are involved in the regulation of the immune system. Stress activated in the process of acquiring coping capabilities may have different effects from stress experienced in aversive situations with no prospect in sight of ever gaining any self-protective efficacy. There is some evidence that providing people with effective means for managing stressors may have a positive effect on the immune function. Moreover, stress aroused while gaining coping mastery over stressors can actually enhance different components of the immune system.
There are other ways in which perceived self-efficacy serves to promote health. Lifestyle habits can enhance or impair health. This enables people to exert behavioural influence over their vitality and quality of health. Perceived self-efficacy affects every phase of personal change: whether people even consider changing their health habits; whether they enlist the motivation and perseverance needed to succeed; and how well they maintain the habit changes they have achieved. The stronger the perceived self-regulatory efficacy is, the more successful people are in reducing health-impairing habits and adopting and integrating health-promoting habits into their lifestyle. Comprehensive community programmes designed to prevent cardiovascular disease by altering risk-related habits reduce the rate of morbidity and mortality.
When people tend to overestimate their capabilities, this is a benefit rather than a cognitive failing to be eradicated. If efficacy beliefs always reflected only what people can do routinely they would rarely fail but they would not set aspirations beyond their immediate reach nor mount the extra effort needed to surpass their ordinary performances. People who experience much distress have been compared in their skills and beliefs in their capabilities with those who do not suffer from such problems. The findings show that it is often the normal people who are distorters of reality. They are the ones who display self-enhancing biases and distort in the positive direction. People who are socially anxious or prone to depression are often just as socially skilled as those who do not suffer from such problems. But the normal ones believe they are much more adept than they really are whereas the depressed group doesn’t. The non-depressed people also have a stronger belief that they exercise some control over situations.
Innovative achievements also require a resilient sense of efficacy. Innovations require heavy investment of effort over a long period with uncertain results. Theories and technologies that are ahead of their time usually suffer repeated rejections. Because of the cold reception given to innovations, the time between conception and technical realisation is discouragingly long. It is, therefore, not surprising that one rarely finds realists in the ranks of innovators and great achievers. Many literary classics brought their authors countless rejections. James Joyce’s, The Dubliners, was rejected by 22 publishers. Gertrude Stein continued to submit poems to editors for 20 years before one was finally accepted. Over a dozen publishers rejected a manuscript by e. e. cummings. Early rejection is the rule, rather than the exception, in other creative endeavours. The Impressionists had to arrange their own exhibitions because their works were routinely rejected by the Paris Salon. Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime. Rodin was rejected three times for admission to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Rejections should not be accepted too readily as indicants of personal failings. To do so is self-limiting.
In sum, the successful, the venturesome, the sociable, the non-anxious, the non-depressed, the social reformers, and the innovators take an optimistic view of their personal capabilities to exercise influence over events that affect their lives. If not unrealistically exaggerated, such self-beliefs foster positive well-being and human accomplishments.
Rapid technological changes in the modern workplace are placing an increasing premium on higher problem-solving skills and resilient self-efficacy to cope effectively with job displacements and restructuring of vocational activities.
Perhaps the most striking recent example of self-efficacy in India is Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. A poor fisherman’s son rising to become the President of India, along the way adorned with the mantle of being the “undisputed father of India’s Missile and Nuclear Programme” and awarded all possible honours including the Bharat Ratna.
Measuring your self-efficacy
The Generalised Self-Efficacy (GSE) Scale is a 10-item psychometric scale that is designed to assess optimistic self-beliefs to cope with a variety of difficult demands in life. The scale has been originally developed in German by Matthias Jerusalem and Ralf Schwarzer in 1981 and has been used in many studies with millions of participants. In contrast to other scales that were designed to assess optimism, this one explicitly refers to personal agency, i.e., the belief that one’s actions are responsible for successful outcomes. Perceived self-efficacy is a prospective and operative construct.
Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 4 in the questionnaire below.
[1 = Not at all true; 2 = Hardly true; 3 = Moderately true; 4 = Exactly true]
• I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough
• If someone opposes me, I can find the means and ways to get what I want
• It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals
• I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events
• Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations
• I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort
• I can remain calm when facing difficulties because I can rely on my coping abilities
• When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions
• If I am in trouble, I can usually think of a solution
• I can usually handle whatever comes my way
The higher your rating the greater is your perceived self-efficacy level. The good news, for those of you who scored low, is that you can start raising your self-efficacy levels almost immediately. You can become worthwhile and succeed. It is your lack of the sense of self-efficacy that blocks your personal growth and affects your self-esteem. If you would like to raise your level of self-efficacy, follow the suggestions bellow:
Knowledge is the key
Someone rightly said that you are only afraid of what you don’t know. You need to understand yourself and why you do what you do and identify your strengths and weaknesses. If your current responses do not give you the life that you want, you need to learn things outside your present knowledge, skills and experiences. You don’t know how and what to do because you have not questioned yourself enough and have not acquired enough knowledge and experiences. Learning how to effectively use your brain, to focus and to control your thoughts are skills that you can acquire if you put in the effort and determination. So come on, increase your knowledge banks!
Challenge your negative assumptions
You must set out to challenge your existing negative assumptions about your capability, ability and competence. You need to toughen your mentality to fight your fear and look at your actual potential. Your effectiveness will increase if you create a different perception of your present reality. Change the way you think about yourself and your circumstances by understanding and applying a few fundamental principles of success. It doesn’t take a hundred things to change your thinking, just a few will create the difference. Get out of the mould of believing, “I can’t” and let the new mantra be, “I can”.
Do it yourself
Another way to improve your self-efficacy and to know whether something is working is to do things yourself. If it fails to produce the result, go on trying something else and react positively to the circumstance. Ask yourself what will happen if you go a little further and try one more little thing and take the next step. If it works, you have probably got enough information. Your successful performance will raise your self-efficacy, motivate and deepen your belief about your competency and effectiveness and inspire you to identify yourself, instead of others, with success.
See how other people do things
Study the experts and do what they do. You can determine their effectiveness by looking at their results. By observing them you will develop your awareness, increase your choices and get a clear possible picture of the outcome that you desire. Nothing is impossible if someone has done it. Then you copy what they are doing by taking the same actions. Successful people help you develop a positive mindset of expecting things to work out.
Planning and preparation
Planning and preparation allow you to expect better results and achieve your goals. Mindstorming ideas, setting goals and writing down your action steps are the preparation that you need to take to qualify yourself to produce results and have control. The time spent on this activity will never become wasted energy. Everything counts. Plan and prepare your days, weeks, months and years ahead because that is where you are going to spend your life. Planning and preparation bring a state of mind in which nothing seems impossible. How true are the words, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail!”
Use your brain and mind effectively
You may have been tricked into believing that you are ineffective, incompetent and that many things are impossible. Your beliefs, identity and the language you use on yourself have brought about your predicaments. You can re-train yourself to change your life story by using your brain and your mind to re-frame and learn new tricks. Only you have the power over the pictures you want to see, or the words you want to hear and the feelings you want to experience internally. Whatever happens inside will reveal on the outside. So for now, concentrate on changing within, the magic outside will follow.
Self-efficacy, then, seems to be the magic wand that guarantees a great life. How right Bandura was when he wrote, “We find that people’s beliefs about their efficacy affects the sorts of choices they make in very significant ways. In particular, it affects their levels of motivation and perseverance in the face of obstacles. Most success requires persistent efforts, so low self-efficacy becomes a self-limiting process. In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, strung together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” You now know all the tools to build your self-efficacy, so build away and construct the life of your dreams.
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