At the beginning of 3rd grade, my teacher, Mrs. Brown, told our class that she only took the absolute smartest kids from the 2nd grade into her class. She said we were the best of the best. Looking back now, I can’t imagine we all took a test in 2nd grade to figure out who was the smartest. But I believed her.
From that point on, I was confident in my abilities to excel in academics. I graduated from high school about 17 years ago. Out of the top 10 students in my graduating class, 4 were from Mrs. Brown’s 3rd grade class.
Confidence and expectations are powerful predictors of our behavior and success.
Albert Bandura and the Theory of Self-Efficacy
A psychologist named Albert Bandura came up with a powerful theory called self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to one’s beliefs about what they can do. In other words, what do people believe they are capable of doing?
Our sense of self-efficacy is related to our success in many areas of life. But how can we develop a sense of self-efficacy in our lives?
5 Ways to Develop Self-Efficacy
There are five primary ways we can develop self-efficacy.
- Successful experiences. People can develop self-efficacy by having successful past experiences. For example, I still remember getting my first journal article accepted for publication. I thought to myself, “I can do this!”
- Observing other people’s experiences. People can develop self-efficacy by observing other people have experiences, as well as the consequences of those experiences. For example, when I was younger, I watched my dad fix a toilet. After watching my dad successfully fix a toilet, I now have a general working understanding of how a toilet works and how to fix it.
- Using imagery. People can develop self-efficacy by imagining succeeding in various scenarios. For example, I was preparing for a CrossFit competition, and I imagined myself working through the exercises quickly and efficiently.
- Encouragement from others. Encouragement from others can help people develop self-efficacy. For example, I was preparing a lesson for a personal growth retreat I was helping lead, and I discussed my preparation with another leader I trusted. After we talked through the teaching, he said, “You’re going to do really great. I’m confident in your abilities to teach this lesson well.”
- Feelings and emotions. Our feelings and emotions can influence our self-efficacy. As we grow up, we tend to associate failure with negative feelings such as fear or anxiety, and success with positive feelings such as happiness or excitement. If I become aware of unpleasant emotions, I tend to doubt my abilities. The opposite is also true; if I am experiencing pleasant emotions, I tend to feel more confident.
The next time you are struggling with confidence or doubting your abilities in a situation or area of your life, think about whether you could apply one of these five methods to develop self-efficacy. For example, you might think about setting up an experience in which you are likely to succeed. You might observe someone in your same situation and see what they do. You might visualize your situation, and imagine what success might look like. Perhaps you could find a person who could encourage or support you in your goal.
Discussion: What is one area of your life in which you are struggling with confidence or self-efficacy? What is one technique you could try in order to develop self-efficacy in this area?