Updated: Apr 27, 2022
Discover the theory behind self-efficacy and find out how you can boost it.
How do you feel when you face a challenging situation? Do you feel confident and believe you have whatever it takes to succeed, or do you doubt your ability to tackle the task ahead of you? The answer you give reflects your self-efficacy about the situation. In this article, you'll find helpful tips for boosting your self-efficacy for future challenges.
Self-efficacy is a psychological concept that refers to your thoughts and perceptions about your ability to perform the actions needed to reach a specific goal. In simpler terms, self-efficacy is your belief that you can succeed in a particular situation. One thing to keep in mind is that self-efficacy is not about having the skill to complete a task, but whether you believe you can achieve that task. Because self-efficacy is tightly linked to your belief in your ability to accomplish something specific, it can affect how you manage it. For example, suppose you feel confident that you can handle a new challenge. In that case, you might be highly motivated to take action, put more effort toward accomplishing it, and display higher resilience when you face adversity.
One of the basic notions of this concept is that you are more likely to participate in activities and delve into tasks for which you possess high self-efficacy and less likely to take action for those you possess low self-efficacy (Lunenburg, 2011). Moreover, self-efficacy is a situation-specific construct. In other words, you may have a high self-efficacy toward certain situations but a low self-efficacy toward others.
Let's illustrate this notion by imagining two scenarios. In the first one, someone gives you car keys and asks you to drop her off at the hospital. In the second scenario, the same person gives you helicopter keys and asks you to fly her to the hospital. Unless you are a pilot, you might be more familiar with operating a car engine than a helicopter engine; therefore, you might have a higher self-efficacy for driving to the hospital than flying there.
Upon noticing that a person's belief in their ability to accomplish a task affects how they handle it, Albert Bandura proposed a new construct to explain this observation in an article titled "Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change" (Bandura, 1977). In addition to defining this construct, Bandura also outlined the four major sources of influence on self-efficacy: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional and physiological states. Let's take a closer look at each of these sources of influence.
When it comes to developing self-efficacy, Bandura determined that mastery experiences, which are an individual's past performance outcomes, are the most effective sources of influence (Bandura, 1994). For instance, if you have performed well at a given task in the past, you might feel competent about performing a similar task again. Yet, mastery experiences can be double-edged swords; your positive experiences can boost your self-efficacy, whereas your negative experiences can erode it.
According to Bandura, vicarious experiences or observations of other people's performances take the second spot for influencing self-efficacy (Bandura, 1994). Observing another person deal with a similar situation and watching them succeed can increase your self-efficacy. However, like with the mastery experiences, watching someone else fail or experience losses might lower your self-efficacy.
The third source of influence that shapes self-efficacy is verbal persuasion. In this case, what other people say about your performance or ability to perform shapes how you feel about your capabilities to handle the challenge. Moreover, the more credible the source of verbal persuasion, the greater their influence over self-efficacy (Won, Lee & Bong, 2017).
Emotional and Physiological States
The last source of influence in Bandura's self-efficacy model involves internal sensations of the individual in two aspects: emotional and physiological. When it comes to emotional influences, your mood and outlook may affect how you approach a challenge. Simply put, having a positive attitude might enhance your self-efficacy, but a negative attitude might diminish it (Bandura, 1994).
Tips for Boosting Self-Efficacy
You can't boost your self-efficacy or help others increase theirs. Here are a few tips that you might find helpful.
This tip is related to the mastery experiences in Bandura's self-efficacy model. Simply, the more you have practice doing something, the more likely you will become better at it, and the more confident you will feel doing the same task in a different situation.
Try New Things
Again, this suggestion is related to mastery experiences. People tend to feel more comfortable with familiar situations. Therefore, the more novelty you accept into your life, the less likely you will be intimidated by new tasks. Trying new things might increase the range of skills at your disposal, but you may also be more likely to face situations that share similarities with your past experiences.
Find Role Models
Here, we use Bandura's second source, vicarious experiences, which states that observing other people's successes can boost our self-efficacy. Witnessing someone else achieve a similar goal might motivate you to follow their steps and imagine yourself as successful. And the more similar that person's background is to yours, the more you can relate to their experiences.
Build a Support System
Hearing positive feedback about your performance can boost your self-efficacy, especially if the praise comes from experts, teachers, coaches, and peers who have done well in similar endeavors. You may try surrounding yourself with supportive people whose opinions you value.
It is essential to recognize signs of stress and thoughts of self-doubt so that you can address them. You might want to focus on your past victories and positive experiences to keep your self-doubt at bay. Keeping a list of accomplishments that you are proud of might come in handy when you need a quick boost to your self-efficacy.
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Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
Lunenburg, F. C. (2011). Self-efficacy in the workplace: Implications for motivation and performance. International journal of management, business, and administration, 14(1), 1-6.
Won, S., Lee, S. Y., & Bong, M. (2017). Social persuasions by teachers as a source of student self‐efficacy: The moderating role of perceived teacher credibility. Psychology in the Schools, 54(5), 532-547.