Self-Efficacy: Why believing in yourself does matter?

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Self-efficacy is certainly one of the topics that keeps coming up more and more in executive and performance coaching these days as it’s critical for goal setting and its execution and also it’s central to being able to carry on longer without getting stressed in challenging situations. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. The concept of self-efficacy was developed within Bandura’s (1977) framework of social learning theory (SLT). Bandura agreed on with the behaviourist learning theories of classical conditioning and operant conditioning but he also pointed out two very valid points: 1. Mediating processes occur between stimuli and responses; 2. Behaviour is learnt from the environment through the process of observational learning – this is what we call now ‘role modelling’.

One’s sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how a person approaches goals, tasks, and challenges. Performance accomplishments have proved to be the most influential source of efficacy information because they are based on one’s own mastery experiences. Bandura has defined self-efficacy as one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. Passmore (2007) also noted that the concept of self-efficacy is based on self-perception in other words how well we think we can perform the task.

Zimmerman and Cleary (2006) pointed out that the construct of self-efficacy has a variety of distinctive characteristics:

  • Self-efficacy judgments focus on perceived capabilities to perform an activity rather than on personality or psychological trait. How well can I do something rather than what am I like?
  • Self-efficacy perceptions are distinctive as they are domain, context and task specific.
  • Self-efficacy depends on a mastery criteria of performance rather than on normative or other criteria.

Self-efficacy beliefs are not judgments about one’s skills, objectively speaking, but rather about one’s judgments of what one can accomplish with those skills  – that is what one thinks one can do, not what one has. These judgments are a result of a complex processes of self-appraisal and self-persuasion that relies on cognitive processing of diverse sources of efficacy information such as past performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, physiological states, perceived difficulty of performance and social comparison with others. Bandura has argued that performance accomplishments on difficult tasks, tasks attempted without external assistance, and tasks accomplished with only occasional failures carry greater efficacy value than tasks that are easily accomplished, tasks accomplished with external help, or tasks in which repeated failures are experienced with little sign of progress.

A strong sense of self-efficacy enhances one’s accomplishments and overall well-being in many ways – it drives personal accomplishments, reduces stress and lowers vulnerability to depression. If you have high assurance or belief in you capabilities, you are likely to:

  • Approach difficult tasks or stressful situations as challenges to be mastered rather than as hassle or stress to be avoided and this effective outlook really fosters intrinsic interest in task and increase their self-efficacy even further.
  • Set yourself challenging and inspirational goals and be very committed to them.
  • Tend to heighten and sustain your efforts in the face of failure or adversity better than others.
  • Show quick recovery of your sense of efficacy after any failures or setbacks.
  • Tend to attribute any failures to insufficient effort or lack of knowledge and skills which you can acquire in the future.
  • Approach challenging or stressful situations with assurance that you can cope with it.

The concept of self-efficacy expectations is particularly useful in performance coaching as it predicts certain behavioural consequence. The concept of self-efficacy expectations can either enhance or decrease:

  • The probability of taking a given action – it’s more likely the higher our belief is.
  • Quality of one’s performance of behaviours in the target domain
  • Persistence in the face of barriers or discomfort experiences – the less persistent a coachee is during difficult times, the more performance will decreased.

Bandura remarked that expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behaviour will be initiated, how much effort will be placed and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and difficult experiences. Bandura then also added that persistence in activities that are subjectively threatening but in fact relatively safe produces, through experiences of mastery, further enhancement of self-efficacy and corresponding reductions in defensive behaviour.

It is believed that people with high self-efficacy perform better as they are able to carry on longer without getting stressed and organise and execute a course of action to attain a desired goal. Therefore a strong link is shown between high self-efficacy and high performance at work.
References:
Bandura, A, (1977), Social Learning Theory. Upper Saddle River, US: Prentice Hall:
Passmore, J. and Whybrow, A., (2008), Motivational Interviewing. A specific approach for coaching psychologists in Palmer, S. and Whybrow, A., (2008), Handbook of coaching Psychology. A guide for practitioners, London and New York: Routledge.
Zimmerman, B. & Cleary, T. (2006), Adolescents’ development of personal agency: The role of self-efficacy beliefs and self-regulatory skill in F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (45-69). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

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