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self belief

Can I? The Art of Self Efficacy

By February 5, 2023No Comments

You know that voice in your head? The inner dialogue that asks you ‘Are you sure you can handle this?’ (You do? Phew, I was beginning to think it was just me….). Well groundbreaking new research into self talk from Professor Dolores Albarracin at the University of Illinois published in the April 2010 edition of the journal Psychological Science suggests that it’s not such a bad thing to question how capable you are when faced with a new task. In fact asking yourself “Can I?” might be a surprising factor in your success when faced with a new challenge.

50 participants were asked to ponder for a minute on whether they would complete a task (asking “Will I?”) or simply to tell them themselves that they would (stating “I will”). Contrary to conventional personal development wisdom (‘I can, I can, I can’) the participants who asked themselves ‘Will I?’ achieved more success in Professor Albarracin’s experimental task.

“Experimental methods are allowing us to investigate people’s inner speech…..and how what they say to themselves shapes the course of their behaviours. The popular idea is that self-affirmations enhance people’s ability to meet their goals…..It seems, however, that when it comes to performing a specific behaviour, asking questions is a more promising way of achieving your objectives.” Added Albarracin, chucking a sobering bucket of cold water over the old ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ self help mantra.

How you approach challenges in your life can tell you more than just how you like to talk to yourself when there’s no one else around. This was perhaps summed up best by Albert Bandura when he said “Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.” (Self-efficacy: The exercise of control, 1997). Bandura’s groundbreaking research into self efficacy or in other words how capable we think we are at achieving our goals, identified four sources of influence when it comes to establishing belief in our own self efficacy;

Mastery Experiences – these are established by achieving repeated successes over a period of time, building up personal efficacy into an unstoppable force. Set yourself small steps to begin with, working up to bolder and more daring goals as you go on your way.

Vicarious Experiences – Observing other people similar to yourself, Bandura called the people around you your ‘social models’. Witnessing what they’ve achieved raises your beliefs in your own capabilities. Yup, anything you can do……

Social Persuasion – Receiving encouragement from others can strengthen your belief in your abilities, motivating you to push harder and make the extra effort needed to succeed. Think in terms of seeing an improvement rather than ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ whenever you enter into a new challenge.

Perception & Interpretation of reactions to stress – How you view stress and anxiety has a profound effect your self efficacy. Viewing setbacks in a positive light will enhance your perception of your own self efficacy whereas feeling overwhelmed and attributing stress to personal inadequacy will diminish it. Learn to see setbacks as temporary and an opportunity to strengthen and build your skills. It seems Monty Python might have been onto something after all when they said ‘Always look on the bright side of life’.

So the next time you embark on a new challenge, remember to watch your self talk, silence that voice inside your head and ask yourself ‘Can I…..?’

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