The Secret Trait All Successful People Share
What is Self-Efficacy and Why do I need it?
So what am I on about?
Just a month ago I woke up to my alarm going off and, on this particular day, I decided to hit the snooze button. I’m generally really good at waking up and going about my business, but not that day. I had class, I had work to do, and many things needed to be accomplished but all I wanted to do was sleep and ignore all of my obligations. And I did. I stayed in bed and had the laziest day.
We all have those days (some of us more than others, you know who you are). Now, all too often these days begin piling up. You skip one class, one gym session, one therapy session, one interview, and then you figure “What the hell, skipping one didn’t hurt!” Then you skip one more, and one more. Pretty soon you feel that it’s impossible for you to do the thing that you used to do with regularity.
Why did a simple act like skipping one obligation spiral into such a disaster in the first place? You (and I) lacked two very important things in this situation: motivation and self-efficacy.
Now we all know about motivation. It’s that elusive thing that people are always trying to find but somehow never manage to. If they do find it they can’t hang on to it for very long. But what if I told you that if you had a high level of self-efficacy then the motivation would take care of itself?
Self-Efficacy: let's break it down
Self-efficacy is defined as one’s belief in one’s abilities to complete a task or goal. This seems pretty obvious, right? The more you believe in your own ability to do something the more likely you are to attempt it and, ultimately, succeed. But, as with most things in life, it is rarely that easy or that simple.
Yup, you knew there was catch coming. There is an upside though! Nail this and it will be a game-changer for you. It definitely was for me.
Before we get into how to build your levels of self-efficacy let’s take a look at some of the benefits:
- High self-esteem/increased sense of self-worth
- More likely to succeed at what you attempt
- Less likely to give up
- Actively increasing efforts to change your life
- More likely to set challenging goals and succeed
- More likely to stay committed to a goal
- Striving to gain more knowledge and more experience in order to succeed
- Refusing to settle for mediocrity
Pretty great, right? So let’s get down to the details. There are 4 different categories of experiences that affect our levels of self-efficacy:
Performance experience: This is the most potent influence on our beliefs. Whether you failed or succeeded at a task in the past will quite vastly influence how you feel about doing it again.
Vicarious experience: This occurs when we see other people fail or succeed at something and we falsely attribute this experience onto ourselves. You may see a friend fail at something and begin to doubt your own ability to do the same thing.
Verbal experience: This refers to positive or negative input from other people. Maybe your boss tells you that you’re a terrible worker and are close to being fired. This would (most likely) negatively impact your ability to do your work well. If you were ever on a sports team and you received a big pep talk from your coach before a game then you already know how powerful verbal influence can be on your levels of motivation.
Emotional experience: This refers to emotional feelings you may have about an activity. Many people fear public speaking, for example, and may experience an ill feeling, sweaty hands, anxiety, etc. Having these feelings may affect your confidence in yourself.
So now that we know this, how do we go about building high levels of self-efficacy? How we become so confident in our own abilities that we are naturally excited to go out there and not just reach our goals but demolish them? Here are some thoughts to cover all our bases:
Performance experience: Although you can’t change your negative performances in the past, you can use them as references and learn from them. Create new positive experiences by tackling your goals in tiny steps instead of trying to accomplish it all at once. Pick something small and easily managed, succeed at that, and then move on to something more challenging. The small victories will boost your self-efficacy levels and thus your confidence.
Vicarious experience: Surrounding yourself with people who are experts in the field you are active in will help you immensely here. Not only will you be learning about what they do to succeed but you will be immersed in excellence. Actively seeking out people who have succeeded will provide you with the powerful stimulus of what success looks like (and acts like).
Verbal experience: This largely depends on who you spend your time with. When you chase immense success many people will not be happy for you and will actively try to dissuade you, often using the guise of “looking out for your best interests” or “trying to protect you from disappointment”. You know the type. Distance yourself from people like that unless you have the thickest skin in the world. No one needs that kind of negativity when you’re working your butt off.
Emotional experience: We will always experience some kind of emotional reaction when we are about to do something really important or difficult. Even top-level performers feel anxiety before doing what they are best at. However, the trick is to control it so that it doesn’t negatively affect your performance. Meditation, optimal breathing, visualization, and other similar strategies will help you stay on top of your game.
Now a word of caution. Too much of a good thing can turn everything south pretty quickly. Overly high levels of self-efficacy may lead to overconfidence and an over-estimation of one’s abilities.
It also has to be said that people respond differently to positive and negative stimuli. Some people are more motivated when they are presented with negative stimuli in certain contexts. Others become complacent when they start succeeding and slip back into an unmotivated state. You need to figure out what you respond to best and continually search for opportunities to experience that.
At the end of the day Mahatma Gandhi said it best: "If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning".