Parents tend to throw a lot of aphorisms at their kids when they’re trying to encourage them, be they encouraging them to study for a test, learn to ride a bike or drive a car, practice those soccer skills, rehearse a piece for a piano recital, and on it goes. Think things like: “It’s mind over matter!” or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” and such.
Sure, the kids might be annoyed by these and other idioms, but guess what, kid? Your parents are onto something, because this kind of encouragement enhances self-efficacy beliefs, and it is just these beliefs that will lead to greater success in life.
Your sense of self-efficacy influences your life in almost everything you do, from learning to drive or dribble the soccer ball to advancing through a meaningful, lucrative career, to navigating the many relationships with others. Give mom and dad a break, hackneyed as some of their expressions may be: they’re only trying to build self-efficacy up in those they love, because they know your perceived self-efficacy has very real impacts on your life. And that’s true even if your folks have never even defined self-efficacy using the term itself.
So, what is the meaning and importance of self-efficacy? Let’s answer that in two parts.
What does the term self-efficacy mean?
Self-efficacy, according to the psychologist who coined the term in the late 1970s, Dr. Albert Bandura, is a person’s beliefs in his or her abilities to accomplish things; those with high levels of self-efficacy are confident they have the capacity to be successful in a range of tasks
Why Is Self-Efficacy Important?
To be sure, overconfidence or a lack of true understanding of your knowledge, skills, and abilities can be an issue: a person could be entirely confident he or she could jump across a little creek only to wind up soaking wet, that they could deliver a perfect wedding speech off the cuff only to wind up a rambling mess, or that they could launch a successful business with gumption alone only to end up in financial ruin.
But on the other hand, without a high self-efficacy, no one would not only be able to clear the creek but indeed become an Olympic long jumper; no one would not only give a few remarks to a small crowd but rather take to the stage to perform before thousands; and if no one ever ventured in business, no one would ever gain success.
A sense of efficacy, tempered by a sense of reality, is critical for success, and that’s true in all realms of life, from the professional to the personal to the academic, as we’ll see.
Examples of Self-Efficacy
Find a very successful person and you will almost always have found a person who believes he or she is capable of success. And this is true, as noted, across the boards.
For example, first picture two doctoral candidates about to defend their theses; imagine the students have worked in the same field, have written papers that are quite similar and both quite good, and who are equally bright and capable. Here’s the catch: one of these potential PhDs is fully confident in her abilities, while the other lacks confidence in her own capacity. Which student is going to deliver the better defense?
Now think of that most American of figures, the entrepreneur: Thomas Edison once said: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
Who is willing to give all that sweat, AKA effort? A person with sky-high self-efficacy beliefs, that’s who. Confidence quotes like that famous one from Edison tend to come from people who had truly developed their own self efficacy sense.
And you can see examples of how people with high self-efficacy tend to be successful in the arts, in sports, in politics, and on it goes; a mind and spirit tuned to success tends to lead the body to achievement.
How to Develop Self-Efficacy
What does it mean to be high in self-efficacy? It means you are more likely to be highly successful. And for measuring self-efficacy, you can turn to as self-efficacy questionnaire known as the “generalized self-efficacy scale,” or GSE, created by psychologists Ralf Schwarzer and Matthias Jerusalem.
Answer each of these questions on a one-to-five scale and, as you might guess, the higher the score, the higher the self-efficacy:
“I will be able to achieve most of the goals that I have set for myself”
“When facing difficult tasks, I am certain that I will accomplish them”
“In general, I think that I can obtain outcomes that are important to me”
“I believe I can succeed at most any endeavor to which I set my mind”
“I will be able to successfully overcome many challenges”
“I am confident that I can perform effectively on many different tasks”
“Compared to other people, I can do most tasks very well”
“Even when things are tough, I can perform quite well”
Self-Efficacy vs Self-Esteem
The primary dictionary definition of the term self-esteem, quite literally from Dictionary.com, is: “a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect.” As you can see, nowhere in there is any mention of one’s abilities or aptitude – or the perception thereof, also known as a sense of self-efficacy.
Simply put, self-esteem and self-efficacy are not synonymous; they’re not even interdependent.
There are, in other words, plenty of people with no lack of self-worth or self-love, who know they are good and decent human beings worthy of respect and kindness and fairness, who nonetheless don’t think highly of their abilities to achieve various goals. Having a high self-efficacy can enhance self-esteem, but self-esteem is not a fundamental component of self-efficacy.
On the other hand, people with a very low sense of self-esteem also tend to have a low self-efficacy. The good news is that the self-efficacy scale is a sliding one, and not just from one person to the next, but within each of us. You can build self-efficacy over time as you face difficult tasks with the most optimistic possible attitude each time, practicing self-regulation over worries and negative thoughts, and believing in yourself as much as you can.
With effort, over time you will foster self-efficacy and improve the emotional reactions you have to difficult tasks and challenge, with the happy outcome being genuinely improved results, all because you let your own mind and your own self-efficacy lead the way.
In short, a person can let oneself succeed if only they first believe success is the likely outcome.