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Does the key to success lie in believing you can achieve?

The following is written by Dr Melissa Weinberg, an Honorary Fellow from Deakin’s School of Psychology.

When it comes to performing a specific task, simply believing in your ability to execute it won’t get you very far. Despite what R. Kelly and countless inspirational quotes would have you believe, you cannot fly, and nor can you touch the sky, no matter how much you’d like to. In reality, any belief that you can may have disastrous consequences.

Without the talent, resources, and raw ability to perform a task, belief alone will not do the job. However, it may just be the thing that motivates you to harness the talent, resources, and ability required to get there.

Self-efficacy more commonly thought of as confidence. Confidence typically comes from knowing that you’ve done something before, and believing that you can do it again. Of course, you can be confident of completing a task even if you’ve never done it before, and that’s where your self-efficacy comes in.

What is self-efficacy?

As opposed to self-esteem, which is a more global appraisal of your capability as a person, and is thus more closely tied to your identity, self-worth, and self-value, self-efficacy is directed towards specific tasks. You may generally have a strong sense of self-esteem, in that you feel you’re a person of worth and are good at things compared to other people, but you may have no self-efficacy when it comes to performing a choreographed dance routine.

Self-efficacy is a core belief that represents your perception that you are able to produce a desired outcome. If you are self-efficacious regarding a specific task, you are more likely to invest in the talent, resources, and ability that you have in order to ensure you achieve your goal. Self-efficacy serves as a motivating factor that guides you towards completing actions and making decisions that are likely to ultimately lead to successful task achievement.

'Self-efficacy is a core belief that represents your perception that you are able to produce a desired outcome.'

Dr Melissa Weinberg,
School of Psychology, Deakin University

How do you build self-efficacy?

According to Albert Bandura’s self-efficacy theory, there are four key pathways to gain self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery – this pathway involves repeated practice of the actions involved so that they become automated. Whenever you learn a new skill, you first need to dedicate considerable effort and attention towards it, and it commands your focus. As you become more adept and familiar with the action, you are able to perform it automatically, and even while being distracted, because it no longer demands your full attention. Knowing that you can perform a given task even under difficult conditions gives you the self-efficacy to perform under pressure.
  2. Vicarious learning – psychology students will be familiar with the name Bandura for his contributions to Social Learning Theory, and particularly the Bobo doll experiment. In the same way that we learn behaviours from observing others, watching other people that we closely identify with succeed not only inspires us to believe that we too can achieve our goals, but actually strengthens our neural pathways for action.
  3. Social support and encouragement – even though it’s called self-efficacy, others’ efficacy in your abilities can serve to remind you that you have the mastery to achieve a goal or execute a task. Persuasion and reinforcement from parents, teammates, friends, and coaches who are invested in your achievements give you the confidence that not only can you do it, but that you have put in a lot of time and effort to ensure that you’ll be able to complete it successfully.
  4. Emotional and physiological factors – understanding how your mind and body respond in different situations and having well-developed and rehearsed strategies to cope is key to self-efficacy. Knowing that you have the skills to not only achieve the task, but also to deal with things that can threaten a successful outcome, gives you the confidence to pursue your goal and the flexibility to achieve despite setbacks.

The power of imagery

Psychologists often also propose a fifth pathway – through imagery. Imaging yourself performing successfully in a given situation can reinforce the neural networks required to produce the desired outcome. This is also a crucial element of goal setting.

When you properly image a scenario, by incorporating elements of visualisation while also paying attention to the auditory, sensory, and tactile features of the successful environment, the parts of your brain responsible for performing the action or goal are activated, even though they’re not actually doing it. The stronger these brain pathways, the better you’ll be able to execute your task when the time comes.

Self-efficacy as part of your repertoire

At the end of the day, self-efficacy in its simplest form is a perception of your ability. If you have self-efficacy but you don’t have the talent, resources, and raw ability, your chances of success will be pretty low.

On the flip side, if you have the talent, resources, and ability, and you have a firm belief in your ability to achieve your desired outcome, I’d say you’re well on your way to success.

Working towards something and looking for strategies to help you get there? Check out Dr Weinberg’s advice on how to set and achieve your goals.

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Dr Melissa Weinberg
Dr Melissa Weinberg

Honorary Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University

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