self-efficacy (noun) the belief that you can influence your own thoughts and behavior.
While we think a person who has self-efficacy, or confidence, is that way in every situation in life, the reality is that a person’s self-efficacy is situation specific. In order to be truly successful you must have confidence, but that confidence must be accompanied by sufficient skills and motivation needed to achieve. When your perception of your skill and motivation is low, then you will not have the confidence to continue, let alone succeed. Self-efficacy is what creates your effort and persistence when facing adversity, therefore self-efficacy is a major determinant of performance, but not the only player.
I mention this because we spend so much time trying to instill confidence in people that we forget to teach them how to succeed. We think that if we build up their self-efficacy then they will always have the confidence to succeed, therefore creating empowerment before we teach the skill needed to be empowered. By doing this we are creating a society that is ill equipped to deal with the real world. We are creating a society of people who believe that promotion comes with seniority not performance, a group of people who believe that “trying” is the same as “doing”, and a group of people that think there is no consequence for not performing as long as you feel good about how hard you worked. We are instilling false confidence in people, which is more dangerous than no confidence.
Self-efficacy is derived from six principal sources of information*: performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, imaginal experiences, physiological states, and emotional states. By understanding the principals of self-efficacy we learn that simply making someone feel good about themselves does nothing, as well as creating false confidence in yourself or others.
Performance Accomplishments – very simple, the more successes you achieve the more self-efficacy you will demonstrate. The wrinkle on this is that your accomplishments need to be clear successes and/or failures, so when someone fails at a task and we reward them we essentially promote nothing because self-efficacy is based on one’s mastery of a situation.
Vicarious Experiences – This is the demonstrating or modeling of behavior to learn new skill. So, when we are rewarding someone for doing something the incorrect way we again are not building self-efficacy, we are diminishing it. The same goes for when we model the wrong way. When we lie, cheat, or steal our way to success we are creating (or modeling) false senses of efficacy.
Verbal Persuasion – By encouraging others to succeed is great, but without the focus on the “How” people become confused. You can encourage someone to try something new and challenging, but if you don’t give them advice on how to do it you will create stress and anxiety, which are enemies of self-efficacy.
Imaginal Experiences – Using imagery as a means of efficacy is a powerful tool. It allows you to see yourself being successful before you ever have to try it. The thing with imagery is that it needs to focus on mastery and not outcome. Once again the teaching point is internal not external and requires you to focus on what skills you can enhance. By ignoring the necessary skills, you are ignoring the power of focusing on what you have the ability to do. If you don’t have the physical ability to perform a task then all the imagery in the world won’t help and will create a false sense of confidence.
Physiological States – You need to have a certain sense of arousal (physiological activity) to perform anything. A racing heartbeat or increased breathing is not always negative and if perceived so, will reduce self-efficacy. What people need to know is that performance in anything increases your arousal, therefore allowing your body to perform. Not knowing when your arousal is too high or too low is dangerous because it doesn’t allow you to reach an optimal performance state.
Emotional States – When you are happy you generally have higher self-efficacy. These feelings of happiness need to be based off of real successes. Because of this, people need to be successful up to their current ability before they can be given a more difficult task. By skipping natural progression you again are creating false emotional states that are of no benefit to anyone when they really need to perform.
Building self-efficacy is a step by step multi dimensional process that is unique to each individual. With this said, why do we continue to promote for promotion purposes and pass the problem on to the next educator, employer, coach, etc.? By moving people along before they are proficient, or telling someone they are capable when they are not, we are creating a group of people that are empowered for no other reason than existing. This is not self-efficacy, this is the “me” generation.
* derived from the work of Albert Bandura.