When referring to the concept of "self," we typically think of the terms self-esteem and maybe even self-concept. However, there is a third aspect of self that rarely gets any love but is important to our well-being... self-efficacy. You might be thinking, "What is self-efficacy and why should I care?" Well, I thought you'd never ask!
Self-efficacy is a concept developed by Albert Bandura that, generally speaking, refers to the sense we have of ourselves as being capable and competent to complete tasks. As stated by the American Psychological Association (APA, 2017), "Self-efficacy reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior and social environment." I find it interesting how, for so many years, there has been such a heavy focus on the development of self-esteem rather than self-efficacy. It's no wonder we are surrounded by people who present as "confident," yet crumble in the face of slight challenge or consider themselves failing if something doesn't work out perfectly. Side note, contrary to popular belief, this doesn't just happen to Millennials. I mean, don't get me wrong, they are really cornering the market... but they are certainly not alone!
I think it is safe to say that people don't always feel super confident when challenged by life events or circumstances. Self-efficacy allows us to stay strong in the face of challenge and not start seeing ourselves as inept or a failure at the first sight of struggle. Self-efficacy allows us to take risks, approach challenges, learn new things, find wisdom in our mistakes and, well, grow as human beings. When we have a stronger sense of self-efficacy, we can more easily regroup or recenter, not allowing setbacks or disappointments to derail our emotions, behaviors and our decision making.
In my work with clients, I often see people who feel overwhelmed by their circumstances and understandably so. Clients don't come in to tell me how great their lives are going... although it's always nice to get updates! Clients typically come to counseling because they feel emotionally challenged, overwhelmed and possibly even hopeless about their situation or the idea that things could be better.
We never have total control over every aspect our lives, no matter how hard we try. Things happen that are well beyond our influence and we need to get okay with that... but there are some things we DO have influence over and we need to start maximizing those opportunities. When we feel hopeless or feel like a life challenge has become bigger than us, it can easily seem like there is no hope for change or that, no matter what we do, we won't be able to influence the outcome in a favorable way.
If you are going through a particularly challenging experience, I encourage you to take inventory of the FULL picture... stop ruminating over the same few pieces of information. We tend to have tunnel vision sometimes and laser in on things that are outside of our control, forgetting that there is so much more to the picture and areas that we CAN influence. At the very least, we can influence a shift in our perception of an experience or challenge the meanings we are placing on an experience. We don't have to make everything personal or take responsibility for things that are not ours to hold or own. We don't need to berate ourselves if we have to work harder than others to accomplish a goal or we find that we've made a mistake and need to regroup. Self-efficacy allows us to continue moving forward with realistic expectations of self and acceptance of what we can and can't control.
One of the best ways to start building self-efficacy is to take inventory of times when you have walked through a challenging life experience or personal struggle. We have all been through crap, so don't pretend like you can't come up with something. :) Consider what helped you get through those experiences... abilities and gifts that allowed you to survive and, more than likely, come out even better on the other side for having gone through the experiences. I'm asking you to throw yourself a bone here. The fact is, you've been through some things and still here to talk about it so... how did you do it? Be honest and don't be afraid to own something positive about yourself. When we are used to seeing ourselves as incapable or inept (or worse, "unlucky") it can be easy to forget there is anything positive. Again, look at the FULL picture!
Self-efficacy is important to our resiliency and well-being. It is inevitable that we will walk through challenges, and continue to do so throughout our lives, but we don't have to feel helpless and incapable of influencing growth and change. Even if no one in your life has ever told you that you're capable... you are. Tell yourself, own the part of you that feels motivated for change, that can handle difficult experiences and can keep moving forward when things seem to be working against you.
Enjoy your weekend!
Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP, NCC
Counseling Services for Women & Couples
Licensed Professional Counselor