What is self-efficacy?

How can learning about seemingly complicated subject be so beneficial? What are some ways to boost self-efficacyand what are the advantages? In writing this article, I discovered that there's a lot more value to understanding this topic than I realized at first.

Once again, I began by writing as much as I could think of about the subject for 25 minutes. To be honest, I had trouble coming up with ideas. Let's start with the top-of-my-head definition:

It's a term (often used in scientific research but also more generally) that means a person considers themselves competent at performing a task.

This time I wasn't too far off the mark. Two words are key: "considers" and "competent.". In reviewing the several definitions I found in my notes, I found that nearly all of them used synonyms for "consider": believe, conviction, confidence. Note that my verb choice wasn't strong enough. I neglected to draw the strong connection between self-efficacy and belief.I probably should also mention that Albert Bandura is credited with coining and refining the concept of self-efficacy.

Others also used the word competent. Additionally, they used words such as abilities, succeed, and accomplish. Ultimately, self-efficacy boils down to believing that the effort one puts into a task will achieve the desired results. Basically, it quantifies the concept of "believing in yourself," at least as far as your abilities are concerned.

I also wrote, "Global self-efficacy is when you consider yourself competent to handle all or most of the challenges and assignments in life." I think I got the concept right, but usually people say "general" rather than "global." For example, generalized self-efficacy is the belief that one is capable of succeeding at nonspecific (or global) tasks.

I believe it's similar to self-confidence, but on the other hand it focuses more on competence than, say, belief in one's worthiness or suitability for the job. In my view, it simply relates to whether you have the necessary abilities, knowledge, and/or wisdom to complete the task properly and effectively.

Compare what I wrote with an article I found in my notes, which explains that while self-efficacy specifies a capability level and the strength of belief in it, self-confidence does not. There is a lot more information in the article, written by Gabriel Lopez-Garrido, that I'll also include in this post.The author of this article is a 20-year-old Harvard student. It's well written and well-researched. Quite impressive really.

Why is this subject worth consideration?

Here's the paragraph I wrote about reasons for considering this topic. It's a bit anemic but it covers the bases:

We are inclined to seek success and avoid failure, so we are happier doing things we feel competent at or good at.  A person with low self-efficacy may feel defeated and avoid the activity in the future. A person with low global self-efficacy will likely suffer low self-esteem, and they may give up on their goals, dreams, and aspirations, thinking they are out of their reach.To learn more about my research on self-esteem, start with More Powerful Than Thinking Positive.

Lopez-Garrido's words agree with mine, but with more zing:

People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failure; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong.

There are, however, many more reasons to consider this topic. Here are a few I found in my notes:

  • Generalized self-efficacy is measure of one's ability to deal with life's challenges.I italicized the text simply to emphasize its importance. From Judge, T. A. (2009). Core Self-Evaluations and Work Success. In Current Directions in Psychological Science (Vol. 18, Issue 1, pp. 58–62). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2009.01606.x 
  • When people believe they can successfully carry out healthy habits, they are more inclined to adopt them.Lopez-Garrido
  • Middle-aged and older adults who believe they are capable of becoming their most valuable selves report greater levels of positive well-being and, more significantly, lower levels of negative well-being.Dark-Freudeman, A., & West, R. L. (2016). Possible Selves and Self-Regulatory Beliefs. In The International Journal of Aging and Human Development (Vol. 82, Issues 2–3, pp. 139–165). SAGE Publications. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091415015627666 
  • It is possible that considering the suffering of others and generating the desire to alleviate it can lead to less worry by increasing one's locus of control and self-efficacy.Jazaieri, H., McGonigal, K., Jinpa, T., Doty, J. R., Gross, J. J., & Goldin, P. R. (2013). A randomized controlled trial of compassion cultivation training: Effects on mindfulness, affect, and emotion regulation. In Motivation and Emotion (Vol. 38, Issue 1, pp. 23–35). Springer Science and Business Media LLC. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-013-9368-z 
  • People who believe themselves to be worthy and capable of coping with life's challenges bring a "positive frame" to the events and situations they encounter, whereas those who don't believe that they are worthy or capable bring a negative frame.Judge, T. A., Locke, E. A., Durham, C. C., & Kluger, A. N. (1998). Dispositional effects on job and life satisfaction: The role of core evaluations. In Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 83, Issue 1, pp. 17–34). American Psychological Association (APA). https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.83.1.17 

What I've learned

It surprised and disappointed me that I forgot about the connection between self-efficacy and beliefs and motivation. After all, I've written about those connections before. Still, making connections is not always sufficient to retain them. It once again convinced me that testing my knowledge is essential. I am now more likely to remember these connections in the future.

Motivation is often linked to self-efficacy in the literature, but at this point it seems to make much more sense to me. Self-efficacy, the belief that one can produce the desired result, is a key to motivation. It is also connected to control. Those with low self-efficacy believe they have little control over their circumstances, and vice versa. Of course it's hard to get motivated when you don't have any control over what you're doing.

Here's another element where I fell far short of covering all the bases. I tried to list as many connected concepts as I could from memory:

Self-esteem, self-confidence, aspirations, success, failure

From just my notes, here are all the other related concepts I could come up with:

  • Motivation
  • Beliefs
  • Well-being
  • ControlJudge et al., (1998 - see above) defined generalized self-efficacy as one's estimates of one's capabilities to mobilize the motivation, cognitive resources, and courses of action needed to exercise general control over events in one's life. Whether motivation or self-efficacy comes first seems like a chicken-and-egg problem, but the control element makes logical sense.
  • BehaviorThe theory of planned behavior includes a component dealing with self-efficacy, which refers to a person’s belief that he/she can actually perform the intended behavior. From Ewert, A., & Galloway, G. (2009). Socially desirable responding in an environmental context: development of a domain specific scale. In Environmental Education Research (Vol. 15, Issue 1, pp. 55–70). Informa UK Limited. https://doi.org/10.1080/13504620802613504 referring to Hardeman, W., Johnston, M., Johnston, D., Bonetti, D., Wareham, N., & Kinmonth, A. L. (2002). Application of the Theory of Planned Behaviour in Behaviour Change Interventions: A Systematic Review. In Psychology & Health (Vol. 17, Issue 2, pp. 123–158). Informa UK Limited. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870440290013644a 
  • NeuroticismThe locus of control measure was highly correlated with self-efficacy, and the neuroticism measure was the converse of the positive self-evaluations. Judge et al., (1998).
  • Willingness to take risksI have no sources to cite, but the evidence is promising.
  • Feedback"Self-efficacy and subsequent task performance improves after receiving higher, more detailed levels of performance feedback." Lopez-Garrido
  • Resilience"According to Connor and Davidson (2003), resilient people have certain characteristics. These characteristics may include self-efficacy." https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-skills/ referring to Connor, K. M., & Davidson, J. R. T. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). In Depression and Anxiety (Vol. 18, Issue 2, pp. 76–82). Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.10113 
  • Possible selvesDark-Freudeman & West (2016)
  • Cognitive strengthKolbe, Kathy (2009) "Self-efficacy results from exercising control over personal conative strengths", Wisdom of the ages. Cited by Lopez-Garrido
  • Determination and perseveranceLopez-Garrido
  • Self-accountabilityLopez-Garrido
  • Less worryJazaieri et al., 2013
  • High agencySelf-efficacy is considered an important component of "agentic functioning". Code, J. (2020). Agency for Learning: Intention, Motivation, Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulation. In Frontiers in Education (Vol. 5). Frontiers Media SA. https://doi.org/10.3389/feduc.2020.00019 
  • Job satisfactionTavousi, M. N. (2015). Dispositional Effects on Job Stressors and Job Satisfaction: The Role of Core Evaluations. In Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences (Vol. 190, pp. 61–68). Elsevier BV. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.04.917 
  • Virtues/strengthsSelf-efficacy is a key factor in the following character strengths: judgment, perspective, bravery, honesty, leadership, forgiveness, humility, and spirituality; according to Gander, F., Wagner, L., Amann, L., & Ruch, W. (2021). What are character strengths good for? A daily diary study on character strengths enactment. In The Journal of Positive Psychology (pp. 1–11). Informa UK Limited. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.1926532 

In a 2010 entry, Bandura, the father of the concept of self-efficacy, adds the following:Bandura, A. (2010). Self-Efficacy. In The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1002/9780470479216.corpsy0836

  • Skill acquisition
  • Rate of performance
  • Expenditure of energy
  • Persistence
  • Goal setting
  • Self-monitoring of goals
  • Low vulnerability to stress and depression

Bandura says people who have a strong sense of efficacy:

  • Consider difficult tasks as challenges to be overcome rather than threats to be avoided
  • Set challenging goals and stay committed to them
  • Focus on how to perform effectively rather than being distracted by personal concerns in times of difficulty
  • Infer that failures result from insufficient effort or insufficient knowledge and skills that can be remedied
  • Redouble their efforts in the face of obstacles
  • Quickly regain their sense of efficacy after setbacks or failures

Questions and answers

Here are the questions I wrote as part of my essay/brainstorming session:

  • What is the relationship between self-efficacy and goal setting?
  • Are easy tasks more likely to increase your self-efficacy, or should you seek challenges that will make you feel really effective?
  • Should you be testing yourself on self-efficacy in order to increase it?
  • Does self-efficacy have a social component?
  • What is the relationship between self-efficacy and emotional well-being?

And here are the answers I have found so far:Unless otherwise stated, all of the following are from the Lopez-Garrido article I referenced above. Heck, I was tempted to replace this entire article with a link to that one.

What is the relationship between self-efficacy and goal setting?

Motivation stems from an individual's desire to pursue a certain goal, while self-efficacy is based on the individual's belief in their ability to accomplish that goal.

It has been shown that self-efficacy is an accurate predictor of a student's goal setting and goal monitoring.Bandura, 2010 

Should you be testing yourself on self-efficacy in order to increase it?

According to Bandura, two types of experiences that promote self-efficacy are unique to the individual. Performance outcomes, also known as mastery experiences, are the experiences of taking on a new task and achieving a favorable outcome. Since they provide real evidence, they are the most influential source of efficacy knowledge. Whether they realize it or not, participants in this process are educating themselves that they can learn new abilities.

This partly answers my question. I already know that feedback is important for making progress. However, I also discovered that it's witnessing the success of our efforts, not objectively knowing that we're making progress, that increases our self-efficacy.

Consider a study where children with significant social and psychomotor impairments were assisted in completing a task that well exceeded their level of ability. They later saw videotapes of themselves performing the activity, edited to remove all errors and external assistance. The handicapped children's performance on later videotaped tasks that they were not supported with improved as a result of watching their successful performance on camera.Dowrick, P.W. (1977). I referred to this same study in another article where I provided a reference to Albert Bandura's citation of this unpublished paper.

What is the relationship between self-efficacy and emotional well-being?

The other type of individually-experienced self-efficacy booster is physiological feedback. According to Bandura, "People experience sensations from their body and how they perceive these emotional arousals influences their beliefs of efficacy." It follows, then, that feeling healthy and emotionally well makes boosting self-efficacy much easier.

Does self-efficacy have a social component?

Yes, Bandura identified two social components of self-efficacy development. The first is verbal persuasion, receiving positive feedback after finishing a challenging task. It is beneficial at any age, but it has a stronger impact on self-efficacy when given earlier in life. Self-efficacy and subsequent task performance are boosted by higher, more detailed levels of performance feedback. Feedback is best given succinctly and regularly.
The fourth component identified by Bandura is vicarious experience, observing someone else complete a task effectively. Those who see others achieve better outcomes or receive praise from their boss for their good behavior will want to learn how to act and behave in the same way. 
The social development of self-efficacy is an interactive process. Engaged students are able to learn from one another, and their self-efficacy is influenced by how those closest to them act.
James Maddux argued that there may be fifth key source of self-efficacy: imaginal experiences, or visualization.Self-Efficacy, Adaptation, and Adjustment: Theory, Research, and Application

Are easy tasks more likely to increase your self-efficacy, or should you seek challenges that will make you feel really effective?

I didn't find a direct answer to my question yet, but I think the answer can be deduced from the above. Also, I haven't yet written anything about the concept of flow as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It fits pretty well here, though, so I'll briefly summarize the relevant points. 

Csikszentmihalyi found that many of the people he interviewed characterized peak performance as times when their work just flowed out without effort, so he coined the term "flow state." A flow state consists of clear goals and intrinsically rewarding tasks, rapid feedback, relative effortlessness, a balance of challenges and abilities, and a feeling of control. It should go without saying that engaging in such activity will boost one's self-efficacy.

How to increase self-efficacy

In this case, I think my sources lined up nicely. As a result of the foregoing, increasing one's self-efficacy should be attainable by taking the following steps:

  • Find activities that are challenging enough for your current level of ability. Continue practicing until you see progress.
  • When you're not feeling well, avoid assessing your progress. Emotional and physical distress can alter the way you evaluate yourself.
  • Look for people who can provide you with feedback that takes your abilities and self-confidence into consideration. Be careful not to get involved with people who don't understand how challenging your task is or who don't want you to succeed.
  • It's best to surround yourself with people who have similar goals and challenges as yourself, especially if they are successful. 
  • Try to visualize yourself achieving your goals. Try to imagine yourself covering every step of the process successfully. No shortcuts!