What is self efficacy?

Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their own capabilities to successfully perform specific tasks or achieve particular goals. It is a concept developed by psychologist Albert Bandura as part of his social cognitive theory.

According to Bandura, self-efficacy is an important factor in determining how individuals think, feel, and motivate themselves. It influences their level of effort, persistence, and resilience in the face of challenges. Individuals with high self-efficacy tend to approach tasks with confidence, view obstacles as surmountable, and are more likely to set ambitious goals.

Conversely, those with low self-efficacy may doubt their abilities, shy away from challenges, and have a higher likelihood of giving up in the face of setbacks.

A woman with brown hair juggling a bunch of objects. Illustration.
Those with high self-efficacy approach tasks with confidence and are more likely to set ambitious goals.

Self-efficacy is domain-specific, meaning it can vary across different areas of life. For example, someone may have high self-efficacy in academic pursuits but low self-efficacy when it comes to public speaking. It is influenced by various factors, including past experiences, vicarious learning (observing others), social persuasion, and physiological and emotional states.

Self efficacy vs. self esteem

While the two concepts may seem similar, there’s a distinct difference between the two. Svetlana Whitener puts in in these terms in her Forbes article:

“Self-esteem is a realistic respect for your ability to achieve and thrive in life, while self-efficacy is how you feel about your ability to function in different situations.”

Why self efficacy is important

Developing self-efficacy can have numerous benefits, as it can positively impact motivation, performance, and overall well-being. It is closely linked to learning, academic, and career success and has been studied since the 1970s.

A 2020 study that measured various factors in how they affect the success of medical students found self efficacy to be a major factor. The study found that:

“Students’ self-efficacy has an impact on their learning-related emotions and metacognitive learning strategies, and these, in turn, affect the students’ academic performance.”

When we have high self efficacy, we develop deeper interest and expertise in our passions and recover more quickly from setbacks. Lower self efficacy usually results in shying away from challenges or pursuits and we tend to focus on our own failings.

Bottom line: High self efficacy is good for you. So how do you maintain or cultivate it? 

11 Ways to improve self efficacy

Cultivating self-efficacy involves a combination of internal and external factors, but it definitely can be done. Here are some strategies that can help you build and strengthen your self-efficacy:

1. Set achievable goals

Start with small, attainable goals and gradually increase the difficulty as you gain confidence. Think couch to 5k instead of couch to marathon (we have a handy blog on setting goals.)

2. Break tasks into smaller steps

When facing a challenging task, divide it into smaller, manageable steps. This approach can make the task feel less overwhelming and help you build confidence as you complete each step.

3. Visualize success

Create a mental image of yourself successfully completing the task. While this may feel odd or silly, visualization can enhance your confidence and readiness to take on the challenge. As Oprah says, “Anything you can imagine, you can create.”

4. Seek positive role models

Observe and learn from others who have succeeded in the areas where you want to improve. Seeing others achieve their goals can inspire you and provide valuable insights into the strategies they used.

5. Reflect on past successes

Remember when you did that thing? Remind yourself of past accomplishments and challenges you have overcome (maybe even write them down). Going back over times you succeeded in a difficult situation will reinforce your belief in your abilities.

6. Positive self-talk

Replace self-doubt and negative thoughts with positive and encouraging self-talk. Challenge self-limiting beliefs and replace them with more empowering statements.

7. Accept and learn from failures

Understand that setbacks and failures are a natural part of the learning process. Instead of seeing them as a sign of incompetence, view them as opportunities to learn and improve.

8. Seek constructive feedback

Ask for feedback from trusted friends, mentors, or colleagues. Constructive criticism can help you identify areas for improvement and provide guidance on how to get better.

9. Surround yourself with supportive people

Build a network of supportive individuals who encourage and believe in your capabilities. Positive social support can boost your confidence and motivation.

10. Take small risks

Challenge yourself with tasks slightly outside your comfort zone. Keep in mind risks and goals are different. As you successfully handle these challenges, your confidence will grow.

11. Practice resilience

Develop resilience by bouncing back from setbacks and adversities. Resilience is closely linked to self-efficacy and can help you maintain belief in your abilities during tough times.

Remember that cultivating self-efficacy is an ongoing process. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress along the way. With consistent effort and a positive mindset, you can develop and strengthen your self-efficacy, leading to greater success in various areas of your life.