The 5 Pillars of Personal Power: Part 2: Self-Efficacy

In the last issue I introduced the 5 Pillars of Personal Power, which are:

1. Self-Efficacy: I believe in myself; I can do it.
2. Self-Reliance: I can depend on myself; I am dependable.
3. Self-Discipline: I can do what is best for me, even when I don’t feel like doing it.
4. Self-Motivation: I want to do what is best for me.
5. Resilience: I have grit or mental toughness. I bounce back from any adversity.

In that issue I covered Self-Discipline, which is crossed out in the above list because we already covered it. In this issue, I will cover self-efficacy (highlighted in blue on the list).

And in the following issues, I will cover the remaining Pillars of Personal Power, one per issue.

Self-efficacy rightly belongs on the top of the list of the 5 Pillars of Personal Power, for it is the skill from which the others spring. In other words, it is not only a pillar, but the very foundation that supports the remaining pillars.

So, what is self-efficacy? To answer this question, I will summarize Martin Meadows’ book, Confidence: How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs and Achieve Your Goals because it is one of the best introductions to the topic (by the way, all of Martin Meadows’ books are worth reading).

Self-efficacy is our beliefs about what we are capable of doing. These beliefs are critical because whether we say we can or whether we say we can’t, we’re right. Reworded, our beliefs are self-fulfilling prophecies that determine what we are capable of doing, and as a result, they determine our degree of success in life.

The power released by self-efficacy cannot be emphasized too much; it’s almost miraculous. It would take a miracle to restore the limbs of someone born without arms or legs. Yet, because of the power of self-efficacy, limbless Nick Vujicic can and has accomplished much more than many able-bodied people.

Our level of self-efficacy determines whether we persevere in the face of hardship, willingly step out of our comfort zone, or dare to dream big. And our level of self-efficacy will vary with the task. For example, a professional tennis player may have a high level of self-efficacy in her sport and a low level of self-efficacy when it comes to public speaking. But high levels of self-efficacy affect the levels we have in other areas. For example, a professional tennis player with no experience in public speaking, understandably may doubt their ability to speak before a large audience. Yet, because of their great success in tennis, it is quite natural to think “If I succeeded in tennis after study and practice, I probably can succeed in public speaking after study and practice.”

We may have developed our present level of self-efficacy in youth, but the good news is that we can raise it any age.

Characteristics of People with High Self-Efficacy

1. They believe they can overcome the challenges they face.
2. They persist in the face of difficulty.
3. They accept responsibility for their failures, realizing others don’t succeed because of ‘luck.’
4. They are willing to work hard, making them more apt to succeed.
5. They are committed to their goals and make plans on how to achieve them.

Characteristics of People with Low Self-Efficacy

1. They avoid challenges; consequently, rarely grow.
2. They believe they are incapable of attaining big goals.
3. They quickly give up in the face of difficulty.
4. Rather than a deep understanding, they take a superficial view of their tasks.
5. They believe success in life is due to ‘luck’, rather than one’s own efforts.

Self-Efficacy Is Not Self-Esteem

The principal difference between self-efficacy and self-esteem is that self-efficacy is the belief in one’s abilities, while self-esteem is the belief in one’s own worth.

It’s certainly possible to have high efficacy with low self-esteem. In fact, it is not unusual to find superstars that were driven to perform in order to compensate for their low self-esteem. Anneli Rufus in a piece for The Hufferton Post cites these examples:

1. Mariah Carey: “I understand that people think I am a ditzy moron,” Carey told an interviewer in 2009 after having released eleven CDs, acted in five Hollywood films and won over 200 music awards. “I’ve always had really low self-esteem, and I still do.”

2. David Bowie: Looking back on his amazing rise to superstardom, Bowie confessed that while filling auditoriums with impassioned fans in the early 1970s, “I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. … I was driven to get through life very quickly,” Bowie told a reporter. “I really felt so utterly inadequate. I thought the work” — songwriting, recording, performing — “was the only thing of value.”

3. Kate Winslet: Before she was a world-famous actress envied and desired by millions, Winslet was a 5’7”, 180-pound teenager whose schoolyard nickname was “Blubber.” As she has revealed in interviews, mean girls repeatedly told Winslet that, because of her size, no one would ever find her attractive.

“Even now I do not consider myself to be some kind of great, sexy beauty. Absolutely not,” Winslet said in 2009, after winning an Academy Award.

Self-loathing is an affliction which is seldom reality-based and which can afflict anyone — even those who seem to have everything. As I (Anneli Rufus) strive to point out in my forthcoming book Unworthy: How to Stop Hating Yourself and at my Unworthy blog, we can never know for certain whether that person sitting next to us or walking past us at any given moment believes him or herself to be hideous or hopeless or horrible. And while it’s hard for people with low self-esteem to accept compliments, what can we say to those around us that might lessen their self-loathing today?

The above are examples of people with high self-efficacy and low self-esteem. Although less likely, the opposite is also possible. That is, one can have high self-esteem, yet low self-efficacy.

Four Factors Affecting Self-Efficacy

1. Mastery experiences. Success breeds success and increases self-efficacy, while failure lowers it. This is the strongest of the four factors, for each success we experience, no matter how small, leads us to believe we can achieve more. For this reason it is important to break down large goals (which could lead to overwhelm) into small, easily manageable tasks.

Yet, no matter how carefully we plan, inevitably we’ll run into hurdles along the way. But this is a good thing because easy success doesn’t build self-efficacy as much as success that was hard to come by. The harder you had to work at your success, the more self-efficacy you will acquire.

Failure often lowers self-efficacy, but it needn’t be that way. After all, the only way to learn whether something works or not, may be to try it. And if our attempt fails, we have successfully learned what doesn’t work. As long as we understand that what society calls ‘failures’ are nothing more than learning experiences, they won’t affect our self-efficacy.

2. Social modeling. When we see others succeed, our self-efficacy increases. When we see others fail, our self-efficacy decreases. For this reason it is helpful to read biographies of successful people or watch videos such as that of the earlier mentioned Nick Vujicic. Highly successful people can become valuable role models, for they demonstrate what is possible and we can learn from the determination and resiliency they display.

Because of the power of social modeling, we have to be careful of the people we choose to spend time with. Ask yourself whether the people you hang out with are examples of success or failure. Remember, we are influenced by and become like the people we keep company with.

We are more likely to increase our self-efficacy by associating with people that are modestly more successful than us, for we are apt to believe that if they can do it, so can we. However, if we associate with someone outrageously more successful than us, we are less likely to believe we too can reach their level of success.

We can also increase our self-efficacy by self-modeling, for watching yourself succeed can be as effective as watching others succeed. We can do this by tracking and monitoring the actions we take and their outcomes. This ensures we learn from our mistakes and are encouraged or inspired by our successes. Consequently, keeping a Success or Victory Journal can be helpful.

3. Social persuasion. Encouragement increases our self-efficacy, while discouragement lowers it. When possible, avoid negativity, for it’s stronger than positivity. If you cannot avoid the negativity of some, for example in-laws, family members, or coworkers, try to compensate by associating with as many positive, supportive and encouraging people as possible. Encouragement from several sources can neutralize the disparaging remarks of one or two toxic people.

Just as we can benefit from self-modeling as well as social modeling, we can also take advantage of self-persuasion as well as social persuasion. An example would be to use positive self-talk while lifting weights at the gym (“Ï can do it. I can do it.”) Use the self-talk to maintain your pace and push you on. But just bear in mind that positive self-talk or affirmations are only effective if they are used at the same time we are engaged in the task at hand. In other words, endlessly repeating “I can do it!” while stretched out on a couch in front of the TV with a can of beer in one’s hand is more a form of self-delusion than self-help.

Working with a coach can also be very helpful by giving you the right example (social modeling) and by encouraging you (social persuasion).

4. Psychological and physiological responses. If you find your heart racing, your palms covered with sweat, and your stomach tied in knots as you try to do something, understandably, you may doubt that you can complete the task. Thus, psychological responses such as fear, anxiety, and frustration can hinder one’s progress in self-efficacy.

But if we acknowledge these feelings as quite normal whenever we step out of our comfort zone, we can then ignore them and just proceed. Even the best performers and athletes feel uncomfortable before beginning. It is not how we psychologically feel that influences our self-efficacy, but how we interpret our feelings. Don’t think you’re nervous, rather think you are excited (the body responds to both in the same way).

Five Rules to Develop a Strong Sense of Self-Efficacy

1. Set Goals Slightly Above Your Ability. The goals you set can be comfortable, uncomfortable (because you have to stretch), or cause panic (because they are way beyond your present capabilities). Trying to overreach only leads to failure and a lowering of self-efficacy. And merely doing things you can already do cannot improve your self-efficacy. Clearly, then, you should always set your goals slightly above your present abilities.

2. Break Goals into Smaller Pieces and Simplify. Anything worthwhile doing is probably difficult and anything difficult can overwhelm us, leading to paralysis. The secret is to break down the goal into small, manageable parts. If we try to take steps that are too big, we may stumble and fall, but we can always succeed by taking baby steps. Better to proceed at a snail’s pace than not at all.

3. Focus on the Big Picture. Each challenge you face is a small part of the big picture. Before diving in, step back and take a look at the big picture. How is what you are about to do related to the other pieces? What is the order of priority in which they should be done? Increasing your productivity is synonymous with increasing your self-efficacy. Some powerful productivity tools include time management expert Mark Foster’s book Do It Tomorrow, his The Final Version Perfected time management system, and Do It Tomorrow Windows software based on Mark Foster’s book.

4. Reframe Obstacles. Obstacles and opportunities are just the opposite sides of the same coin; it’s a matter of how we look at it. After all, ‘obstacles’ are opportunities to grow stronger and savvier. Besides, doesn’t each obstacle we overcome bring us a step closer to success?

Reframing is about allowing the positive side to motivate us to move forward, rather than letting the ‘negative’ side to hold us back. Obstacles are not walls designed to block our progress; rather they are barriers to keep out those with low self-efficacy, and they allow us to prove we are worthy of success.

5. Take Control over Your Life. Those with high self-efficacy assume responsibility. They believe that what happens to them is a result of their own actions. Whenever problems arise, they don’t look around for people or circumstances to blame; rather, they look for the mistake they made and for its solution.

Summarizing, because self-efficacy is the cornerstone of the 5 Pillars of Personal Power and determines how far we progress through life, it is extremely important. And the best way to amass a high degree of it is to continually step out of our comfort zone, completing one stretch goal after another.

People who believe they have the power to exercise some measure of control over their lives are healthier, more effective and more successful than those who lack faith in their ability to effect changes in their lives. —Albert Bandura





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