21 Ways To Boost Self-Efficacy & Achieve Your Goals
Research shows that highly self-efficacious people stay the course and achieve their goals. Here’s how to nurture it in yourself and overcome life’s challenges.
It was 2000 and I started in business for myself for the first time. It was just me, my few tools and a 1990 maroon Ford Fiesta van attempting to make a dent in the world.
Before making the move, I had been working for a larger organisation — one of many cogs in a complex machine. And although I had earned my employer’s trust and had greater responsibility afforded to me, I felt hemmed in and restricted. As such, breaking away from their rules was liberating and empowering. Finally, I had the freedom to steer my own ship.
Work was thin on the ground at first. I had about two weeks planned ahead when I started. It wasn’t the most engaging or lucrative work in the world, but it didn’t matter. I had a mortgage to cover too, but that didn’t matter either. I loved the freedom I had gained and was motivated to be building something on my own terms.
Although I earned no right to assume it, I knew for some reason that things would work out. I felt nervous but excited, and in many ways, it was like work and play had combined.
Despite warnings of impending doom from those who loved me, I pursued my passion for self-expression and self-direction. Soon, that naive self-belief would turn into valuable projects and before long, I was making more in three months than I had in an entire year as an employee.
Why wasn't everyone I knew working for themselves I wondered? I couldn’t understand it. For this fresh-faced, unscarred twenty-something, self-employment was a no-brainer. In some areas of my life, belief in my abilities perhaps was lacking, but regarding work, it was not.
It wasn’t the only reason the business was a success, of course, others contributed. But in getting it off the ground, in making the initial move, it turns out that self-efficacy, a particular self-belief, had a big part to play.
In 1977 psychologist Albert Bandura published his theory of self-concept known as self-efficacy theory (aka personal efficacy). Bandura defined self-efficacy as;
“People’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives” — Albert Bandura, Psychologist
Bandura is perhaps one of the most widely renowned of modern-day psychologists, having broadly influenced our scientific understanding of the inner workings of the self. Bandura’s Self Efficacy Theory explains the differences between our expectation of success through ‘efficacy’ and ‘response to outcome’ behaviours.
The theory explains ‘outcome expectancy’ as our expectation that our behaviour will lead to specific outcomes. In contrast, it defines ‘efficacy’ as our sense of personal conviction that we can successfully execute a task to produce the result we want to see.
In other words, if you don’t believe you have the ability to complete a task, then you will be less likely to start. Or if you do start, you are likely to give up before it’s finished. The level of efficacy you possess when you begin a task will largely influence your ability to succeed.
They say there’s only one way to eat an elephant — one piece at a time. Therefore, every day you work, every task you complete or challenge you overcome, becomes a mini success that reinforces your sense of confidence in your abilities. The more you do it, the more self-belief you build and the better you get.
Therefore self-efficacy is a continually evolving process within us.
The Difference Between High & Low Self Efficacy
I had, and still have, some self-efficacy deficiencies on some subjects. This is in line with self-efficacy theory which says that levels of self-efficacy vary depending on the task. I have a high degree of belief in my ability to do certain things, but with others, matters with which I am perhaps less familiar, I don’t.
If I want a PhD in psychology, for example, then I need to develop the degree of efficacy necessary around my ability to complete academic tasks. There are a lot of unknowns in the process because I have never embarked on something like this before. It therefore takes time, but a little bit of bravery is required.
For us creative people to find success in our careers, we must be willing and able to identify our own deficiencies in self-belief. We must be prepared to enter the unknown.
By taking a look at our thoughts and behaviour, we can sometimes identify where these deficiencies lie. Small steps taken in a safe place are the key because, after a while, these little successes build momentum in the right direction.
However, we’ve got to be careful not to take a harsh critical approach. Instead, we should make an objective analysis of areas where we need to work more intently to reach our goals. Sometimes a coach, mentor or accountability partner can help identify deficiencies.
Creative People with High Self Efficacy May Display the Following
According to self-efficacy theory, artists and creative people who appear to achieve high degrees of artistic and commercial success may display some of the following aspects of personality.
- They intentionally approach difficult tasks and treat them as challenges to be mastered and overcome.
- They set challenging goals for themselves and maintain a strong commitment to completing them, no matter how long it takes.
- They tend to heighten or sustain their efforts in the face of setbacks or failure.
- They appear to attribute their failures to reach goals to a lack of effort, insufficient knowledge or skills on their part, which they believe are acquirable. In other words, they don’t take failure personally.
- They tend to approach threatening situations with the confidence they can exercise control over them. In other words, they display bravery.
Creative People with Low Self Efficacy May Display the Following
In contrast, low self-efficacious creative people who doubt their capabilities to succeed in their career commonly display behaviours as follows;
- They will shy away from, or put off taking on tasks that they view as threatening or potentially damaging to their self-esteem.
- They may have low aspirations and commitment to goals that they say on the one hand they want to pursue.
- They tend to focus on their deficiencies, obstacles, and adverse outcomes, rather than concentrating on how to perform a new task successfully.
- They may slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficult challenges.
- Low self-efficacious people may be slow to recover their sense of confidence following failure or setbacks.
- They can be susceptible to anxiety, stress and depression above what may be considered normal.
“Perceived self-efficacy is concerned with people’s beliefs in their capabilities to exercise control over their own functioning and over events that affect their lives. Beliefs in personal efficacy affect life choices, level of motivation, quality of functioning, resilience to adversity and vulnerability to stress and depression”. Albert Bandura
How to increase self-efficacy and improve our chances of success
Albert Bandura says that the most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy is through what he calls, mastery experiences. Successes build a robust belief in one’s personal effectiveness. Failures undermine it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established. He further suggests that if people experience only easily achieved successes, then they may come to expect results to arrive sooner than possible. They, therefore, may be easily discouraged by failure.
Bandura tells us there are four sources of self-efficacy.
- Mastery — Experiencing success in smaller related tasks helps build confidence. Everyday practice, in other words, is probably the most significant influence on the positive development of perceived self-efficacy. Prolonged dedication to mastering the base level creative skillset in our chosen domain is, therefore, one of the keys to building confidence in our ability.
- Observation — Seeing others of perceived related ability accomplish the same or closely related tasks help build confidence that we too can complete that task. On the flip side, seeing others fail despite significant effort erodes our personal belief that we can complete that task. If our peers are succeeding, then it may be likely we will succeed too.
- Persuasion — Interaction with our social environment has a significant influence on our perceived ability to succeed. Creative people who are persuaded verbally and socially that they can succeed are likely to sustain their efforts to achieve a target outcome longer than those who are not. Positive and supportive group dynamics aid success.
- Emotion — Creative people are probably more tuned to emotional states than less creative people. However, everyone’s decision making and subsequent behaviour is influenced by emotional states. Without emotions, effective appraisal of conditions is impossible. Self-efficacy theory says it is not the intensity of the emotional reaction that is important, but rather, how we perceive and interpret it. Stress-mindset is what matters.
21 Ways For You To Increase Self Efficacy
Taking into account Mastery, Observation, Persuasion and Emotion, we can see that personal efficacy is an aspect of the self that can be built with some effort and dedication to certain practices. In doing so, over time we can move positively towards our goals. Consider the following ways in which we can boost efficacy.
- Join a small cooperative of mutually supportive creative people working together in the same premises or that meet regularly to share experiences.
- Select small related goals that are easier to achieve. You’ve got to start small, aim at the easy win initially.
- Set out a roadmap of smaller goals that lead to a primary goal. Related to the above, a roadmap shows you a manageable route to the bigger win.
- Avoid comparison with those further advanced, instead, compare with your roadmap. Looking too far ahead can knock your confidence.
- Write self-affirming statements daily in a journal. Affirmations can help, but only if you are psychologically in a good place. Avoid lying to yourself.
- Support your contemporaries and take inspiration from their success. Some of us find it difficult to celebrate other people’s wins. If you can do it honestly, it will help you achieve too.
- Hook up with a fellow creative and provide accountability for each other daily/weekly. I have used this tactic before and it can be very effective. Just make sure you both are in a motivated place.
- Avoid detractors and critics. Circumstances and people who do not support your endeavours can be very destructive to your progress. So only tell your goal to people who will support you.
- Find a coach or mentor who has achieved what you want. This is a big one. A coach can design you a plan specifically to you and help you navigate the tougher times.
- Dedicate yourself to daily practice without the need to win today. Some days you’ll win, some days you won’t. But whatever happens, show up. Do the work.
- Connect the dots. Find and highlight connections between important, less amorous tasks and your primary goal. In other words, figure out how to reframe the activities you dislike.
- Change your workplace environment to one that is more conducive to success. Sometimes this can be done with subtle changes like pinning a motivational message or poster to your cubicle or office wall. Change up the colour scheme and bring the outdoors inside by adding plants.
- Take time to analyse your emotions rather than jumping to a familiar conclusion that you are not good enough. This should be done regularly when things are calm rather than right in the middle of a red-hot situation.
- Accept feedback, whether positive or negative, as a means to develop yourself towards your goal. Nobody likes unsolicited criticism and you don’t have to suffer it. But it might be helpful nonetheless.
- Watch your self talk. This is a BIG one. When familiar negative patterns of self-talk occur, stop and choose to think the opposite. When you talk negatively to yourself you build momentum in that direction.
- Gather evidence of your success every day. Write down your wins in your journal no matter how small you think they are. Build yourself up with momentum in the right direction.
- Acknowledge successes in others, in artists, writers and creatives whose work you admire. You don’t have to make it public but you do need it to be honest. Begrudging other people success will chip away at your own.
- Failures undermine self-efficacy. Distance yourself from them by writing them off to experience. Take a philosophical approach to your losses by telling yourself you need to lose one to win one. Sometimes you need to lose ten before you win, so stick at it!
- Persevere. Building resilience requires experience in overcoming obstacles through perseverant effort. This reflects back on #18, you must find a way to process the failures and move on. Daily practice matters.
- Avoid familiar stressful situations as they will adversely affect performance. If you know certain places or people can take you down, avoid them. Do something else, go somewhere else or practice ignoring them.
- Realise failures are due to insufficient knowledge, and application of principles and actions. They are not due to the absence of ability. You can learn anything you wish given the correct level of application. Get a coach to help you!
Our degree of efficacy around our ability to achieve goals in work and life are primarily shaped in our early years. But consistently applying some of the above thoughts and behaviours can eventually change those beliefs.
Paying attention to our behaviours and motivations, improving self-regulation and perceived ability to achieve small wins can help us move towards what we want. The alternative is that we stay where we are, stuck in a rut of underperformance and empty pockets.
I don’t know about you, but I’m in it to enjoy it. I want my work to make me smile and that means experiencing some success once in a while. We’re entitled to find success from our work and make a good living from it.
I think therefore it is up to us to put into practice efforts to change our existing reality.
Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters