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40 million people have quit smoking on their own. Vietnam vets who returned addicted to heroin have exceptionally high remission rates without treatment. A large portion of alcoholics give up drinking without attending a single meeting. What do all these people have in common? High levels of something called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. It is a concept that was developed by Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura and it plays a big role in his social cognitive theory of learning. This theory says that people learn through observing others rather than rote trial and error.

The Bobo Doll Experiment

Bandura started developing this theory with his now famous Bobo doll experiment.

To paraphrase, he put children and an adult in a room with a bunch of toys and a big inflatable Bobo doll. The kids were instructed to only play with the regular toys while the adult yelled at and beat the doll up for 10 minutes. When the adult was no longer present the kids who were exposed to the Bobo abuse were much more likely to beat and yell at the doll.

He used this series of experiments to develop his theory that people don’t learn behaviors and consequences just through individual experience- they also learn by observing others.

And he showed that people repeated behaviors more if they felt similar to the folks they were emulating. He postulated that this was because they had a stronger belief in their ability to carry out the actions they observed. This strong belief is self-efficacy.

Self Efficacy

High self-efficacy has been shown to be vital in determining one’s ability to beat addiction, stick to a diet and exercise routine, practice safe sex, have good hygiene, use seat belts, and perform regular breast exams. In contrast, people with low self efficacy tend to focus on personal shortcomings and bad outcomes rather than on how to perform the task at hand.

If you are in need of a boost you can improve your self efficacy by focusing on four factors:

#1. Personal experience

The feeling of mastery is endowed when one succeeds. Mastery bolsters the belief that one can successfully complete that task again and that you have valuable skills. That said, the success must be authentic. False praise or hollow victories will not work.

Breaking down complex tasks into small steps, and then progressively succeeding is a good way to build this. For example, let’s say you wanted to give a speech. You could just focus on the outcome of the speech, or you could take pride in writing it, practicing it, going on stage, and actual delivery. If you focused on the steps leading to the speech- even if it wasn’t as awesome as you thought it could be you could still take pride in the preperation.

#2. Role modeling

Observing someone else succeed, especially someone who we see as similar to ourselves, helps us believe we can accomplish the same thing.

For example, if an NFL player successfully goes to the gym every day that doesn’t give me much belief that I can do the same. If my brother does then I am more likely to believe that I can too.

#3. Social persuasion

Encouragement from others improves self-efficacy if delivered by people seen as credible or trustworthy. Conversely, discouragement reduces self-efficacy. We are social creatures and what other people think matters to us.

Make sure you surround yourself with people who will encourage you rather than put you down. This seems obvious, but if you take a step back and think about your life I am sure you can think of someone who is a detractor.

#4. Managing your body’s reactions

Physiological manifestations of anxiety can either be debilitating or be motivating. Being nervous is natural. The key is to not dwell on these feelings and interpret them to mean that they are a sign of being unskilled.

If you anticipate doing something do not focus on supressing your feelings. Rather, channel that nervous energy into focus on actual completion of the task.

If you are interested in seeing your level of self-efficacy today you can take this short quiz.


Self belief has been proven to translate to success.

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