“From my own strength” was the slogan of my first flyer when I started my own business in 2001, because I believed and still believe strongly in the potential and resources in each and every one of us. The term “self-efficacy” was not familiar to me at that time. So I was happy to find my claim in the definition: “Self-efficacy means to have the inner conviction to be able to master difficult or challenging situations well – and to do so out of one’s own strength.” If this inner conviction is missing, then an activity or challenge is often not tackled at all. This was one of the research findings of the Canadian-American psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s. So it needs self-efficacy expectation and conviction.

General and specific self-efficacy expectation

I can attribute a general self-efficacy to myself if I have internalized the belief: “Whatever happens, I will be able to handle it.” Being able to say that even in the face of existentially threatening crises is a remarkable ability.

There, a specific self-efficacy can be achieved more readily, along the lines of “In my field, I know where to reach, I know my way around.” It can then become difficult with new challenges, with unfamiliar terrain.

So how can we expand the field of specific self-efficacy beliefs?

Building self-efficacy beliefs

Even though there are twin studies that show a high genetic influence on self-efficacy expectations, it is equally recognized that one’s own self-efficacy beliefs can be changed. According to the research of Albert Bandura, in order to be able to trust that my own behavior will bring about something in the direction I want, I need the following 4 abilities:

1. perceiving my own successes

This means to have directly experienced that an activity on my part has led to the desired success. This experience is the more strengthening, the more I had to make an effort to achieve my goal. (Attention parents: do not remove all obstacles from the children’s way!) It is important not to take on too much right away in order to keep frustrating failures to a minimum. Overcoming challenging situations then strengthens my belief in my own abilities and in the possibility of achieving something similar in the future. Neurotransmitters are released (e.g., dopamine) and the experience is stored in the brain as advantageous.

Unfortunately, many people believe that their success is solely due to chance or Dumb luck. This then unluckily does not pay off in terms of self-efficacy. But such beliefs can be challenged. Was it only the bad competitors or did I not convince in the job interview with my competence and my appearance?

2. to be encouraged by the social network

This means I need courage to tackle challenges: the courage I muster myself and the courage I receive from those around me. My daughter’s postcard still hangs visibly on the pinboard in the kitchen: “I believe in you, you can do it!” written when I was in the hospital after an operation. Still helps, by the way. The effect of a supportive circle of friends, family and well-meaning colleagues cannot be overestimated. However, this presupposes that I have built up such a network and maintain it regularly.

Unfortunately, early experiences with close relatives are often so deeply rooted that I come to believe it myself. A “nothing will ever come of you!” then becomes a “nothing will ever come of me!” Such beliefs can also be worked on, here it needs a lot of loving patience with oneself. Not helpful are people in my environment who want to talk me into a challenge that is “a shoe size too big” for me.” So listen to your own gut and a sense of coherence, take small steps and only aim for goals that make sense and are manageable.

3. observing other people

This means when I see how a colleague has managed the project presentation despite being very nervous in advance, then my confidence can increase that I can do the same. Children learn to a great extent by imitating role models (model learning). And here, in addition to parents, an occasionally annoying older sibling can greatly accelerate one’s own progress: “If she can do it, so can I.” It is important here that there is a certain similarity and comparability between me and my role model so that the effect can take hold.

Unfortunately, it happens again and again that people look for role models who reinforce their feeling that they will never be able to become like this person and therefore do not even set out on the path or quickly give up again.

4. assessing one’s own bodily sensations

This means if before an important meeting my heart beats up to my neck and my hands get sweaty and I evaluate the whole thing as fear and panic, what does my inner dialogue look like? Hopefully conducive and in a loving tone: “Even though I am very stressed now, I trust in myself and my ability.”

Unfortunately, for many, this is where the inner critic is at work: “Now don’t be a baby, such a small meeting; you really are a loser.” That this does not contribute to a self-efficacy conviction is clear. With process- and embodiment-focused psychology (Dr. Michael Bohne) there is an effective method to perceive one’s own emotions, to influence them and to anchor self-esteem-boosting beliefs.

Between the impostor phenomenon and overestimating oneself

Basically, a self-efficacy conviction says nothing about whether someone actually has the competence to perform a planned action or not. In my coaching practice, however, I encounter many more people who suffer from the Imposter Syndrome (the fixed conviction that they can’t actually do anything, even if they have already proven the opposite) than self overestimators, who probably consider coaching to be overrated anyway.

How do you rate your self-efficacy on a scale of 0 – 100%?

Wishing you a high percentage
Harriet Kretschmar