Hello SFC followers,
Chrissy here! I realize I have not posted in awhile, so I want to give you an update on what I’ve been up to, as well as some thoughts on some research I’ve been reading.
First, what I’ve been up to… I’ve just finished taking my qualitative exams (“comps”) for my PhD. What does that mean? Well, one of the stepping stones (I’d argue the biggest one) in a PhD program is passing the qualitative/comprehensive exams. While every program is different, in our department this involves sixteen hours of written responses to questions from committee members (two 8-hour days…whew!), followed by a four hour verbal Q&A session with the committee. Now that I have passed those the remainder of the year will be spent finishing up my research and writing manuscripts. My goal is to graduate in the spring, so we’ll see.
So, the bulk of my summer has been spent studying, and while some may groan at the thought of that, I’ve really mostly enjoyed the process overall (it took some getting used to that my Saturday nights involved late evenings in lab rather than out with friends). I’ve learned a tremendous amount- MOST of which I envision using in my future work :). I’ve also been challenged and stretched in ways I never thought possible. In fact, I remember when the thought of taking comps made me physically nauseous. Honestly, I never thought I’d be able to do this. But little by little, I took the steps to prepare, and now that it’s all said and done, I can actually look back on the entire process with a little bit of pride (and RELIEF of course!). And the fact that I really felt proud of myself made me wonder- why aren’t we proud of ourselves more often? I find it really easy to be proud of other people, so why wouldn’t I treat myself with the same love and admiration?
And this brings me to the thing I really want to talk about- self-efficacy. What is it? Why does it matter so much? And how does a person get more of it?
Self-efficacy is a context-specific belief in one’s ability to do something. What does this mean? Well, contrary to self-esteem, which is a general positive belief in oneself, self-efficacy is specific to a behavior. And what’s really important, is that a person can have a different level of self-efficacy for every situation in which they find themselves.
So, let’s take me for example. I would say in GENERAL, I have fairly good self-esteem, meaning for the most part, I have a healthy overall emotional opinion of myself. Put simply, I like myself, and I believe I am worthy of love, happiness and connection. Granted, there were times when I may not have been able to so confidently express this, but that’s what a year of struggle, self-reflection (and therapy:)) will do. Now, regarding self-efficacy, there are certain situations where I feel very confident, and others where I feel the exact opposite. Put me in a weight room with 50 twenty-something-year-old meat-heads throwing heavy weights around, and I’m completely comfortable. I’ll throw weight around with the best of ’em. I believe very strongly in my ability to lift weights correctly and effectively. Therefore, I have very high self-efficacy for weight lifting. So much so, that I proudly wear the badge of “Weight Room Celebrity” and wear a freaking hot pink weight-lifting belt for crying out loud. Now, let’s look at the contrary. Even as I write this, I am struggling not to go to the pantry and find something to eat. It’s late, I’ve been procrastinating writing this, and I’m a little hungry. What a perfect storm for overeating. I’m worried right now that I won’t have the willpower to have just a snack and then stop eating. So, my self-efficacy in this situation is not so great.
See the difference here? I can still have good self-esteem in general, but poor situation-specific self-efficacy. So why is self-efficacy so important? Research shows OVER and OVER and OVER again, that in order to be successful with ANY behavior change, a person must have high self-efficacy. I’ve literally spent weeks studying what makes individuals successful with behavior change, and this is one of the primary determinants. What’s worse, is that poor self-efficacy can be devastating to a person’s ability to succeed. Margolis and McCabe said it best in their article entitled, Improving Self-efficacy and Motivation: What to do, What to say:
“Low self-efficacy beliefs, unfortunately, impede…achievement and, in the long run, create self-fulfilling prophecies of failure and learned helplessnessthat can devastate psychological well-being.”
So, most importantly, how do we improve our self-efficacy? Below I’ve outlined a few ways that have been shown to be effective in increasing self-efficacy.
1. Remind yourself of past successes. Every time you try a new activity (behavior) think back to when you first started something new. Let’s take riding a bicycle as an example. It seemed daunting at first. You cried, fell (a lot!), and almost gave up. But soon enough, it became easy as…well, riding a bicycle. Although this is a rather simplified example, the point is reflecting on a time when you tried something new and were successful can be very helpful in achieving a new behavior/task because it reminds you that you CAN be successful at new endeavors.
2. Practice competence and visualize. One of the most important factors that goes into improving self-efficacy is to practice doing the things that you want to be able to do. Whether it’s a specific activity (like Zumba or weight-lifting) or a behavior (like eating more mindfully), as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. No professional ever got to that point without hours and hours and hours of practice. So why should making behavior changes be any different? Want to become a pro at eating mindfully? Practice. Try one little mindful activity for just three minutes of one meal. Then try again. And again. And when you fail, get back on the figurative bike and practice some more. And while you’re at it, believe in yourself. Visualize yourself successfully doing whatever it is that you want to do. Really see yourself in that situation, and then practice some more.
3. Take small steps and set small goals. Success breeds success. To improve your self-efficacy, start with smaller goals or behavior changes. Once you get comfortable and feel self-confident in those behaviors, you’ll be able to try other behavior changes as well. Let’s take weight loss, for example. We all know that setting a realistic weight loss goal (ex: 5 pound weight loss in a month vs. a 30 pound weight loss in a month) is important, but what we often ignore are the other small steps (behavior changes) that need to happen to achieve that big goal. For example, a possible small step towards weight loss could be putting the fork down between each bite during a meal. If someone practices this behavior for two weeks, they will feel much more confident in their ability to eat slower and be in the moment, and ultimately, they will have a higher self-efficacy in weight loss. These small steps (putting down the fork between bites) lead to successful small goals (eating slower and being mindful of what you eat), which can lead to successful large goals (weight loss). Again, success breads success.
4. Use ONLY positive self-talk. How many times have you caught yourself speaking in a way that only you’d let yourself do? In other words, we commonly use words, phrases, and even tones of our “voice” when talking to ourselves that are negative, demeaning, and just nasty! My strategy sometimes is to say to myself, “Chrissy- would you EVER talk to Kellie like that?! Absolutely NOT. Then why are you saying those things to yourself?” Frequent and positive self talk is SO powerful in improving our self-efficacy. Going back to the weight loss example, rather than saying “I’ve failed before and I’ll never lose weight”, change your word choices to ones that are more positive: ” I am strong willed and will lose weight”. Although this may seem rather simple, I challenge you to shift your self-talk to one that is positive in nature. My hunch is that you’ll find you use negative-self talk a lot more than you realized. In fact, Kellie and I have gotten pretty good at telling each other the nasty things we say to ourselves, and we shock ourselves sometimes. Being aware of this and making “in the moment” changes will helping you improve your self-efficacy.
Think about the habits you want to change in your own life. What are a couple things you could do this week to improve your self-efficacy around this specific activity?
Here’s to positive thinking and small steps:)