From time to time we all get the feeling of being stuck and not feeling as capable as we imagine we should be. Whether this notion is related to work, new skills that we want to learn, or relationships we are trying to maintain, it can cause a chain reaction of negative emotions and thoughts about ourselves.
As a result, we feel even less capable and tend to stay in that vicious circle, until some external influence pulls us out of it. That is why we tend to lean on others who give us support and much-needed feedback.
In modern society, when “bars for success” are raised to super high, our determination is challenged more than ever and social support is harder to obtain. That makes us frequently wonder what can we do by ourselves to feel more capable. Or a better question–
What are we already doing that makes us feel capable?
Answering this question can be a hard task depending on time, situation, our current mood, and state of mind. Sometimes we can feel extremely efficient and easily recall all the times we reached our goals, but sometimes we fail to notice any recent success in handling a situation.
Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as a belief in one’s capability to take an action required to manage prospective situations (1). Self-efficacy became one of the central concepts of Bandura's theory of social learning and very researched topic in psychology in general. The main reason for this is the fact that we can have a self-efficacy belief about any activity, mental or physical.
For example, we can believe that we are highly capable of finishing our work assignment, and at the same time, that we are completely unable to handle our emotions regarding a personal loss. We can also have an efficiency belief regarding our ability to change.
Banduras’ research has shown that people with a low level of self-efficiency tend to focus on their past failures instead on their future performance and goals (2). They are, in turn, prone to becoming overwhelmed by their deficiencies when faced with new challenging situations, so they tend to give up quickly and avoid demanding tasks.
People who have a high level of self-efficiency see difficult situations as challenges, so they are more motivated to stay in those situations and face the problems with stronger determination and interest. In the face of failure, they recover quickly, accepting their current lack of resources needed for solving a problem, but willing to work harder, wait, or try a different approach.
Is our self-efficiency a personal trait?
Although people differ by their average level of self-efficiency, this is not a trait that has to be that “fixed”, says Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and researcher in the field of motivation (3).
She believes that people who regard intelligence, talent, and personality as given traits have a fixed mindset. That means that they spend a lot of energy thinking they are a failure just because they have failed at some point and that it is not something that can be changed. On the other hand, people with the growth mindset believe that they can improve themselves by being persistent and hard working. They see their traits just as a baseline on which they can continuously work to achieve desired goals.
Dweck’s theory is in accord with Bandura’s idea of how self-efficacy beliefs are formed and developed. In early childhood, we are under a lot of influence from our proximate surroundings so the majority of our beliefs are transferred that way. That does not mean that they are not changeable throughout the lifespan. On the contrary, our experiences continue to shape our way of thinking more or less our whole life.
There are four sources of self-efficacy according to Bandura.
As we already mentioned above, every accomplishment builds our sense of self-efficiency, as well as it brightens our mood and gives us motivation. It is proven to be the most powerful source of self-efficacy. However, failure can have an opposite and more dramatic effect.
If we observe someone similar to us performing a task successfully, we are more likely to believe that we will manage to do the same. That we will be capable of succeding.
Social modeling is a type of learning especially noticeable in children who acquire various types of behavior and attitudes by observing their parents.
Having someone who cheers for us, and gives us feedback when we finish our task, makes us more confident in our capabilities. This turned out to be the least effective way of increasing self-efficiency, which suggests that most of its’ sources are in our hands.
It is not only that feeling capable also makes us feel good, or that low self-efficiency makes us feel depressed. It can also be the other way around. When stress makes an impact on us, we can react with different emotions and they interfere with our way of thinking. Depressive mood is usually followed by feeling useless. Also, happiness and cheerfulness about a good experience can make us proactive, and open to new opportunities.
How can we use this knowledge to feel more capable?
Understanding these beliefs and their development brings us one step closer to taking the matter into our own hands, and putting ourselves into action.
It equally important to recognize our beliefs in whatever form they appear, which can be difficult. Sometimes we can tell ourselves that we are not talented or smart enough to do something, that we are destined to fail, as we did before, or that we cannot change – it is just how we are, we simply are not capable of following through our plans.
This is the point where we need to make an effort to remember that these are just automated thoughts, simply products of our fixed mindset, or negative self-efficacy beliefs. The more we repeat that to ourselves, the more we learn to believe it and to recall it in difficult situations.
If we believe that our thoughts are not necessarily reflecting the reality, it is easier to give ourselves at least an opportunity to prove that they are wrong. That is when we need to exploit all the aforementioned resources of self-efficiency.
It is good to be prepared by always updating a mental list (or a real written one) of various recent situations where we demonstrated our capability. Usually, we think of our last big accomplishment, that stroke us with that blissful sense of purpose and success. We tend not to pay attention to little things that make us feel the same way, only in lower intensity. To remember that three days ago we managed to go trough bunch of paperwork will be much more motivating when we need to work on a new pile of files, then remembering that we finished our accounting course two years ago.
By taking baby steps and engaging in simple activities that we know that we are efficient in, we warm up for more complicated ones, similarly to when we work out. Our mood is gradually becoming more positive and we become ready for bigger challenges.
What can support us greatly is being realistic and admitting that at the moment we do not have enough knowledge or resources for the realisation of our goals. Seeing other people accomplishing the same goals, or performing the same activity, can strengthen our belief that we can do it too. It is only important to be aware that we are in a process of learning and that we will get there eventually, but that it is only possible if we decide not to give up and instead to give more.
Which resources we are going to rely on is not so important as long as we know that they are at our disposal. Our membership gives you the daily tools you need to get you where you want to go. It takes time and hard work to learn to put them to a good use, but it gets easier with accepting the fact that with just by taking a risk of proving ourselves limiting beliefs wrong we can feel more capable than ever.
We are amazing like that. See you along the journey!