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Psychologist Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as people’s beliefs in their capabilities to exercise control over their own functioning and over events that affect their lives. In short, if you have high levels of self-efficacy, it means that you have confidence to take on and put in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks and that you feel capable of dealing with adverse situations. As a result, you will be more motivated, happier, and have a sense of personal accomplishment. You’re also more likely to be resilient in difficult and unpredictable situations.
Self-efficacy is therefore a set of beliefs that is certainly worth developing, but unfortunately we can fall prey to some common ways of thinking that tend to prevent us from doing so. Indeed, we all experience so-called ‘thinking errors’, which can impact how we feel and behave. Learning to recognise these unhelpful thoughts, and evaluating their accuracy, helps us to develop more adaptive responses and enables a more confident and positive outlook.
An example of a typical thinking error is ‘catastrophising’, that is, the expectation that disaster will strike. If you have a tendency to catastrophise, you are likely to start thinking about ‘what ifs’: what if I fail my exams? What if I never get a job? What if there is another pandemic? While this kind of negative thinking can sometimes be helpful as it can lead us to be more cautious in our behaviours, immediately assuming the worst possible outcome for every situation is unlikely to be helpful for our wellbeing in the long-term. Understanding and recognising this may help you to develop more balanced thinking and react more adaptively.
Here are three common thinking errors that, if not checked, will probably torment you and certainly prevent you from building self-efficacy:
Personalisation happens when you think that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. Another aspect to this thinking error is a tendency to compare yourself to others. For example, you think that your friend has decided to join a gym because you recently decided to join one yourself. While your friend may have been partly inspired by seeing you exercising more regularly, there may also have been other reasons for their decision. Maybe not everything is a reaction to you, and what others say or do probably isn’t always personal or about you. After all, people have their own reasons and motivations, and it is reasonable to consider that there may be other factors at play.
This is the belief that your feelings are the truth and define you. For example, if you feel stupid and boring, you must be stupid and boring. It could be that you have failed your driving test which made you feel upset and incompetent. As a result, you may no longer want to try the test, believing that you will fail again. While it is entirely normal to feel anxious and apprehensive about trying the test another time, that doesn’t mean that you’re incompetent and will necessarily be unsuccessful again. Such faulty beliefs can increase feelings of anxiety, fear, and apprehension which impact our well-being.
When people feel externally controlled, they see themselves as victims of fate. Self-efficacy requires a belief in exercising control over your life, so if you believe that important outcomes are out of your control then you are unlikely to build self-efficacy. The other aspect of control fallacy is that you tend to feel excessively responsible and that everything depends on you. For example, you think you are responsible for the pain and happiness of those around you. This skewed view of what you are able to control in your life will make you miserable, and it is likely to prevent you from taking meaningful action going forward.
In order to counter these thinking errors, and learn how to build confidence and self-belief, we must first be able to identify these faulty patterns of thinking that get in the way and reframe our unhelpful thoughts.
One way to do this is to ask yourself the following questions in relation to the above-mentioned thinking errors:
- Do I think in this way?
- What makes me think this way?
- Is this actually true? Is it accurate?
- What is the impact on me of thinking this way?
- Is this helping me?
- How can I prevent myself from thinking like this? What new thoughts can help me to become more confident?
Stimulating your self-awareness by reflecting on these questions can help you to develop your self-efficacy and to foster your emotional learning and personal growth in the long-term.
Séverine Hubscher-Davidson, PhD is an academic and freelance writer based in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.