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How self-efficacy can boost your personal success

June 17, 2024 - 24 min read
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    Self-efficacy is about believing in your ability to handle situations or achieve realistic goals. It shapes how you tackle challenges and set your sights on what you want to accomplish. 

    If you have high general self-efficacy, you tend to approach life with a confident outlook. You trust yourself to overcome the obstacles that come your way. If your self-efficacy is low, you might doubt your abilities and steer clear of a tough or particular task.

    When you have to give a presentation, for example, a whirlwind of questions may race through your mind: Do you believe in yourself? Can you present to a packed auditorium? Will the message land? But once you get up on stage, your doubt might melt away. You can replace doubtful questions with affirmations like, “I can do this.”

    This change in perspective involves leaning on the theory of self-efficacy. 

    Learn more about the science behind believing in yourself and the role it plays in reaching your full potential. You can use the info and tips below to build your own self-efficacy.

    Canadian-American psychologist Albert Bandura studied social psychology’s role in human behavior. According to Bandura’s social cognitive theory, self-efficacy beliefs are foundational to behavior. In his article "Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,”Bandura discusses people’s agency over their behavior. 

    Bandura researched the social psychology behind the role of self-efficacy in human behavior. According to Bandura, self-efficacy beliefs are foundational to human behavior. In his publication Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change, Bandura discusses how people have a sense of agency in their behavior. 

    “Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act. Efficacy belief, therefore, is a major basis of action. People guide their lives by their beliefs of personal efficacy.”

    Dr. Albert Bandura, psychologist, researcher, Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change 

    It’s possible that a person’s belief in self-efficacy is situation-based, too. For example, let’s say you’re a new manager on a team. You’re extremely driven to ensure that your team succeeds and that you’re showing up as an inclusive leader

    If you have high levels of self-efficacy toward your new role, you’re more motivated to pursue action. You sign up for professional development workshops. You talk with a career coach about ways you can build your inclusive leadership skills. You learn about your individual differences and strengths and overcome insecurities.

    But you may also have low levels of self-efficacy when it comes to work-life balance. For example, let’s say you’ve taken on more responsibility at work over the years.

    During the pandemic, work-life balance dissolved completely. This might lead you to think that work-life balance and employee value are mutually exclusive. As a result, you may be less motivated to achieve harmony between work and personal life. 

    At BetterUp, we’ve studied the role of self-efficacy in success. Members high in self-efficacy are 2.3x more likely to receive a promotion or pay raise within three to four months of coaching. Compared to those who scored low, BetterUp members who score high on self-efficacy report:

    • 26% more resilience
    • 21% more innovation
    • 14% more productivity

    “The lower the sense of self-efficacy, the higher the perceived burnout. If you find yourself on the wheel of weariness, you will be weakening your personal pulse and setting yourself up to be more susceptible to lowered self-efficacy.”

    Dr. Jacinta Jiménez, PsyD, VP, Coach Innovation, and author, The Burnout Fix

    How does your self-efficacy develop?

    As with most topics in clinical psychology, the theory of self-efficacy (or “locus of control” in scientific terms) boils down to science. So, when we look at the sources of self-efficacy, Bandura outlines four main areas.

    1. Mastery experience

    Mastery experiences are those that give a person insight into successes and failures. We all learn from failure. In fact, I’d argue that I’ve learned more from my failures than I have from any of my successes. 

    When you succeed at something, it gives you that extra boost of self-confidence. That means you’re increasing your self-efficacy beliefs with each success. On the flip side, failing at experiences can lower self-efficacy beliefs. 

    For example, let’s say you learn a new skill, like an Excel hack. When going through metrics and data analysis, you put your new hack to the test. When it works — and you do a good job on the project — you get that little boost. 

    2. Vicarious experiences

    Oh, to live vicariously through someone else. There are books, TV shows, and movies all based on this concept of vicarious experiences. 

    As the name suggests, vicarious experiences are modeled after others. Basically, your own belief in yourself to achieve something is based on a point of reference. 

    In the workplace, you might see this just by observing others. For example, I once had a mentor coach me on my public speaking skills. They challenged me to approach someone whom I admired — a colleague at work who nailed every presentation. Role models like this often help us progress.

    While it made me uncomfortable, it was also a reminder that everyone is human. If that human being can present something flawlessly, why can’t I? 

    3. Verbal persuasion

    Good at influencing people? This source of self-belief is an interesting one. It’s the idea that a person can convince other people of their own capabilities. 

    Think about your biggest supporter at work. In what ways do they validate your self-worth? How do they help build your self-confidence? 

    I know that I’ve definitely benefited from someone else telling me I’m good at something. Especially when your self-compassion is low, this source of self-efficacy can be helpful. It might just be the reminder that you need to keep going. 

    4. Emotional and physiological states

    Basically, your vibes matter. Moods, emotions, and stress all play a role in how you feel about your personal abilities. 

    If you’re having an off day and don’t feel really confident, you might feel some self-doubt. Maybe that’s a reminder that you need some Inner Work®. Or if you’re feeling confident about yourself, got a good night’s sleep, and ate a healthy breakfast, you feel ready to take on the day. 

    Emotional regulation (and self-regulation) play a big role in this source of self-efficacy. It’s important to build that sense of self-awareness to identify your emotions.

    It’s also important to stay keenly aware of your emotional health behaviors. Oftentimes, your body will recognize something before your mind does (even though your mind is the culprit).  

    Confidence and motivation: how self-efficacy impacts your life


    What is self-motivation and its effect on your approach to challenges and goal-setting? It guides how you approach challenges and set goals. People with high self-efficacy believe in their ability to succeed. This motivates them to take on difficult tasks and persevere in the face of setbacks. It may offer predictors for academic performance and professional or personal success.

    Additionally, self-efficacy affects health behaviors, leading to healthier lifestyle choices. Strong self-efficacy may improve mental health or reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

    It also plays a crucial role in building and maintaining satisfying social relationships. It empowers people to engage positively and effectively with others.

    What does high vs. low self-efficacy look like?

    Still not sure what this learning theory looks like in practice? Take a look at some examples. 

    Example 1:

    Heather has worked as an HR professional for nearly 10 years. In the last couple of years, Heather’s department has seen an influx of work. From the pandemic to creating fast-changing policies to hiring pauses, HR has seen a lot. As a high performer, Heather started to sacrifice her personal time for work.

    Soon, Heather slipped into a state of languishing. She was completely burnt out at work and unmotivated to complete simple tasks. When a new, exciting project that Heather had pitched last quarter gets approved, Heather’s boss is surprised to see her react with self-doubt. Heather’s manager can see a noticeable difference in her self-esteem.

    Heather’s sense of self-efficacy levels had slipped. Because of the impact of burnout, Heather is now experiencing low self-efficacy. It shows in her work performance. (And yes, science shows that levels of self-efficacy affect performance and burnout.)

    Example 2:

    Mark recently decided to follow his passion. After working in accounts payable for almost 20 years, he quit his job to open a small business. Mark finds motivation in the purpose of his work. He has a support network of friends, family, and mentors such a BetterUp Coach to help him navigate this big change.

    Because Mark feels well supported and confident, he can take on new challenges. While he has plenty to learn, he also believes that he can achieve his dreams. Mark has a high level of self-efficacy.

    Example 3:

    Talia recently took on a new project at work. It was a stretch project, one that pushed her outside of her comfort zone. After she received high praise from leadership, Talia felt great about her abilities. She was confident and had validation from the leadership team.

    So, when a new project came about, Talia was quick to raise her hand to lead the work. Talia benefited from the confidence boost of employee recognition and the opportunity to grow. She experienced high levels of self-efficacy. 

    15 characteristics of high and low self-efficacy

    Looking for signs of personal, professional, or academic self-efficacy? Take a look at these 15 characteristics to help you spot where you (or your workforce) fall on the self-efficacy scale. 

    High self-efficacy characteristics: 

    • Strong sense of self-confidence 
    • Self-evaluation and self-awareness are high 
    • Willingness to take risks or step outside of your comfort zone  
    • Ability to solve tough problems or complete challenging tasks  
    • Highly motivated to reach specific goals  
    • Resilient; able to recover from setbacks 
    • A deep sense of passion (and clarity of purpose) 
    • Good state of mental health 

    Low self-efficacy characteristics: 

    • Low self-esteem or self-confidence  
    • Veers away from trying new things or taking risks 
    • Focuses on failures and is hyper-focused on negative outcomes 
    • Symptoms or signs of burnout 
    • Poor sleep hygiene and nutrition habits 
    • Depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues  
    • Aversion to connecting with others 


    10 ways to boost self-efficacy to realize your potential

    If you want to enjoy higher self-efficacy, there are many practices that can help. Consider incorporating one or more of these suggestions to give yourself a boost:

    1. Reflect on what you want and where you're starting 

    It’s hard to know what you’re building on without knowing your own foundation. Stop and audit your feelings.

    BetterUp uses the Whole Person Model to help get a comprehensive picture of our human behaviors and state of mind. It measures a person’s mindset, behaviors, and outcomes to identify areas for focus with a coach.

    Consider taking the Whole Person Assessment questionnaire to gauge where you are today. In the workplace, you can also ask your team to participate. Doing so will help in this reflection stage of building your self-efficacy skills.

    2. Set SMART goals to create a roadmap for success

    Once you have an idea of what you want to target, it’s time to set realistic goals. Use SMART goals to build specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals.

    Goals don’t have to be lofty to be effective. Setting a smaller series of specific goals is a great way to build momentum. Smaller, shorter-term goals may also help you stay accountable and use motivation to help in achieving goals

    3. Acknowledge progress to maintain motivation

    When you don’t feel as though you’re progressing, take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come. Recognizing your achievements, no matter how small, helps you keep moving forward. 

    Celebrate milestones as a reminder of your capability and progress. They reinforce the belief in your ability to overcome future challenges.

    4. View setbacks as opportunities to improve

    Setbacks are in the eye of the beholder. Reframing these experiences as opportunities for improvement helps you build a growth mindset. This perspective builds resilience and gives you insights to adapt as you progress.

    5. Recognize negative self-talk

    Seeing and countering self-criticism takes time and practice but offers many rewards. When pessimism or self-doubt crop up, challenge them with optimism and evidence of your capabilities. 

    Replace your negative thoughts with constructive, supportive messages. Techniques like positive affirmations for self-confidence or keeping a self-esteem journal may help you break negative self-talk patterns.

    6. Practice self-compassion

    Be kind to yourself. Words matter, especially the silent ones we mutter under our breath. 

    But when we practice self-compassion, we’re actually building resilience. We’re better equipped to handle stress and uncertainty. 

    If you need help quieting your inner critic, try starting a “wins” journal. Keep a record of all your mastery experiences and positive feedback from others. You can look back on this when you’re feeling discouraged or need an extra boost of confidence.

    7. Surround yourself with supportive people

    Last but certainly not least, assemble your support system. You need multiple support access touch points. Just like we all need different support systems in the real world, so do your team members.  

    Think about access to coaching, mental health support, and professional development opportunities. Take a holistic view of your support system and what types of support team members may need.

    8. Build emotional regulation skills

    Your emotional regulation skills are critical to maintaining your well-being. Regulating your emotions offers many benefits for both your physical and mental state. 

    By regulating strong emotional states, you’ll be better equipped to handle triggers. You’ll be able to better navigate future uncertainty and change. You’ll also be more resilient to change and adapt quickly to things that might throw you off your game. 

    9. Invest in your mental fitness

    Investing in your mental fitness is nonnegotiable. You must be proactive about your mind and well-being, especially when building self-efficacy. 

    Just like mental health, self-efficacy is parallel to the mental fitness scale. You can exist up and down the spectrum, moving from languishing to thriving. 

    If you’re looking to build self-efficacy within your workforce, start with mental fitness. Our data shows that coaching makes team members more productive and resilient. It may also make team members less likely to experience mental health issues. All of these mean that boosting mental fitness is of strategic importance.

    Of those who start out feeling stuck, 77% will significantly improve their well-being within three to four months with personalized support. It can help you — or your team members — go beyond mental health to mental fitness.

    10. Mentally rehearse achieving your goals to build confidence

    Manifesting and visualization are powerful tools to position yourself for success. When you visualize yourself reaching objectives, it prepares you for the challenges ahead and helps you build confidence. 

    You may also want to read books or watch content related to your goals to keep yourself in a successful mindset. 

    Build self-efficacy and believe you can succeed

    Self-efficacy measures an individual’s belief in themselves. Rooted in social psychology, this social learning theory is proven to help improve your well-being. 

    While “think positive thoughts” might not be magic words for success, there’s science behind self-efficacy. You can use science-backed methods to boost your success while honing your mindset.

    Invest in a better you and enjoy the many benefits of coaching. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings deserving of living lives with purpose, clarity, and passion. Start by meeting with a coach to tap into your full potential.

    Transform your life

    Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

    Transform your life

    Make meaningful changes and become the best version of yourself. BetterUp's professional Coaches are here to support your personal growth journey.

    Published June 17, 2024

    Madeline Miles

    Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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