Self-efficacy refers to a person’s beliefs in their abilities. High self-efficacy is a general belief about one’s abilities, regardless of the specific situation. Low self-efficacy means you don’t tend to have much belief in yourself.
People with high self-efficacy approach unfamiliar situations with a firm belief that if they exert enough effort, they will be successful. Failure is viewed as just a temporary set-back that can, and will, be overcome.
These people approach problems with a “can-do” attitude.
Examples of self-efficacy include being determined to do your own car repairs or attending night school to advance your career, knowing that you can do it despite the odds.
Definition of Self-Efficacy
According to Bandura, there are several ways you can develop self-efficacy.
- Mastery Experiences: Firstly, having mastery experiences, in which a person becomes highly skilled at a task over time, will increase a person’s sense of self-efficacy. Secondly, seeing people that are similar to ourselves be successful through their sustained efforts will also increase a person’s beliefs regarding their self-efficacy. This is referred to as vicarious experience, or social modeling.
- Verbal Persuasion: Verbal persuasion from important people in our lives, such as teachers and parents, will also help us develop a strong belief in our abilities.
- Psychological Reactions: Our psychological reactions also play a role. If we interpret a challenge negatively then our emotional reaction will involve anxiety and stress. This is not conducive to success. However, viewing that same event with enthusiasm can increase our motivation and help us feel energized.
See Also: Self-Concept Examples
Examples of Self-Efficacy
1. Confidence to Flip a House
Having the confidence to know you can put your money down to buy a house, then work on it, and flip it for more money, requires a strong sense of self-efficacy.
There seem to be dozens of shows popping up about home renovation. Basically, a person, or a couple, will buy a house that is in dire need of repair, a complete disaster of a house.
Then, they will renovate it inside and out, and try to sell it for a nice profit.
There is a lot of work involved…and a lot of money. A bank loan is needed to purchase the house, pay the contractors, and interest on the monthly mortgage. If the economy takes a downturn and the housing market stalls, the buyer can be left sitting on a bottomless pit of financial pain.
It takes a lot of guts to take on that kind of risk. Going into a flip-or-flop project with the belief that all obstacles will be overcome and eventual success will be attained requires a strong sense of self-efficacy.
2. Confidence to Go to Night School
People who have the confidence to seek further education in the middle of their career have a strong belief in themselves, even if it requires hard work and struggle.
When economies change over time it can leave some people out in the cold. Professions that were pervasive and lucrative a few decades ago may not even exist today.
In fact, if the predictions of some futurists come true, a lot of jobs will disappear as robotics continues to evolve.
When a person loses their job to automation, there are two ways to handle it. Some may feel overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair. They simply cannot escape the sense that the future is bleak.
However, for others, this will be a source of motivation. They will seek out job training in another profession, or maybe even go back to school and earn a different degree.
A person’s level of self-efficacy will have a huge influence on their psychological reaction and subsequent action plan.
3. Spending Extra Time After Practice
Being good at sports requires a lot of practice. For those that are most determined, this can mean practice, after practice.
Spending extra time running drills and working on their game is often what separates the good from the great.
Of course, unless a person really believes that the extra effort will pay off, they may not even try. Some may just accept the fact that there is not much they can do to change their natural level of talent.
Others, however, will know that if they keep working hard, put in the extra time, and not lose focus, great things will come. This is an example of how self-efficacy works in the world of athletics.
4. Having a Growth Mindset
The growth mindset is the belief that our abilities can improve if we try. Having this mindset is an example of self-efficacy that will help us persevere through challenges.
Unfortunately, a person with a low sense of self-efficacy will struggle to develop a growth mindset. They already doubt their abilities. However, a strong sense of self-efficacy can help us push-through failure, which in turn, will improve our skills.
Eventually this will lead to a mastery experience and help us develop a growth mindset.
As psychologist Carol Dweck and her colleagues have stated, “the brain is like a muscle that grows stronger and smarter when it undergoes rigorous learning experiences” (Yeager et al., 2019, p. 364). Self-efficacy and a growth mindset strengthen each over time.
5. Being “The Little Engine that Could”
Long before Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, there was The Little Engine that Could. A great story by Watty Piper in 1930 about a small engine that was tasked with pulling a long train up a very steep hill.
As the engine struggled to reach the top of the mountain, it just kept telling itself “I think I can. I think I can.” Eventually, it reached the top and found success in what seemed impossible. It was the engine’s belief in itself that enabled it to keep trying and never give up.
The story embodies the idea that by believing in oneself, and having a high degree of self-efficacy, anything can be accomplished.
6. Doing Your Own Car Repairs
Most of us will seek a mechanic to fix our cars. But some people with high self-efficacy will see the challenge and believe they can tackle it on their own.
Very few people really know what goes on under the hood of a modern car. These days, cars are incredibly complex, with computer chips and tons of electronics.
However, there are still a few repairs that a person could do on their own. Believing that you can tackle minor car repairs is another example of self-efficacy.
Of course, we are not talking about a complete engine overhaul, but certainly changing a tire or an air filter can still be done. The point is that if you believe you can do it, at the very least you will try. Minor repairs are actually fairly easy. However, if a person lacks self-efficacy, they might not even try.
7. Asking for a Promotion
Asking for a promotion is a bold move. To do so, a person must have a high degree of self-efficacy. Or, maybe a delusional sense of importance.
If the request is granted, then great. The leap of faith paid off. If the boss responds with a slight chuckle however, then matters can turn for the worse. For a person low in self-efficacy, a rejection can be devastating. They may lose motivation and actually spiral into a self-defeating tailspin of doubt.
But according to Bandura, a person high in self-efficacy will respond to the rejection in a completely opposite manner. Their motivation will be sparked and they will make proactive moves to address any deficiencies in their resume. They will take the necessary steps to be in a much better position the next time around.
8. Fixing that Leaky Faucet
Some home repairs are best left to the professionals. Electrical wiring is a good example. Plumbing is another. However, there are some leaks that some of us might be able to tackle.
Sometimes a leaky faucet is just a matter of tightening-up a joint in the pipes or replacing a worn-out washer. This situation could be a good way to assess a person’s level of self-efficacy.
Those that methodically analyze the problem and try different solutions until one works, are probably high in self-efficacy. Those that just shut-off the water and call the nearest plumber, are probably a few points lower on the scale.
9. Immigrating to a Foreign Country
There are few decisions in life riskier than moving to a foreign country. Still, many try every year. A person may not speak the language, have no relatives living there, and no job prospects whatsoever.
When faced with such a daunting venture, only someone with a firm belief in their abilities is going to try. It is a bold step to take. No one low in self-efficacy is going to even consider this move. The path will be filled with multiple obstacles and set-backs. Each one of those can mean the end of the road, even jailtime.
Immigrating to a foreign country is an example of a level of self-efficacy that is off the charts on any paper-and-pencil inventory.
10. Becoming an Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurs are people with some of the highest self-efficacy. They back themselves to succeed in the free market!
Becoming an entrepreneur may be one of the riskiest career moves a person can attempt. It often means leaving a good job with a stable future. There are countless obstacles. Securing funding can involve taking out massive bank loans that one may never be able to repay. The competition is fierce and the chances of success are near zero.
Aside from all of those challenges, if your idea involves software or a cool gadget, advances in technology could make your invention obsolete in a matter of months. Wouldn’t that be great?
Only those with a sky-high sense of self-efficacy will even think about becoming an entrepreneur.
11. Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
Nothing says self-efficacy like trying something vastly different from your usual MO. We hear the phrase “get out of your comfort zone” a lot.
How many of us actually do that? Attempting something different is a big risk because the likelihood of failure can be quite high.
However, if a person has a high degree of self-efficacy, they will approach situations outside of their comfort zone with a sense of determination. They will expect success, if not immediately, then most definitely in the long-term.
This is exactly what Bandura was referring to when he proposed his theory of self-efficacy. Some people just have a strong belief that eventually they will succeed, even after failure.
12. Trying Against the Odds
People with high self-efficacy are willing to give things a go even when the odds are stacked up against them.
For example, I’ve been watching the TV show Survivor lately. In this show, there will just be one winner. Nevertheless, 40 people head into the challenge with the belief that they can win, and they give it a go. Not only do they throw their hat in the ring, they also do it in front of the television for millions to watch!
These people have high self-efficacy.
Similarly, as seen above, people like entrepreneurs and immigrants have the self-efficacy to dive into an enormous challenge, knowing that it’s a tough task and there is a fair likelihood of struggle and even failure.
13. Getting into a Flow State in your Job or Career
Flow is a state of complete absorption in an activity. A flow state is often described as “being in the zone” or “in the moment.” It is a peak state of performance where we feel our best and do our best work.
To get into a flow state, sometimes you really need self-belief. Furthermore, when you’re in this state, you feel really good about yourself. You feel like you can do it because you’re doing so well at the task.
When teaching people how to do a task, we often look to our students and try to get them into that state of flow. When they’re in that state, we know they’ve developed confidence in the task and are doing it with ease and enjoyment.
14. Knowing you can Quit Smoking
Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things a person can do. Not only is nicotine one of the most addictive substances on the planet, but smoking also becomes a huge part of a person’s daily routine.
It can take multiple attempts to finally quit smoking for good. And even then, there’s always a risk of relapse.
However, people with high self-efficacy believe that they can quit smoking and stay smoke-free for good. They approach the challenge with determination and are more likely to succeed than those with low self-efficacy.
15. Starting Something without Knowing the End Result
In many aspects of life, we don’t know what the outcome will be. But people with high self-efficacy will dive into something without that knowledge.
For example, you might start a new job not knowing if it will work out or not. You might start a new relationship not knowing where it will lead. You might have a baby not knowing what kind of person they will grow up to be.
People with high self-efficacy are okay with not knowing the end result. They trust in their ability to figure things out as they go along and adapt as needed.
On the other hand, people with low self-efficacy might avoid starting something new because they need to know what the outcome will be before they take action.
Self-efficacy refers to what people think about their capabilities and likelihood of success. They often need to engage in self-assessment to reach this point. It affects how we approach new challenges, or if we approach them at all.
For people that have a strong sense of self-efficacy, they feel strongly in their chances of success and will usually not be discouraged by failure. For them, it is just a matter of time and effort before one’s goals are met.
For someone with a less robust sense of self-efficacy, they are not as sure of themselves. Their beliefs about their ability to overcome obstacles is easily shaken and failure can mean the end.
Having self-efficacy has many benefits that can help us navigate our life’s journey more successfully. If only it was available in pill form.
Bandura, A. (1977). Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Review 84(2), 191-215. doi: https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.84.2.191
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W H Freeman/Times Books/ Henry Holt & Co.
Haimovitz, K. & Dweck, C. (2017). The origins of children’s growth and fixed mindsets: New research and a new proposal. Child Development. 88(1). https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12955
Moritz, S. E., Feltz, D. L., Fahrbach, K. R., & Mack, D. E. (2000). The relation of self-efficacy measures to sport performance: A meta-analytic review. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 71, 280-294.
Piper, W. (1930/1989). The little engine that could. New York: Platt & Monk.
Yeager, D. S., Hanselman, P., Walton, G. M., Murray, J. S., Crosnoe, R., Muller, C., … & Dweck, C. S. (2019). A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement. Nature, 573(7774), 364-369. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1466-y