I want to talk to you today about something that we all deal with, the battle between our self-sabotage and our self-efficacy.
In 1977, a famous psychologist, Albert Bandura, published “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change.” According to Bandura, self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. Everyone has identified goals that they want to accomplish or things they would like to change in their lives. However, making goals isn’t the hard part, putting those plans into action is. Bandura found that an individual’s self-efficacy plays a major role in how goals are approached, and ultimately whether they are achieved.
People with a strong sense of self-efficacy: view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered; develop a deeper interest in their goals; form a stronger sense of commitment to their goals; and recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments. People with a weak sense of self-efficacy: avoid challenging tasks; believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities; focus on personal failings and negative outcomes; and quickly lose confidence in their personal abilities.
So what does this mean? Your sense of self efficacy will predict your short-term and long-term success in both goal accomplishment and behavioral change. If you believe that you can change, then you are much more likely to actually succeed in making that change.
However, if you simply want change, but actually feel that you are incapable of sticking to that change, then you are sabotaging yourself from the start. So frequently I hear people say “I want to lose weight by changing my diet to keto/low carb/paleo/clean eating, but giving up bread will be so hard” or “I want to get in shape by joining a gym, but fitting 3 days a week of working out into my hectic schedule will be so hard” or my absolute least favorite “I could NEVER do X”. These are classic examples of self-sabotage that set people up for failure in their weight loss/strength gain/lifestyle change goals. People who utter these words and doubt that they can stick to their goals are more likely to drop their expectations of themselves, reduce their goals to “more reasonable” and less desirable ones, and even give up all together and return to their self-destructive habits.
Ok great, I’m telling you to believe in yourself more… how the heck do you do that??? According to Bandura, there are four major sources of self-efficacy:
1. Mastery Experience
According to Bandura, performing a task successfully is the most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy. So what does this mean for you? Whether your ultimate, big picture goal is to lose 30lbs, fit into a size 6, get a six pack, or snatch 100kg, constantly focusing on your distance from that big goal doesn’t give you the opportunity to feel the success of goal accomplishment. There are plenty of interim goals that you can celebrate. Set short term goals and celebrate your small victories.
Wake up Monday morning and tell yourself that you’re going into the gym 4 days this week instead of 3, and come Saturday pat yourself on the back when you succeed. Wake up Tuesday knowing that it’s a coworker’s birthday and tell yourself that you will pass on the birthday cake, and pat yourself on the back when you succeed. The day that you can squat without falling over, they day that you get to put weight on the barbell, the day that you start swinging a bigger kettlebell, the day that you play with your kids all afternoon without getting tired, the day that your fat pants are falling off of you, and the day that you carry all your groceries from the car to your house in one trip are ALL days that you should celebrate. And, the more often that you take note of your accomplishment of your short term goals, the more likely you are to believe that you will achieve your bigger, long term goals.
2. Social Modeling
According to Bandura, seeing people similar to yourself succeed will increase your own belief that you too possess the ability to succeed. If you want motivation, come to Cap City Strength and take a look around. Don’t just show up, get your workout in, and leave. Watch your fellow athletes work their butts off, finish a hard workout, hit a PR lift, and get excited that their pants are getting loser. Talk to each other and share your achievements. Go on Facebook and post about your successes, and read about everyone else’s. This isn’t just a place to work out and get healthy, it’s a place where you can support and motivate others in their quest to get healthy, and they in turn will support and motivate you.
3. Social Persuasion
Bandura also asserted that people can be persuaded to believe that they have the ability to succeed by simply being told something positive and encouraging. Getting verbal encouragement from others can help you overcome self-doubt and focus on putting forth your best efforts to succeed. Cheering each other on during a workout or a lift isn’t just a polite thing to do, it helps that person believe that they truly can succeed. When you see a fellow athlete struggling, cheer them on. If a fellow athlete is having a particularly hard time with sticking to their diet or showing up to workouts, then let them know that you believe in them and their ability to make positive changes in their life. A “good job” or “you can do it” can go a LONG way in someone’s quest to get healthy.
4. Psychological Responses
According to Bandura, our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. Learning how to minimize your stress and elevate your mood when facing difficult or challenging tasks can improve your sense of self-efficacy. This means that you need to see slip-ups not as failures, but as minor detours. Cheating on your diet isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t mean that you should cheat the rest of the day/week or quit your diet all together. Missing a week at the gym doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be lazy and fat, and should quit the gym all together. Instead, choose to assess what influenced the slip-up. Decide to view it as an opportunity to learn from your slip-up and make yourself more likely to succeed in the future.
The moral of the story: If you believe that you can change, then you are much more likely to actually succeed in making that change. So, celebrate your achievement of short term goals, watch your fellow athletes succeed, cheer your fellow athletes on, and don’t get discouraged by minor slip-ups.
Albert Bandura, Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Review.
Albert Bandura, Exercise of Personal Agency through the Self-Efficacy Mechanisms. Self-efficacy: Thought control of action.
Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge University Press.