Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Develop high “self-efficacy” to be in the driver’s seat of your own life

Stress for Success

January 21, 2014, Week 445

Social psychologist, Dr. Albert Bandura, coined the term "self-efficacy" to describe your beliefs about your ability to influence the events in your life. Another way to think about this is having overall high self-efficacy puts you in the driver’s seat of your own life. It assures you that you can largely handle what comes your way and to be effective in sculpting your life in desirable ways.

My own self-efficacy in handling life’s challenges is generally quite high. I believe I’m competent overall and able to learn what needs to be learned to handle situations that are foreign to me. But when it comes to fixing things, my mechanical self-efficacy is very low. It wouldn’t occur to me to try to fix something broken. I’d just turn it over to someone who has demonstrated their own “fixer self-efficacy,” my husband to be exact. His self-efficacy is very high in fixing even those things he’s not familiar with because he believes that virtually all things constructed can be figured out. He goes about fixing something he doesn’t yet understand by studying how it was constructed and almost always comes up with a solution. But his self-efficacy in handling other situations is as low as mine is in fixing things. This is all very normal.

It makes sense, then, that your self-efficacy in dealing with stress is hugely important. If you believe you can handle a stressor well you will and with less stress. Your focus will be on figuring it out rather than worrying that you can’t handle it. If you believe you can’t handle it, you’ll likely handle it less well and with more stress. High self-efficacy decreases stress because it increases your perception of control in your challenging situations.

Throughout this article I have put in bold and underlined font anything to do with the bottom line of self-efficacy: Beliefs. To increase your self-efficacy you must identify your limiting beliefs, challenge them and ultimately replace them.

My self-efficacy wasn’t always high. As a student it was quite low. My senior high school years were filled with mostly C and D grades with multiple failing slips each quarter. College was better but still mediocre: mostly Cs, a few Ds, Bs and As. Entering graduate school was terrifying for me.

Studying psychology as I was, I decided to apply to myself what I was learning about Cognitive Psychology and the beliefs one has. I paid attention to my obvious anxious thoughts (representing my beliefs) before and during classes, which was displayed through my nonexistent eye contact with professors, stuttering when called upon, sweating at the drop of a hat, etc. It was obvious an intervention was necessary.
My first step was to increase my conscious awareness of the negative thoughts circulating in my head regarding being a grad student. This is always the first step: Increasing conscious awareness of whatever you’re trying to change in yourself. I pinpointed some interfering beliefs:
·         I don’t belong in grad school because I’m a terrible student.
·         Who do I think I am being here with my poor history in school?
·         I’ll never learn all of this stuff!
·         Etc.

Next, I challenged these beliefs with factual evidence not just Pollyanna optimism. It was true that my high school and undergraduate grades were less than stellar. So I looked elsewhere for evidence of my success. I reminded myself that:
·         I come from an intelligent family so some of that must have rubbed off on me.
·         I was very successful in my 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia.
·         Every job I’d ever had was very successful, even when I had no previous experience in whatever it was.
·         When I have applied myself in the past I have done well.

From that day forward, I arrived at my classes early before others arrived and sat alone and repeated affirmations to myself over and over again based on my evidence that I could do well:
·         I belong here.
·         I learn easily.
·         I’m working on all assignments and learning this fascinating information.
·         I’m doing well on tests.
·         Etc.

After “reprograming” my beliefs with new and still legitimate beliefs, little by little my learning anxiety was replaced with focus on the class material. Before I knew it, I was immersed in learning and began to let go of my limiting beliefs. After a couple of months I not only believed I belonged in school and I would do well, but I became my advisor’s protégé. His support and guidance were invaluable to me not only as applied to learning but to life in general. I came to understand that I am very competent in life in general and in charge of my own life.

Which of your beliefs are limiting you? Why not challenge them? Put yourself into the driver’s seat of your own life and drive in the direction you want to go.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at http://www.letyourbodywin.com/bookstore.html.  Email her to request she speak to your organization at jferg8@aol.com.