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Self-efficacy in psychology refers to our perception of personal capacity or ability to perform behaviors necessary for achieving specific goals. Our efficacy reflects confidence in our ability to exert control over motivation, behavior, and social environment. Perceived evaluations of self-efficacy impact our experience, influencing which goals we set, the amount of energy we expend towards achieving those goals, and the likelihood of successfully attaining our goals.

Key Definition:

Self-efficacy in psychology refers to our perception of personal capacity or ability to perform behaviors necessary for achieving specific goals.

Self efficacy beliefs produce a magical push towards success. When we believe we can, we work a little harder, longer, and smarter. When we believe we can’t, we quickly tire and give up. Self efficacy is part of what Albert Bandura refers to as the self-system. The self system is comprised of our attitudes, abilities and skills. This system, according to bandura, plays a major role in how we perceive and respond to different situations (Cherry, 2020).

Self efficacy is considered as a core self evaluation from which most other self evaluations are subsidiary to.

Goals and Self Efficacy

According to the theory, self-efficacy underlies goal-setting and goal attainment. Self determined action requires an underlying belief that we have a high probability of succeeding. Creating a future self, requires we can see ourselves in the future under a variety of circumstances. This allows us to flexibly make plans that creates the self we desire.

“There are ups and downs, but whatever happens, you have to trust and believe in yourself.”

~Luka Modric

​Outcome Expectancy and Self-Efficacy

​Bandura uses the term outcome expectancy. Outcome expectancy is defined as a person’s estimate that a given behavior will lead to a certain outcome. In self-efficacy, the belief is a personal conviction that we can successfully execute behaviors required to produce the desired results.

Two components of expectancy must be differentiated:

  • Outcome
  • Efficacy

We may have a correct outcome expectancy, believing behaviors A and B will lead to outcome C. However, we may lack a self-efficacy belief in our ability to perform behaviors A and B.

Our belief in behaviors necessary for a certain outcome may also be askew. We believe we can accomplish C by performing behaviors A and B; but those behaviors fail to accomplish desired outcome.

What Does Self-Efficacy Look Like?

People with a strong sense self-efficacy display the following characteristics:

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:

  • Fear failure so they avoid difficult tasks
  • Believe they are incapable of accomplishing difficult tasks
  • Focus on past failures and negative consequences
  • Quickly lose motivation when unplanned events interfere

​”Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it.” 

~Diane Sawyer

Is Self-Efficacy the Same as Self-Confidence?

In many ways we interchangeably use both terms. For the most part, we refer to self-confidence as an innate characteristic in belief in our self to succeed. Self-confidence is a little less descriptive than self-efficacy since it doesn’t designate what we are confident in. We can be confident that we will fail.

Narrelle Harris of Latrobe University explains that, “so if ‘confidence’ in this context means having a strong belief, whether in something positive or negative, then self-efficacy is about having the strong, positive belief that you have the capacity and the skills to achieve your goals” (2019).

Self-efficacy is confidence in our ability to succeed at a particular task. This may not mean we possess the necessary skills to succeed, but believe we can learn the skills, and apply effectively apply them to the task. A few particularly helpful beliefs is in our ability to navigate failure, working through the unplanned obstacles as they arise. These bolstering beliefs soften fears of failure.

Four Ways Self-Efficacy Influences Goals

Bandura suggests there are four processes impacted by self-efficacy:

​​1: Self-efficacy perceptions influence decisions

Any conscious being formulates goals around their perception of the possible. We don’t like to waste precious energy chasing impossible dreams that never materialize. This is a survival mechanism. Wasting energy is inefficient and costly. We must direct resources to behaviors that benefit. However, subjective beliefs of what is possible defers. Often we deem an outcome impossible that may be well with in our reach. Our lack of perceived self-efficacy then limits worthwhile endeavors that have huge payoffs. We protect fears of failure and seal our demise to limited success.

Bandura explains that, “the strength of people’s convictions in their own effectiveness is likely to affect whether they will even try to cope with given situations” (1977, p. 193).

​​2: Self-efficacy perceptions affect effort and task persistence

Self-efficacy is not an all-or-nothing construct. We possess varying degrees of belief in our capabilities. Our belief in being able to accomplish a task is dynamic, interacting with the environments, strengthening with successes, and struggling when unpredictable elements interfere. When self-efficacy beliefs in our creativity and strength are limited, small unplanned intrusions shake our confidence. The setback becomes cause for resignation. Often quick withdrawal is an ego defense mechanism, protecting from pains of failure. 

Thus, underlying self-efficacy beliefs greatly impact sustained effort. Our self-efficacy beliefs may not be in our skills for a particular task but in our ability to survive and learn when confronted with obstacles. These self-efficacy  beliefs than propel adaptive responses to difficulties. Past failures related to unplanned obstacles invite serious doubts over our ability to successfully navigate new obstacles. Fears gather and we cower. Bandura explains, “efficacy expectations determine how much effort people will expend and how long they will persist in the face of obstacles and averse experiences” (1977, p. 194).

​3: Self-efficacy contributes to affective experience

In a more broad view of self-efficacy, we may have positive beliefs regarding our skills in managing emotion. Our beliefs, consequently, contribute to successful emotional regulation.  When confronted with sad, painful, or unfair circumstances, instead of crumbling, our positive belief in emotional regulation skills allows for an adaptive reaction.

Bandura suggests that we need a serviceable coping mechanism at our disposal. This, he suggests, “undoubtably contributes to one’s sense of efficacy” (1977, p. 196).

4: Self-efficacy beliefs influence the quality of analytical cognitive performance

​Research suggests that high self-efficacy beliefs also improve cognitive abilities to accomplish tasks. People with a higher sense of self-efficacy display superior performance on cognitively complex laboratory tasks, everyday problem-solving tasks , and tests of memory performance (Cervone, et al. Location 13555).

Perhaps, these findings are associated because self-efficacy beliefs mediate the cognitive interference of heightened anxiety and doubt. When fears are squashed, we operate without the interfering fears of failure. Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory suggests that positive emotions motivate approach behaviors while discomforting emotions initiate protective withdrawal. 

Strengthening Self-Efficacy Beliefs

Like other psychological skills, self-efficacy beliefs can be strengthened. We inherit many biological and behavioral habits from our parents and caregivers. However, these are not life sentences. We can architect new experiences, flooding our mind with growth promoting environments and successes to ignite new growth in our movement towards self-actualization.

​​Performance Accomplishments

​Yes, this is tricky. We need self-efficacy to create change, and we need change to strengthen self-efficacy. Suggesting building habits to establish self-efficacy at first glance appears very antidotal.

Yet, according to outcome expectancies, we must identify behaviors that create change before we can believe in our ability to implement them. Success is the implementations of thousands of little habits. When we desire momentous change, we first must begin by establishing small habits. The small adjustments, when giving time though persistence, blossom onto the larger hopes we desired. 

New habits then contribute to larger changes. These successes strengthen our confidence and expand self-efficacy beliefs. Once established, Bandura hypothesizes, that self-efficacy successes generalize to other situations.

Vicarious Experience

​We learn vicariously through others. When we observe others perform with high​ self-efficacy we can absorb some of their strength and implement their model in our behavior.

​​Verbal Persuasion

​Words matter. Positive mantras lift. We can structure flows of lifting and motivating words into our thought processes that strengthen self-efficacy.

Emotional Arousal

​Emotions motivate or restrict. A healthy relationship with emotion to environmental triggers invites adaptive responses.

We must practice emotional regulation techniques that calm over stimulation and excite under aroused reaction. We improve our emotional reactions to the world through a variety of mindful practices:

Because we have individual emotional styles, learning our individual style greatly assists in developing adaptive responses.

Books  on Self-Efficacy

A Few Words Closing Words By Psychology Fanatic

Self-efficacy is a psychological staple, contributing to our understanding of motivation, success, and goal achievement. Self-efficacy is a fundamental part of freewill and self-regulatory theories. How much of life falls within our abilities remains unknown, however, it appears that cognitive evaluations of freewill does impact behavior and regulatory functions. However, we empower our lives when we believe we direct choices and choose futures.

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Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

Carey, Michael P., Forsyth, Andrew D. (2009). Teaching Tip Sheet: Self-Efficacy. American Psychological Association

Cervone, D., Mor, N., Orom, H., Shadel, W. G., Scott, W.D. (2017). Self-Efficacy Beliefs and the Architecture of Personality On Knowledge, Appraisal, and Self-Regulation. Kathleen D. Vohs, Roy F. Baumeister (Eds.) Handbook of Self-Regulation, Third Edition: Research, Theory, and Applications Third Edition. The Guilford Press  

Cherry, Kendra, (2020). Self Efficacy and Why Believing in Yourself Matters. 

Harris, ​Narrelle (2019) Confidence versus Self-Efficacy. Accessed 11-20-2021.

Lopez-Garrido, Gabriel (2020). Self-Efficacy Theory. 

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