The importance of self-efficacy in overcoming challenges and achieving set goals.

“I can do all things [which He has called me to do] through Him who strengthens and empowers me [to fulfill His purpose—I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency; I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him who infuses me with inner strength and confident peace.]” Philippians 4:13 (Amplified version)

Have you noticed that since returning to school after two years of lockdowns your child is struggling with motivation, overwhelmed easily by small challenges and struggling to achieve their goals? If so, you are not alone. This is a common conversation many educators are having across the country.

For some time I have been interested in the concept of self-efficacy and its impact on the ability of senior secondary students to achieve their learning goals and transition into the workplace successfully. As I was doing some research for this editorial, it dawned on me that many of the sources and strategies for building self-efficacy have been difficult to access for students during the extended lockdowns. As you read on, I encourage you to keep this in the back of your mind. It may give a new perspective and bring understanding to your family situations. 

First coined by psychologist, Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. It plays a role not only in how you feel about yourself but whether or not you successfully achieve your life goals (be they large or small). A sense of self-efficacy begins to form in early childhood and evolves across the life-span, with many people experiencing high and low points along the way. Kendra Cherry in her article, Self-Efficacy and Why Believing in Yourself Matters, provides the following useful summaries around self-efficacy:

Some examples of strong self-efficacy include:

Issues arising from low self-efficacy:

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:

Four sources of self-efficacy and corresponding strategies for building self-efficacy:

Bandura identified four major sources of self-efficacy: mastery experiences, observing others, positive affirmation and the management of thoughts and emotions. Through these concepts we can develop strategies to help build self-efficacy.

1. Mastery Experiences - Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. When you succeed at something, you are able to build a powerful belief in your ability. 

Strategy: The ideal sorts of successes, however, are not necessarily those that come easily. If you experience a lot of easy success, you may find yourself giving up more readily when you finally do encounter failure. Work on setting goals that are achievable, but not necessarily easy. They will take work and perseverance, but you will emerge with a stronger belief in your own abilities once you achieve them. At school, students are exposed to these mastery experiences through camps, challenging projects, public speaking in class/events, exams etc. 

2. Observing Others: Seeing others putting in effort and succeeding, as a result, can increase your belief in your own ability to succeed. One factor that plays a key role in the effectiveness of this approach is how similar the model is to yourself. The more alike you feel you are to the person you see achieving something, the more likely it is that your observations will increase your sense of self-efficacy. 

Strategy: The celebration of students’ achievements in the classroom or at assemblies is one way in which teachers can support this at school. Learning about people who live with a diagnosis of some description and who have achieved their goals, may also be helpful for some students in a similar situation.

3. Positive affirmation: Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. 

Strategy: Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and assists them to focus on the task at hand. However, it is wise to be selective about who you seek encouragement from – focus on those that you have found to be encouraging in the past as negative comments can have a powerfully undermining effect. One of the valuable things about MECS is our emphasis on building community rather than competition in the way we learn and relate to one another. It is a constant delight to observe our students encouraging one another and helping each other with their work in the classroom and in their study periods.

4. Managing thoughts and emotions: Our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. By learning how to minimise stress and elevate mood when facing difficult or challenging tasks, people can improve their sense of self-efficacy.

Strategies: As Christians this is where we might press into God through prayer and reading the bible, having faith that He has created us for a purpose and that we can fulfil that purpose because He strengthens us. It is also vital to seek professional help if mood and emotional regulation is becoming an issue that is getting in the way of managing the demands of every day life.

Finally, as Christians we might choose to take a slightly different perspective on the concept of self-efficacy from secular thinkers in that we understand that it is God who creates us with the gifts and abilities to achieve our goals and we don’t necessarily control our outcomes entirely on our own merits. However, we might consider thinking of it as a both/and situation. God sustains us and we can have belief in our ability to achieve the task that He has called us to. God has a plan and a purpose for our lives and we can set goals and achieve them with a healthy sense of self-efficacy.

Resource: Kendra Cherry, Self-Efficacy and Why Believing in Yourself Matters, published 2020