Personal Development
What is Self-Efficacy? Definition and 7 Ways to Improve It

What is Self-Efficacy? Definition and 7 Ways to Improve It

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What is Social Cognitive Theory?

Social Cognitive Theory is an approach to understanding how an individual's beliefs, thoughts, and behaviours interact to shape and influence how they learn, cope and adapt in different environments. This model, known as 'social learning', is based on three key concepts: self-efficacy, agency, and locus of control. Feeling a sense of efficacy is necessary for developing beliefs and motivating our actions. Having a sense of agency and self-regulation helps us stay on track and achieve our goals. Lastly, the degree of control a person has in a situation is linked to their self-efficacy, which can be improved by perceiving that they have an influence in the events taking place.

What is self-efficacy? Definition and 7 ways to improve it

I remember the first time I discovered the power of self-efficacy. My team at work had been asked to host a global summit, and I was chosen to present to a large audience on the topic of storytelling for positive change. Initially, my instinct was to panic, but my manager's belief in my abilities gave me the confidence to begin the project. This is what self-efficacy is all about.

Self-efficacy is a concept popularized by psychologist Dr. Albert Bandura. According to Bandura, success is determined by factors such as thinking, demeanor, emotions, and support. Self-efficacy is the belief that we can influence the outcome of certain situations by remaining in control. It's about having trust in one's own abilities and knowing that you can overcome obstacles and reach goals.

In his book, Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change, Bandura highlights that humans have a sense of agency, and self-efficacy is an important factor in driving human behaviour. Furthermore, self-efficacy can be situation-specific; it is possible to have strong self-efficacy at work but feel unconfident in terms of your work/life balance.

Research conducted by Shiken has found that those with higher levels of self-efficacy tend to be more successful in achieving their goals. To help strengthen your own self-efficacy, here are seven strategies to try:

  • Set realistic goals and objectives.
  • Focus on the process, not the outcome.
  • Prioritize self-care.
  • Stay positive, no matter what.
  • Practice and rehearse.
  • Create an environment that fosters success.
  • Find and seek out support from positive people.

Having belief in oneself is an incredibly important factor in achieving success, and building self-efficacy is a sure-fire way to get you there. By setting realistic goals, looking after yourself, staying positive, and cultivating supportive relationships, it is much easier to foster self-belief and confidence in yourself and take the necessary steps towards achieving your goals.

Four Sources of Self-Efficacy & What They Mean for You

Albert Bandura recognizes four sources of self-efficacy: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional and physiological states. Master experiences are direct assessments and personal reflections on successes. Vicarious experiences are when one observes the successes and challenges of others and reflects on how they can apply the moments they observe in their own lives. Verbal persuasion is when an individual receives encouragement and affirmation which further reinforces their beliefs in their capabilities. Lastly, emotional and physiological states are intertwined with mental and physical heath; when feeling at your best, it is easier to have faith in your abilities and have stronger self-efficacy.

What is Self-Efficacy & Examples of Self-Efficacy in Action

Self-efficacy is the belief in one�s ability to successfully perform a task or achieve a goal. It is a measure of one�s belief in themselves and is an important indicator of success in life. It is important to maintain a high level of self-efficacy to ensure one reaches their full potential. Here are some examples of self-efficacy in action.

Heather's Story

Heather was an HR professional who was experiencing burnout. This led to a decrease in her self-efficacy which manifested in her work performance. Heather was fortunate enough to have a support system of family, friends, and a coach to help her through this difficult time. With their help, Heather was able to restore her self-efficacy and improve her performance.

Mark's Story

Mark was a long-time accounts payable employee who decided to take the plunge and follow his passion by opening his own small business. Mark was highly motivated by the purpose of this new endeavour. He was also fortunate enough to have a strong support system and a lot of belief in his own abilities. Mark was able to maintain a high general self-efficacy with these factors.

Talia's Story

Talia was presented with a challenging stretch project which she took on with enthusiasm and was praised by leadership afterward. This sudden surge of praise and recognition resulted in a sudden surge in her self-efficacy and confidence. This newfound self-efficacy was evidenced when she was presented with a new project and immediately raised her hand to take it on.

15 Characteristics of Self-Efficacy

In order to accurately gauge one�s self-efficacy, it is important to identify characteristics associated with either high or low levels of self-efficacy. Generally, those with high self-efficacy demonstrate strong self-confidence, self-awareness, and an ability to step outside of their comfort zone. They are likely to be problem-solvers, highly motivated to reach their goals, and resilient in the face of failure or change. Conversely, those with low self-efficacy struggle with self-confidence, are hesitant to take risks, and focus on negative outcomes.

How to Increase & Build Self-Efficacy

Given the importance of self-efficacy, it is important to make time and effort to build this skill. This can be done by reflecting on mastery experiences, setting small achievable goals, taking an assessment to gauge self-efficacy, investing in professional development, and challenging oneself to learn something new. Additionally, as self-efficacy is connected to emotional regulation skills and mental health, it is important to make time to invest in these areas such as understanding triggers, navigating change, and developing resilience.

Practice Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion is paramount to building self-efficacy. Our own self-talk is incredibly influential, so it is important to be kind to ourselves and aware of the words we use. We need understanding and patience as we strive to increase our self-efficacy and reach our goals.

The Benefits of Self-Compassion and Efficacy

Practicing self-compassion helps to develop resilience, which enables us to better handle stress and uncertainty. A great starting point is creating a 'wins' journal to record our mastery experiences and positive feedback from others. This can be very helpful when we�re feeling discouraged and lacking confidence.

Building a Support System

Building a strong support system is important for both ourselves and our employees. We should think about the types of support we and our employees need and the additional help they might require.

Understanding Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is a key concept in social psychology which measures a person's belief in their own ability to succeed in certain situations. Research shows that a high degree of self-efficacy can considerably improve our wellbeing, giving us the confidence to reach our goals and live our lives with purpose. Self-efficacy is linked to concepts such as locus of control, self-esteem, and self-regulation, which are all important for our mental and physical health.

Components of Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy can be divided into two categories: global and situation-based. Global self-efficacy is the belief that we have the power to make an impact in life, while situation-based self-efficacy is more specific and is about believing that we can succeed in a given situation. Higher levels of self-efficacy give us the motivation to take action, stick with tasks when difficulty arises, and eventually reach our objectives.

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT)

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is a popular psychological approach which suggests that an individual's behavior is intertwined with their environment and influenced by their attitudes and beliefs. Self-efficacy is a cornerstone of SCT and is about our sense of agency. According to SCT, our locus of control and self-efficacy are important to our ability to succeed and reach our goals.

Strategies for Improving Self-Efficacy

Self-compassion and self-efficacy are both invaluable in improving our success, yet it can be a challenge to continually think and act positively. To strengthen our self-efficacy, it is important to focus on our abilities and successes, rather than our failures. Additionally, surrounding ourselves with a supportive environment can be beneficial in boosting our self-confidence and increasing our belief in our own capabilities.


Self-efficacy and Social Cognitive Theory are powerful tools to help us make the most out of our lives. When we believe in our own capabilities and have the right barriers in place, we can achieve success and stability. We are all unique individuals, but we all deserve to live our lives with purpose, passion, and clarity.

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