Do you ever have ‘aha’ moments when the light bulb goes on and you realise an answer so obvious that you wonder why you were sitting in the dark for so long? I just had one; that moment when a solution to a dilemma arrives with crystal clarity.
I have some clients who are in difficult situations which weigh them down, sap their energy and drain their motivation. They are in jobs they hate, in an unhealthy relationship, looking after sick relatives, in debt, have troublesome children or a prolonged dispute with their neighbours. The nature of the issue doesn’t really matter, what matters is the impact the situation is having upon them.
I have been looking for the key that will help each of them turn their lives around and regain whatever it is they feel as though they have lost. And then it dawned on me … in each situation they are experiencing stress, despair, frustration anger, guilt, fear or sorrow from a situation or person because they feel they have no control. They believe the situation or person has control or power over them.
Albert Bandura came up with a theory of self-efficacy in the 1970s. Your self-efficacy reflects your personal confidence in your ability to exert control or power over your own motivation, behaviour and social environment. It has nothing to do with how much control you actually have. It is based on how much control you believe you have.
The more self-efficacy you have, the longer you will stick with a challenging task such as a diet or exercise regime, the more like you are to practice safe sex and the easier you will find it to give up addictive behaviour.
People with high self-efficacy generally believe they are in control of their own lives and that their lives are shaped by the actions and decisions they take. People with low self-efficacy see their lives as outside their control.
People who believe they are powerless or have no control over their situation are unlikely to take the steps required to change things. On the other hand, people who believe they have control or power in a situation, are more likely to take the steps to make positive changes.
In a nutshell, if you want to help someone )(or yourself) to change their situation for the better, you need to change their perspective so that they feel empowered, rather than feeling as though the situation has power over them.
How can I help my clients to improve their self efficacy (move from a place where they feel things have power over them to a place where feel empowered)? There are four things I can do:
- Have them look at their previous successes – focusing on times in the past when they have successfully mastered something challenging.
- Use role models – sometimes seeing how someone else handles a similarly challenging situation can help you to do the same thing, particularly if you can relate to the person and the situation they are in.
- Provide encouragement – people tend to perform better when they are encouraged by others or others express a belief in their ability to master the challenge. Honest constructive feedback about what could be tried differently could be helpful too.
- Teach emotional control – People who are experiencing anxiety or stress will find it more difficult to master difficult situations than people who are feeling happy and confident. If you can teach someone the skills to master their anxiety or stress, you can help them improve their self-efficacy.