It's a New Year and my new teaching schedule has commenced. Over the weekend I grabbed my hoard of printed articles and training materials that I’ve collected over the years to get me back into health promotion and behavior change mode. I’ve read about this topic intensely, but my recent refresher reminded me of one of the more important factors in successful behavior change: our perceived self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is the extent or strength of one's belief in one's ability to complete tasks and reach goals. In more simple terms, confidence. The level of our perceived self-efficacy plays a central role in personal change since unless we believe that we can produce desired effects by our actions, we have little incentive to act or persevere in the face of difficulties. According to Psychologist Albert Bandura in Health Promotion by Social Cognitive Means:
The stronger the perceived self-efficacy, the higher the goals people set for themselves and the firmer their commitment to them. Self-efficacy beliefs shape the outcomes people expect their efforts to produce. Those of high efficacy expect to realize favorable outcomes. Those of low efficacy expect their efforts to bring poor outcomes. Self-efficacy beliefs also determine how obstacles and impediments are viewed. People of low efficacy are easily convinced of the futility of effort in the face of difficulties. They quickly give up trying. Those of high efficacy view impediments as surmountable by improvement of self-management skills and perseverant effort.
So…the question of the day is: How can we strengthen our perceived self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy is not a genetically endowed trait. Instead, it develops over time and through experience. According to Bandura and others, self-efficacy beliefs are not static -- they are constantly informed, energized, or depleted through at least five sources:
1. Mastery Experiences – Successfully completing tasks, reaching goals, and overcoming obstacles is the most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy. Recall my recent post on S.M.A.R.T. goals? Setting specific, measurable, actionable realistic and timely goals and tasks can ensure our ability to experience mastery. When we experience mastery and feel confident that we have what it takes to succeed, we persevere in the face of adversity and more quickly rebound from setbacks.
2. Vicarious experiences - Seeing people similar to ourselves succeed by sustained effort raises our beliefs that we too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities required to succeed.
3. Social persuasion – When we are told by significant others, like parents and teachers, that we possess the capabilities to master given activities we are likely to mobilize greater effort and sustain it.
4. Physiological and emotional states – Our actual and perceived physiological and emotional states (like stress, fatigue, anxiety, fear, joy, anticipation) can influence our self-efficacy beliefs. Our mood can also affect our sense of personal efficacy. Positive moods enhance perceived self-efficacy, despondent moods diminish it. The ability to reduce our stress reactions and alter our negative emotional tendencies is a key way to enhance our sense of self-efficacy.
5. Imaginal experiences – Rehearsing successful or unsuccessful performances, be it deliberate or while ruminating, can affect our coping strategy and self-efficacy for the better or worse. Examples include imagination-based interventions, experiential exercises like mentally rehearsing a speech, and role playing.
Pretty interesting stuff, right? Seems like putting ourselves out there more, ensuring our goals and desired tasks are S.M.A.R.T., fostering a strong support network and practicing stress management and visualization exercises can all help us achieve a stronger perceived self-efficacy.
I also want to reflect on the key word in this whole topic: perceived. As I wrote in a prior post about self-talk, our perceptions make our reality! Like Henry Ford said, if you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you are right. It's all about that self-efficacy, baby!
New Year’s Eve is fast approaching and it’s likely that resolutions are being pondered upon. Though every moment can be an opportunity for a new start, the New Year provides us that more symbolic time to look back and reflect, celebrate and move forward with renewed intentions. We can decide which habits we’d like to let go of and new habits/goals/practices we’d like to integrate (or reintegrate).
According to a study at the University of Scranton, 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions; however, only 8% of us are successful in achieving them. Where are we going wrong? Perhaps it’s in how we set our resolutions/goals.
Maybe you’re considering a more active lifestyle for 2015? Want to lose weight? Get your finances in order? For me, it’s practicing mediation and mindfulness. All of these goals sound great, but making them S.M.A.R.T. will ensure our success. S.M.A.R.T. stands for: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic (or relevant) and Timely. You may have heard of this mnemonic acronym in a business or project management class, but it’s also at the root of effective goal setting as it enables us create a clear map behind our goals and encourages us to address our beliefs and barriers. So let’s get to it!
Specific – A goal needs to be specific. A goal to get healthy sounds great, but it’s too general as there are so many ways to do it. Is it exercising more? Cutting back on added sugars? Managing stress? Perhaps your one goal can be broken into a few mini-goals? Make it specific by asking yourself the Five 'W'’s and How…Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? If your goal is to exercise more, for example, you’ll want to specify the type(s) of exercise, when and where you’ll be doing it and how - what tools and resources will you need to succeed? Maybe a new pair of running shoes, set of dumbbells, or fitness buddy? Lastly, why? Why do you want to achieve this goal? Is the motivation coming from within you or from outside influences? Research shows that the more we can align our goals to our internal motivations, rather than external, the more successful we will be in achieving our goal.
Measurable – It’s impossible to know whether we’re making progress towards our goals if they aren’t measurable. Measuring progress helps us stay on track and usually involves asking some How’s: How much, How many, and How we’ll know when it's accomplished. For exercise, we'll want to track our frequency, time and intensity (amount of weight, number of steps or heart rate, for example). For nutrition, perhaps you'll measure the cups of water you drink or servings of vegetables at lunch and dinner. For me, it’ll be the time and days per week spent meditating.
Actionable – An actionable goal is one with clearly defined actions/steps that we must take in order to achieve the goal. Its one where we are in control over whether or not these actions take place. In other words, it’s not a passive process like taking a pill in hopes for more energy. It requires us to be an active participant in the change process, step by step. In the case of wanting enhanced energy, perhaps a S.M.A.R.T. goal would be to get one more hour of sleep on weeknights or eat a more sustaining lunch with complex carbohydrates and protein to keep us going.
Realistic (or relevant) - It is essential to set realistic goals - otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for failure, which can diminish our motivation. A goal should require us to stretch beyond our normal routines and abilities, but allow for success based on our current skills and time available. Goals should also be meaningful and relevant to our abilities and interests. Set goals that are important to where you are in your life right now. Don’t set a goal that someone else is pressuring you to attain.
Timely - Knowing that we have a deadline can motivate us to get started and keep us focused. Experiment with short and long-term timelines, but check in regularly to monitor your progress.
Research also tells us that those of us who make resolutions are most successful when we have belief in our ability to succeed, have the skills to change, and are ready to change. As we reflect on the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, let’s all take some time to step back and think about our beliefs and our current skills. Before deciding to exercise more, do we need instruction from a trainer? Need to sign up for a cooking class before we can start making dinner 5 days a week? What support, tools and/or resources will you need in order to succeed? I know that I will need some sitting props to meditate more comfortably.
My S.M.A.R.T. resolution for 2015 is to practice intentional mindfulness in order to achieve more equanimity. Life’s been good, but I often feel controlled by impulsive thoughts, actions and emotions. There are tremendous benefits to mindfulness and meditation (more to come in future posts), one of which is an enhanced ability to expand the space between action and reaction. My S.M.A.R.T. resolution is to practice quiet sitting/meditation 2 times per week for 5-10 minutes before my 20 minute yoga routine. I’ll keep you all posted with my progress and would love to hear yours! What is your S.M.A.R.T. resolution for 2015? I’d love to hear from you!
In a recent class I facilitated, a member reminded me of the importance of our social network and its impact on our activity levels and weight. I thanked him for the valid commentary and recalled a Ted Talk I watched some time ago. It sounds crazy, but it’s true: the people we associate with can have a powerful effect on our behavior - for better or for worse.
Per Nicholas Christakis’s talk and research paper, the effects of our social network are vast – affecting our body weight and even our levels of happiness. Regarding body weight:
A person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if he or she had a friend who became obese in a given interval. Among pairs of adult siblings, if one sibling became obese, the chance that the other would become obese increased by 40%. If one spouse became obese, the likelihood that the other spouse would become obese increased by 37%.
Christakis and his colleague even found that if your friend’s friends are obese your risk of obesity is 25% higher and if your friend’s friend’s friends are obese your risk is 10% higher. There is additional research that shows how our social environment can affect our physical activity and sedentary behaviors.
So how does this work? Many think that is due to the changes in our social norms - what an acceptable weight is, for example. Or perhaps our perception of our own risk of illness depends on the people around us. Either way, our social networks have value and as Christakis shared in his talk, the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs. That being said, let’s take a step back and evaluate our social network, especially in our effort to Maintain No Gain. If you are surrounded by those who spend most of their time watching TV and eating out, maybe it’s time to expand your social network. Join Meetup.com to find a hiking group or book club. Sign up for a cooking class or intramural sports team in your community or seek out volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood to meet new friends. Can you share some other ways? I'd love to hear from you!
Hello and welcome! My name is Andrea Notch Mayzeles. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist, Mom, and Master of Public Health dedicated to the path of well-being. As a wellness professional I am committed to continued learning and am here to share research, recipes and musings on health, psychology, personal development, and parenting. I hope you enjoy!