I’m taking a class right now on Human Motivation and learning about the many theories that motivate human behavior and performance. There are a lot of theories about what motivates humans to act as they do and to change behavior (and sustain that change). The one theory that resonates most deeply with me is self-efficacy theory. This theory states that your beliefs about your ability to perform and succeed at a specific task are the most significant motivators for change. If you believe you can and will be successful at making a change in your life, you will be more motivated to initiate it and act accordingly than if you don’t have that self-belief.
Self-efficacy differs from self-esteem, but they are related. Self-esteem is your overall perception of yourself based on what you do, who you are, your personality, looks, etc. It’s the comparisons you make of yourself based on others or made independently, within yourself. Self-efficacy focuses on your performance capabilities rather than personal qualities, so, instead of it being about how good or bad you feel about yourself, it’s about how capable are you of succeeding at a given task, or in a given situation.
Whether or not you possess self-efficacy beliefs about your ability to make a change in your life is often based on two things: your past experience and the stories you’re telling yourself about those experiences.
Since self-efficacy beliefs come from performance and success in past situations, you attribute your ability to be successful at something in the future based on that prior experience. For example, I am a runner and a fitness junkie. I have high self-efficacy beliefs about my ability to run ten miles or complete a challenging workout; however, I do not have the same self-belief about my ability to ski. I had a bad experience learning to ski as a teenager and felt incompetent in my skiing ability. Hence, I avoid it. Similarly, if someone has repeatedly tried to lose weight or get fit and healthy in the past but has been unsuccessful, they are likely to avoid attempting another fitness program in the future because their personal efficacy beliefs about getting healthy and fit are low. It is the same with making and sustaining any type of life change. You will be motivated based on your beliefs about your ability to be successful. And, if your past has not equated to success, chances are you will not be motivated to make a future change.
But, that doesn’t mean you cannot change!
Self-efficacy beliefs are also impacted by the stories we tell ourselves. If you’re always telling yourself you’re a failure and will never be successful at losing weight, getting fit, finding a new job, quitting smoking or anything you’re struggling with, then chances are you won’t. You will keep your beliefs perpetuated in those negative thought patterns. So how do you change the beliefs without the past experiences to support them? Start to change your story…
For example, I used to believe I was terrible at long-term relationships and that I wouldn’t ever be able to succeed at one. I was twice divorced and assumed marriage was not for me. I also believed long-term relationships were not for me. And then I realized that these were stories that were keeping me isolated and from experiencing the positive connection that is possible with a stable committed relationship. I also knew I was a loving, kind, and caring friend, sister, daughter, aunt, and niece. Just because I had two failed marriages did not take away from who I was. And what if the two failed marriages were not about me being bad at relationships but were instead about me being in the wrong relationships? I started to shift some of those internal beliefs about my ability to succeed in long-term relationships. I did it enough to allow myself into another relationship, and now 11 years later, I am in a very happy third marriage with the man I met 11 years ago.
The idea is to change your story by finding other areas of your life where you do have high self-beliefs. Just because you haven’t been able to get fit or lose weight doesn’t mean you cannot do it. It may mean you haven’t found the best way that works for you just yet. Just because you haven’t been able to find a job for the past year doesn’t mean your unemployable. It may mean you’re not using the best job search techniques or that you need additional support.
Where in your life have you already been successful? What are your good qualities? Use those things to start to tell a new story about the area of your life you’re struggling to change. Remind yourself of the places in life where you’ve already been successful and keep at it. Eventually, as you start to have more belief about your ability to create a positive change in the area of your life where you’ve been struggling, you will be motivated to take action. Not only that, but you will be driven to sustain that change. Self-belief is one of the biggest motivators for humans to create and maintain change. Once you have it, you will be unstoppable.