The Women in Medicine Badass Radioshow

Episode #46: Self-Efficacy

Show Notes:

Welcome back, WIMBAs. Super grateful that you’re here with me today and you won’t be sorry because I’ve prepared an uber important episode for you all about self-efficacy.

You’ve likely heard this term mentioned and you may even know what it means, but just to make sure we’re all on the same page, I like to start with the definition. 

The way I like to think about self-efficacy is that it’s your belief about your ability. When it comes to your work, self-efficacy is hugely important because without it, your performance will suffer. In a way, it’s similar to self-confidence in that it’s context dependent. In addition, it’s predictive of self-esteem. The more efficacious you are, the more you will esteem yourself and vice versa. In other words, when you believe you can conquer a challenge, you make it mean something about you. What are you making it mean if you lack confidence? Understanding this is crucial to your relationship with yourself. 

Self-efficacy is the foundation for your motivation and if you’re a high achiever, which I’m sure you are since you’re listening to this podcast, you likely care about your accomplishments. When you believe that you can go after a goal and achieve it, you’re more likely to do so. And when you don’t, you’re more likely to procrastinate.

And as you might imagine, this pivotal belief in your performance ability can become a self-fulfilling prophecy because when your efficacy is high and you go after your dreams, you are more likely to attain them. It’s when your self-efficacy is low that you hold yourself back and then stay stuck in an unhappy situation, never realizing you even had a choice. 

So let’s apply this to you. Think about a situation at work where you have high self-efficacy. Chances are you find the tasks you need to perform relatively easy or moderately difficult but doable. You feel confident that you can excel in these tasks and that even if it’s something you don’t know much about, you can take what you’ve learned previously and apply it to the current situation. These are the three markers for self-efficacy: magnitude, strength, and generality. 

Now think of a situation where you’re not quite as sure of yourself. Perhaps it’s an area of work that you avoid or dread for that reason. How difficult is the task for you? It’s likely quite challenging. How confident are you that you can excel in it? That’s probably a bit shaky. And perhaps one of the contributing factors is that you either haven’t learned something that’s applicable to the situation or this particular task is quite different from other tasks where you’re more experienced and confident. 

This all makes sense. But I want you to consider something Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” That’s what self-trust is all about. 

Think about how you might build on that. Consider past accomplishments. What tasks have you attempted that were difficult or that you weren’t experienced in but still succeeded in? What did that take? What can you take away from those experiences?

Here’s the truth. When you have high self-efficacy, you are more likely to think about difficult tasks as challenges. You’re like Zoro going into the jungle with your machete ready to cut down any weeds to clear the path ahead. Maybe that’s a bad analogy and maybe I have my action figures confused, but you get the gist. 

Efficacy is a personal resource that can increase work engagement. I wrote about it in my book, The 7E Solution to Burnout, and I’d like to share some of my writing on this topic with you now. 

“At the age of 28, Joanne saw herself as a failure. After her marriage fell apart, she was an unemployed single mom, and so poor that she had to receive welfare benefits. She fell into a deep depression.

Joanne could have stayed stuck in a negative state of mind, thinking about life’s disappointments, comparing herself to more successful friends, or telling herself that she will never climb out of the pit in which she found herself.

But Joanne was determined to be a writer. She would spend her days pushing her baby’s stroller, and once her infant daughter fell asleep, Joanne would sit in a cafe and write. It took her two years, but she ultimately finished her first book.

With her manuscript in hand, Joanne then faced rejection after rejection. In total, twelve publishing houses turned her down. Two years after the book’s completion, one publisher finally agreed to print a limited run of only one thousand copies of the book. That decision changed the course of history.

Within five months of publishing, Joanne’s book earned several awards and was picked up by a major multinational publisher who paid her $105,000. Joanne now had recognition as a writer and the financial security to continue her craft.

Joanne’s success started with an idea and was attained through determination, patience, and a strong belief in her abilities despite the odds. She is widely known as J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series, whose brand is now worth an estimated $15 billion.

It is one thing to believe that change is possible and another to make it happen. If you want to change your financial situation, you might buy a lottery ticket and hope to win a lot of money. There is a minuscule chance that you will find success with this strategy. Alternatively, you can ask yourself, “What can I do to create financial increases in my life?” This is a more powerful approach over which you have control.

The belief in your ability to succeed, which drives you to face challenges even when you may have failed in the past, is called self-efficacy. Your efficacy belief determines the amount of effort you invest. The more you invest of yourself, the higher the chances that you will be successful.

Multiple factors affect your belief in your abilities. If, for instance, you are asked to give a presentation at work in front of your entire division, your response may vary greatly depending on your past public speaking experiences. If you have never spoken in front of a group or have tried it before but feel you had failed miserably, you will see yourself as less competent, which will negatively affect your efficacy in this task. Alternatively, if you have mastered public speaking in the past, you will likely believe that you will succeed at this task, thereby increasing your efficacy. Therefore, it is not the task itself that determines your belief, but your associations with that task based on personal experiences that influence how you perceive it.

Even if you are new to your position and have no prior experience, you can increase your efficacy by watching other people perform the task at hand. Research has shown that when we observe people who are similar to us engaging in a particular behavior, we overcome our fears more rapidly and believe that we, too, can be successful.

A less powerful influence that can alter your efficacy is verbal persuasion. If you are feeling doubtful about your ability to succeed in a task, sometimes all it takes is encouragement from your boss, coworker, or friend to give you the boost you need to get started. The reason this method is not as reliable is that it can also work against you. If you are not highly efficacious and someone discourages you by pointing out the likelihood of failure or the difficulty ahead, your belief in your ability to succeed will likely diminish further.

Had J. K. Rowling not believed as staunchly as she did in her writing, she might have felt hopeless about being able to change her depressing life. Had she internalized the dozen rejections she received when trying to publish her manuscript, she might have given up entirely. Even though Rowling had never published a book before, she did not let this challenge frighten her. She was able to sustain her energy no matter what the outside world presented because of her strong self-efficacy. Like Rowling, if you believe enough in yourself, you will be able to attain your goals with determination. By pushing yourself to achieve tasks that are unfamiliar and challenging, you can reach even greater heights.

In addition to history, vicarious learning, and verbal persuasion, there is another factor that can influence your belief in your ability. When you are faced with challenges, your body might experience physical arousal. If you interpret that arousal as unfavorable, you will be filled with fear and either avoid the project or sabotage your efforts. Alternatively, when you reframe your arousal as excitement, you can use the momentum of your inner state to delve into the task.

As you can see, low efficacy beliefs are associated with threats to be avoided while high efficacy beliefs are linked to challenges to be mastered. Because of these associations, it is easy to see how your beliefs can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies. Self-discouragement leads to avoidance, which prevents you from experiencing success and reinforces the belief that you are unable to successfully tackle a particular task. Conversely, self-encouragement leads to an investment of effort and higher chances of success, which furthers your belief in your ability. Your self-talk can either lead you to spiral out of control or into a state of flow.”

Now it’s your turn. Consider how to apply some if not all of these influences of history, vicarious learning, verbal persuasion, and arousal to help boost your self-efficacy. And if you need help putting all the puzzle pieces together, let’s chat. You can book your complimentary Breakthrough Session with me by going to

I’ll see you on the call. And you can find me back here again next week when we’ll be tackling another construct to help you be your best self at work and in life. Stay tuned.

Schedule a Call Now