When I was a little girl, my favorite book was Charlotte's Web. It was the first book I ever took out of the library using my own library card; the first book I read that had chapters; and the first book that made me cry. Late at night, long after my parents had gone to bed, I'd sit in my faded yellow armchair and read Charlotte's Web over and over until the spine became bent and pages worn tissue thin.
Of all the characters in the book, the one I most adored was Charlotte, the heroine. Confident and spunky, Charlotte devotes herself to saving Wilbur from slaughter by weaving colorful adjectives in her web to describe him - things like terrific and radiant. Though she is doubted by both Wilbur and the other farm animals, her conviction and determination to save Wilbur's life, and success when doing so, ultimately becomes her legacy.
I was thinking about Charlotte when I finished my own book this weekend. Truthfully, I should have wrapped it up weeks ago, but I've been dragging my feet. I just could not get motivated to pull the last chapters together. I couldn't figure out where my energy to write had disappeared to. I wondered if I was a slacker. Maybe I wasn't meant to write a book at all. Perhaps I should stick to something simple, like matching my socks together when folding the laundry and coordinating my belt to my shoes. But on Sunday afternoon, I pulled myself out of my slump and wrote the final sentence. I was done. After dancing around the house in celebration and closing my laptop, I realized what had been holding me back. I was afraid of failing. I was unsure in my ability to produce something credible and legitimate. I doubted my ability to write anything aside from a glib email, a snarky tweet. Without confidence in my proficiency as a writer, I could not perform to my potential.
Psychologists refer to this confidence as self-efficacy, the strength of an individual's belief that they can succeed at a given activity. Research has shown that, “efficacy beliefs (through cognitive, affective, and motivational regulatory mechanisms) influence how people feel, how much effort they invest in actions, how long they persevere in the face of obstacles and failures, and how resilient they are to adversity (Salanova, Llorens, & Schaufeli, 2010).” Health behaviors such as non-smoking, physical exercise, dieting, dental hygiene, or recovery from an illness are dependent on one’s level of perceived self-efficacy (Conner & Norman, 2005). If you believe you can quit smoking, or get in better shape, chances are high that you actually will. I managed to pull myself out of anorexia and bulimia because I was not only determined to recover, but also convinced that I could. Self-efficacy influences the effort you puts forth to change negative behavior and the persistence to continue trying despite setbacks that might influence motivation.
A high sense of self-efficacy can be caused by a number of factors. Seeing some close to you succeeding on a project similar to yours; having past experience dealing with success; and having a strong support network of people who believe in you can all raise your self-efficacy.
It makes sense that people who believe in themselves and have the confidence in their skills would have higher self-efficacy than those who don't. These people view tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than be avoided. They set tough goals and stay committed to reaching them. But it helps to be passionate about the activity you're engaged in. Charlotte was determined to help Wilbur because she loved him. The sacrifice in time and energy were worth it because her friendship with Wilbur meant so much. Without that passion, she probably would not have been motivated to fight for him.
The moral of this story? If there's something you want to change about yourself, you probably can. Believe in your abilities and have confidence in your strength. Stay passionate and motivated to change. You are worth fighting for.
Do you have a bad habit you'd like to change? Have to tried to overcome it but had trouble finding the motivation? Do you believe higher self-efficacy has an affect on behavioral change?
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