The Double Edged Sword Called Self-Efficacy.
Updated: Mar 21
Imagine a scenario where two powerlifters enter a gym. They are identical in every physical aspect from height to muscle composition all the way down to the same lifting shoes. They both go to a squat rack to attempt a new max lift. The first powerlifter fails his rep, while the second lifter powers through and successfully lifts the weight. So what happened to the first lifter? If I were to tell you that their mindset was the determining factor, would you believe me? Now I know what some of you might be thinking: “Oh boy, here we go with this hippie mumbo-jumbo.” In which case I urge you to bear with me here as I intend to convince you otherwise with some cold, hard science.
Albert Bandura is an American-Canadian psychologist who is known for his theory on self-efficacy. He describes self-efficacy as a person’s belief about their abilities to complete task specific goals. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how a person feels, thinks, motivates themselves, perceives challenges, and tackles obstacles. This means that those with a high self-efficacy or confidence in oneself will be able to achieve more than those who have a low self-efficacy. According to Bandura’s theory there are five sources of self-efficacy: performance accomplishments, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, imaginal experiences, and emotional state. (Bandura, 1994) This theory suggests that positivity in the handling of performance accomplishments (growing with success and treating failure as lessons), vicarious experiences (being encouraged by seeing somebody succeeding in a goal you strive for, rather than spite), verbal persuasion (being told you can achieve your goals rather than being told you should dream for less), imaginal experiences (picturing yourself reaching those goals instead of failing), and your emotional state (being optimistic instead of pessimistic) can have a result on your self-efficacy and therefore your results in completing task specific goals. This can apply to everything from losing weight to gaining muscle mass. But theories are just theories until they’re tested and proven.
There have been hundreds of peer reviewed articles discussing the effects on self-efficacy on a wide variety of different aspects of life and the overwhelming consensus is that self-efficacy plays a major role in the ability to complete goals. One study conducted using experienced weightlifters who were unaware of the weight they would be lifting showed that those exposed to false positive feedback (those who were told they lifted more than they actually did) would then go on to lift heavier in subsequent tests compared to those who were not. (Fitzsimmons et al., 1991) Another example of this was a study conducted on 18-22 year-olds who were unfamiliar with soccer and asked to learn a scissor kick. Those who responded with higher levels of self-efficacy on a questionnaire developed the skill more easily, whereas those with lower levels of self-efficacy struggled. (Sivrikaya, 2019) This research using the scientific method is proof that high self-efficacy can be extremely advantageous in reaching our goals. But on the flipside, low self-efficacy can be a slippery slope that is impossible to escape.
One well known term associated with low self-efficacy is negative feedback loops. Put yourself in this situation: You are trying to lose weight. You go to the gym and try lifting weights, but you don’t do very well. You become embarrassed and return home and go out with friends. While talking to your friends they tell you not to bother, that you only live once might as well enjoy it. So, you don’t bother going to the gym for awhile because #yolo, right? Soon you feel even worse because you’ve gained more weight, so you decided to go the gym. You feel worse than the last time, and you feel even more embarrassed. Rinse and repeat. This cycle of negativity leading to more negativity is known as a negative feedback loop and the root of the problem is low self-efficacy. If everything in your life is the opposite of what your goals are, how can you be expected to reach them? Well, if the first paragraph of this post didn’t give it away: Maintaining a positive mindset.
Didn’t run as far as you wanted to today? At least you ran today, that’s more than you were doing in the past. Didn’t lift as much as you wanted to? You’re still working your muscles; it wasn’t for nothing. Didn’t get a time you wanted in a race? At least you know what you can do next time to be better. The key here is maintaining that positivity in the good and the bad. Can’t do it? Find somebody that can. Whether it be a friend you bring along to the gym who is cheering you own or one of the trainers here at The Gym @ Norton reminding you that “Yes, it IS possible”. The ability to keep this positive mindset is the best way to increase your self-efficacy, and this can be the key to unlocking a ton of potential that many people don’t realize they have until their self-efficacy levels have increased. As the saying goes “Mind over matter”.
Personal Trainer @ The Gym Norton
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H.Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
Peggy A. Fitzsimmons, Daniel M. Landers, Jerry R. Thomas & Hans van der Mars (1991) Does Self-Efficacy Predict Performance in Experienced Weightlifters?, Research Quarterly for exercise and Sport,
Sivrikaya, M.. (2019). The Role of Self-efficacy on Performance of Sports Skills of Football Players.Journal of Education and Training Studies.