About the Self Efficacy Scale

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If you had a high score on this test, you probably feel confident about your ability to make changes in your life and to accomplish your goals. This sense of confidence is not an illusion, you are indeed more likely to achieve success in your personal life, and your educational and vocational endeavors than those who obtained low scores on this test. Stanford psychologist Albert Ban-dura, one of the most respected researchers in the country, has called self-efficacy one of the most powerful determinants of behavioral change because it causes people to take that first step toward their goal, it motivates them to make a concerted effort, and it gives them the strength to persist in the face of adversity.

This may make it seem that self-efficacy is only relevant to the highly functioning, go-getters of the world, but a sense of self-efficacy is important to everyone, regardless of whether they head a major corporation or are struggling in psychotherapy to overcome a personal problem. Indeed, Bandura has found that a sense of self-efficacy does predict a good outcome for clients in psychotherapy. The Self-Efficacy Scale you just completed was constructed by Mark Sherer and James Maddux to be used by therapists to gauge the progress of treatment. As part of their work, they found that among veterans receiving treatment for alcoholism, those with a sense of self-efficacy had a more successful job history, had more education, and had achieved a higher military rank than their low-scoring peers. Self-efficacy is important to everyone, and those without it can improve their lot in life by working to develop this important trait.

A sense of self-efficacy develops as one has successful experiences and (this is a critical and) takes credit for making those successes happen. Success alone does not guarantee self-efficacy. One has to believe that his or her efforts were responsible for the success. I knew two graduate students whose experiences illustrate this point vividly. The first, John, was a brilliant student and school always came easily to him. He was selected as his college's outstanding physics student and was accepted to one of the top graduate programs in the country for his doctoral work. All of his instructors were confident he would have a distinguished career. Ken, one of John's graduate school classmates, was also selected as his department's outstanding major as an undergraduate, but he had to work harder for his success. He was extremely bright, but the upper-level physics and math classes did not come as easily to him as they did to John, and Ken spent countless evenings burning the midnight oil. During their second year of graduate school, John finally reached the point where he had difficulty grasping certain complex material, and he panicked. This had never happened to him and he did not know what to do. Ken, on the other hand, had learned several years earlier that he would have to struggle for some time before that sense of finally understanding the material would come over him. More than once he could be found at his desk working problems as the sun rose. He pestered his professors with questions, and sure enough, he eventually reached the point where he "got it." John never did. After floundering for four years, he left the program with a master's degree and accepted a position teaching at a junior college. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but John felt the sting of failure for years. Ken, on the other hand, earned his Ph.D. in four years and went on to have a distinguished academic and research career. He still recognizes his limitations; it is not unusual for him to ask one of his gifted graduate students to help him with the math involved in his work. But no one would bet against him if he ever said he could solve a problem.

John's problem was that he had always explained his successes as resulting from his gifted intelligence. When this failed him, he had nothing to fall back on. Other successful people may reach their limits sooner than necessary because they explain their successes in terms of luck, or good fortune. You do not have to approve of Donald Trump to admire what he has done with his comparatively modest inheritance from his father. There have been countless other people who began with more resources and did much less with them. It was, I'm sure, Trump's unwavering sense of self-efficacy that allowed him to turn a few apartment buildings into one of the world's greatest real estate empires. If you received a low score on this test, the first place to start is to take more credit for your successes. Perhaps you are truly lucky, perhaps you are bright, perhaps your successes were minor. But even if all of this were true, your success still depended on your effort. Undergraduate work came easily to John, but he still had to study the material for the exams, and he still had to work hard to complete his honors thesis. His career would have turned out much different if he had told himself, "I'm going to have to step up my efforts," rather than, "I've reached my intellectual limit," during his second year of graduate school.

I know that some people with low scores on this test will complain, "What you wrote doesn't apply to me because I haven't had any success experiences." My response would be a simple, "You're wrong." If you are reading these words, you have been successful in mastering a critical skill. If you could calculate your score on the test, you have mastered a second critical skill. You have had success experiences, so that is not the problem. My guess is that your problem lies in setting appropriate goals.

I have seen countless students over the years who have a serious goal-setting problem. They begin their freshman year with dreams of becoming a physician, lawyer, research scientist, and the like, but then halfway through their first semester, they begin to miss class because they partied too much the night before. It is a noble goal to want to be a doctor, lawyer, or research scientist, but it is critical to have short-term goals that allow you to move steadily toward your long-term goals. If you believe you have failed to reach your goals, make a list of the steps you would have to take to get there and begin with the very first step on that list. The first step might be to take one course at the local community college. Perhaps it might be to begin saving $10 per week so you can buy the equipment you need to start your own business. The key is to set small goals that are within your reach and to give yourself credit for reaching them. As the cliché suggests, nothing breeds success like success. Once you get started, there will be no stopping you.

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