There’s a saying often attributed to Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” (Apparently, the quote is a variation of Dryden’s translation of Virgil, “For they can conquer who believe they can.”)
A saying like this resonates through space and time for a reason. In this case, it explores the struggle for each person to influence their own path.
In psychology, Albert Bandura coined the term, “self efficacy,” defining it as, “An individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.”
Since Bandura’s coinage, psychologists have conducted studies that suggest self efficacy indeed does produce very real-world effects.
One paper suggests, “Eating and exercise self-efficacy beliefs were strongly associated with corresponding weight loss behaviors. Self-efficacy beliefs prospectively predicted weight control behavior and weight change during active treatment but not during follow-up.”
Another paper suggests, “Results revealed positive and statistically significant relationships between self-efficacy beliefs and academic performance and persistence outcomes across a wide variety of subjects, experimental designs, and assessment methods.”
Of course, self-efficacy is a complicated thing because it involves beliefs. It’s not as simple as merely willing yourself to believe in yourself. Beliefs are cultivated through evidence, narratives, circumstances, and all sorts of other factors.
Katy Milkman writes of her mentor Max Bazerman in How to Change, “Max had insisted that there wasn’t anything special about him that helped his students succeed. It was something special about his students. When I emailed asking for his mentoring secrets, he’d explained that his students ranged “from very smart to spectacular.” His unshakable faith that each student he advised had remarkable talents, I now realized, was a bedrock of Max’s advising success.”
It also means choosing projects that can influence your self efficacy, journaling to discover your core beliefs, and taking initiative to actively cultivate self efficacy. (Another post for another day!)