Brain and Behavior, Brain Training & Academics, Mindset

Self-efficacy Trick That Works Every Time

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), “self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1997).” For example, a student with strong self-efficacy will believe they can complete the requirements for a challenging research paper while a student with poor self-efficacy will feel defeated and overwhelmed by the challenge. One with strong self-efficacy will dig in to find the resources and guidance needed to complete the project, while one with poor self-efficacy will only do the bare minimums to get by and believe they simply aren’t able to pursue it further. Self-efficacy is a human’s conviction about how they are able to cope with whatever situation they face based on their attitudes, abilities, and cognitive skills.  

Obviously this is a central determinant for a student’s success or failure in academics and life in general! So how do we as parents teach and promote this in our kids?

According to new research published in the APA journal Emotion, self-efficacy can be established and fostered with a simple trick of personal recollection. Seventy-five research participants were split into two groups: half of the people were asked to think about a generally positive experience while the other half were asked to recall a specific memory of self-efficacious behavior. Then the participants were instructed to ponder a troubling emotional memory. The people who first focused on their previous self-efficacy perceived the troubling emotional memory with less distress than those who simply thought of positive experiences.

These findings suggest that recalling self-efficacy episodes may promote adaptive self-appraisals for negative memories, which in turn may contribute to recovery from stressful events” 

When our kids are faced with challenging circumstances (or challenging school projects) we can help them learn this one simple trick to set self-efficacy in motion: recall a time when you mastered something well! The process of remembering a personal success, however big or small, helps foster ongoing self-efficacy so that achievements can continue to accelerate. Ask your kiddo (and yourself!) to tell about a time they persevered to attain a desired outcome. If they can’t think of anything…remind them of learning to ride a bike, or writing a kind thank-you letter to grandma, or passing that really hard multiplication facts test, or…you get the point. All of us have had moments of powerful self-efficacy, and recalling them, speaking those memories aloud, focusing on those successes, will spur us ever onward to greatness!

The staff and writers at Modern Brain Journal are deeply grateful for the foundational psychosocial work of Dr. Albert Bandura, and mourned the passing of this awe-inspiring man in July 2021. His legacy will forever shape our understanding of human learning and behavior.

Want to learn more? Don’t miss this episode of the Brainy Moms podcast, “Nurturing Tenacity in Children With Special Guest Dr. Sam Goldstein.”

Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

Bandura A. Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge University Press; 1997.

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