Self-Efficacy: Reach Your Health Goals Every Time
Who can help you reach your health goals every time? Nope, it’s not me. Although health coaches are a great resource for helping you set goals, overcome obstacles, and get out of your own well-intentioned way. For the record, that person is also not your spouse, your roommate, your friends, or your kids.
The one person who can make you reach all your health goals is YOU.
I see you out there working hard, swapping your typical yogurt and banana breakfast for a protein-rich meal of eggs and bacon. I see you squeezing in a few sprint sessions a week and limiting blue light at night. You’re committed to doing everything right. Until, something goes wrong.
Tell me if any of these statements sound familiar.
“I’ll start over on Monday”
“I guess I’m not cut out for this”
“My husband/wife/kid keeps sabotaging me with sugary treats”
The thing is, there’s a big difference between people who think it would be really cool to reach their goals and those who unapologetically knock those goals out of the park. Trust me, I know this scenario firsthand. I’ve worked with hundreds of men and women with a desire for the latter, and a mindset for the former.
If you’re in that camp too, there is a solution. And it starts with having a deep-down belief that you have what it takes to show up for yourself each and every day and accomplish the tasks you set out to do, no matter what happens. This is what’s called self-efficacy.
What Exactly Is Self-efficacy?
According to Albert Bandura, the social psychologist responsible for this theory, self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute the behaviors necessary to achieve specific results. In other words, if you really believe you’re capable of making a change, you’re more likely to actually make it.
Self-efficacy is also measured by how well you deal with temptation or situations that are triggers for you.You might want to lose fat, run a marathon, or kick your pint-of-ice-cream-a-night habit for good. But if you feel like you’re incapable of handling the commitment, the challenges, and the ups and downs that come with any health journey, you’re sabotaging yourself from the get-go. To get a sense of what I mean, take a look at these examples.
Examples of Strong Self-efficacy:
- You look at challenging problems as tasks that can and should be mastered
- You develop a deeper, more committed interest in the activities you participate in
- Your dedication to yourself and your goals doesn’t waver, even when the going gets tough
- You get back on track quickly after experiencing a setback
Examples of Weak Self-efficacy:
- You regularly avoid tasks that you consider to be challenging
- You believe that difficult tasks are beyond what you’re capable of
- You typically focus on negative outcomes, obstacles, and ways you’ve failed in the past
- You quickly lose confidence in your personal abilities
People with a strong sense of self-efficacy typically select more challenging goals and focus on opportunities, while people with low self-efficacy tend to fixate on obstacles. Take for instance, a study that looked at binge eating disorders in 1632 overweight men and women. Using data from a randomized clinical trial that compared a variety of weight loss interventions — including self-efficacy — the study found that having a negative emotional state was a high predictor of a poor treatment outcome. The worse the participants felt about themselves, the more obstacles they perceived, and the less weight they lost overall.
How to Improve Your Self-efficacy
So, how do you get more of it? According Bandura, your self-efficacy stems from four distinct sources, including:
- Mastery Experiences – having previously mastered a task or skill
- Vicarious Experiences – seeing others who you consider a role model succeed
- Verbal Persuasion – being told by influential people in your life that you have the right stuff
- Emotional & Physiological States – this is the idea that depression or chronic stress can lower your belief in yourself
Taking those sources into account, I created 8 strategies that allow you to improve self-efficacy by focusing on certain areas of your life that could use a boost. These are the same strategies I use with my own clients to help them believe they’re as insanely badass as they really are.
Strategies to Improve Your Self-efficacy
Even if you have a history of being told you don’t have the right stuff or you’ve struggled to master anything short of boiling water, you can start improving your self-efficacy right now by following these steps:
- Start small
- Get inspired
- Avoid comparison
- Do the work
- Watch your self-talk
- Know your triggers
- Adopt an “I never lose” mindset
- Add up your successes
Let’s unpack these steps.
1. Start small. Choose goals that are easier to achieve. Rather than attempting to not touch another piece of bread for the rest of your life, say “I’m not eating bread today.” Need it to be even smaller? Try this on for size: “I’m not eating bread at this meal.” Smaller goals give you easy wins.
2. Get inspired. Know someone who’s totally crushing their goals? Show your support, ask them questions, and remember that if they can do it, you can too. While it can be hard to celebrate other people’s wins (especially if you’re having a tough time achieving yours), allow yourself to get inspired by their success.
3. Avoid comparison. If scrolling through your Instagram feed or chatting with your neighbor who dropped 4 dress sizes causes your self-confidence to plummet, don’t do it. Comparing yourself to others who are at different parts of their journey isn’t a good plan for anyone (see strategy #2).
4. Do the work. Be consistent with your healthy habits every day — even when you don’t want to. Sit down to an epic protein-forward meal or make movement part of your routine without expecting an immediate result. Some days will feel awesome, others won’t. Your job here is to continue to show up and put in the work.
5. Watch your self-talk. Be aware of how you talk to yourself when the going gets tough. If you constantly beat yourself up for giving up on your workouts, try turning that negative talk into something more neutral, without emotion like, “right now, I get really tired during my workouts.” It’s just a neutral awareness. For more tips on overcoming negative self-talk, read this.
6. Know your triggers. The deli with the awesome hoagie rolls? The bakery case at your grocery store? Backyard BBQs at your neighbor’s house? If certain places or situations test your ability to stay on track, avoid them for now. Or better yet, have a plan that allows you to be successful, like not going grocery shopping hungry or bringing your own Primally-friendly foods to the party.
7. Adopt an “I never lose” mindset. I’ve always loved the quote by Nelson Mandela, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Pretty powerful, right? This kind of mindset allows you to look for the opportunity in every situation. Instead of an all-or-nothing, win-or-lose mentality, it helps you see what you can learn – and what you can do differently next time if something didn’t go the way you’d anticipated.
8. Add up your successes. This is a key factor in building up your self-efficacy. Start keeping track of your wins, no matter how small you think they are. Grab a journal and write each one down. You’d be surprised how fast they add up.