What do you think the number one predictor of performance excellence is? Level of experience? Quality of teacher? Amount of practice? Moderation of nerves? Level of precision? These can all certainly make a difference, but even with all these things in place, there is one factor, without which, your performance will never shine.
Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to succeed in a specific situation. Basically, how much do you believe you can do it? Self-efficacy has been proven time and time again to be the strongest predictor of performance, particularly in assessment environments.
So, basically, the more you believe you will succeed, the more likely you are to succeed. It’s easy to see this as some trick of the mind: just because you believe you can succeed, you will? Seems too easy, doesn't it?! Of course it can’t replace learning your music, or honing your skills, but once these factors are taken care of, you have to admit that some people seem to have an edge on the competition…
That being said, self-efficacy isn’t just wishful thinking, no amount of believing I can play the piano will make up for the fact that I’ve never had a single lesson! Self-efficacy must be based on reality… but reality is very much affected by our perception, isn’t it?! Did you fail because you didn’t take first place, or did you succeed because you performed better than you ever have before, mastered some new skills in a high pressure environment, and set yourself up with the best possible opportunity to take first place next time? Same situation, different perception, and only one of these interpretations builds self-efficacy.
So how do we develop self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy, like its close cousin self-confidence, is often assumed to be something we either have or don’t have, like blue eyes. However, these are not innate qualities, but learnt skills. Like most things in life, you reap what you sow, so if you don't think you're very confident, then ask yourself: how much time have I spent practicing confidence?
How much time have you spent developing self-efficacy?
Two important contributors to self-efficacy are the way we think about ourselves and our abilities (our self-talk), and our successful experiences.
Imagine somebody came into your practice room every day and told you you’d never make it, you’re not talented enough, everybody else is learning faster than you, it was just luck you got to the second round of auditions, there isn’t enough time and you're doomed for failure… it’s unlikely you’d feel good about yourself, and yet, for many of us, these are the kind of messages we send ourselves every day. With self-talk like this, how could we possibly feel confident?! The way we think about ourselves, what we expect from a situation, how we explain what happens and react to life events, how we cope with challenges and what we pay attention to all contribute to shaping our self-efficacy on a daily basis, often without us even realising!
2. Nothing succeeds like success
When I tell people that successful experiences help to build self-efficacy, they often protest, ‘but I haven’t had any successful experiences’. This is rarely true! It all comes down to what we term as a success. If anything short of perfection is a failure, it is very hard to build self-efficacy and we will always fall short of the mark, but if we can acknowledge our small successes, and incremental changes, then these will help to build self-efficacy. It may be as simple as recognising that you managed to get to the end of your performance without running out of steam this time, or that you got back on track after a minor memory slip instead of stopping and running off stage, like you’d always imagined you would! Small success like these, when acknowledged and not undermined, help to build a belief in our abilities, particularly under trying circumstances.
Whenever I bring up the topic of self-efficacy in a workshop, somebody inevitably says, ‘but I don’t want to appear arrogant’ and at least half the group will murmur in agreement. It is a sad reflection of our society that believing in your ability is immediately confused with arrogance! The way I like to see it is simple: self-efficacy is just for you, it’s what you tell yourself and how you choose to view the world around you. It’s not about bragging to others about your successes, or telling everyone how good you are, or strutting about the place like you own it: it is sufficient just to know it yourself. Self-efficacy also doesn't assume that you are perfect, or have nothing left to learn, just that you recognise and acknowledge what you have already achieved, and what you have to offer.
So if you don’t believe in your ability to succeed, you can do something about it. Building self-efficacy is an essential component of a successful career - not just blind faith, but carefully constructed self perception based on your actions and experiences. Don’t leave it to chance!
If you’d like to learn more you can sign up to receive blog posts direct to your email. Alternatively, please click the little ‘like’ symbol below. Or, if you're ready to tackle your inhibitions to performance head on, contact me to discuss your options and arrange an appointment.