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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Self-Efficacy and Success

Hello, Readers. Last week, I had a wonderful conversation with Caroline Adams Miller (CAM) of Getting Grit, which I look forward to sharing with you in detail soon. Today, I’ll share a snippet that I particularly enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed it, I must admit, because it supported one of my planks of success, the importance of like-minded others to success.

In her book, CAM writes, “How can anyone say they are self-made.” We spoke about the importance of Mastermind groups to help people define, act on, and be accountable for their goals. So I told her that I considered this one of the essential planks in my scaffolding of success, the plank of loving mirrors or like minded others to help us succeed. I told her I had felt this was important, but I had come across the term loving mirrors in a very poppy pop-psychology book, so I wasn’t sure it was an officially sanctioned Term of Usage.

Well, as soon as I described this term to her, CAM said, “Oh, that’s Self-Efficacy Theory” by Albert Bandura. She suggested I listen to an interview he gave recently on a podcast , and so I did.

Who is Albert Bandura and where has he been all my life, you ask? Well, he’s my father’s age, ninety-two, and so, he’s actually been here. Since 1925. While he lives in the US, and taught most recently at Stanford, he hails from Canada. Of course. He came to the US decades ago, however, and he has been ever since doing psychology. and racking up star points in the firmament of psychology. People claim he’s up there in importance with Freud, Jung, and Adler.

Who knew? CAM knew, for one. And now we all do.

What first made Bandura famous was his social learning theory that human behavior is transactional. In other words, motivations don’t all come from within, which was what the prevailing Freudian (libido) and Adlerian (power) view of psychology was when he began to study. We are influenced by our environment, by other people, and by what is in our heads, and we influence those things. The experience is transactional. It is what he called triadic.

This reminds me of an incident with the plumber the other week. The husband tried to snake the tub drain, but to no avail. So I called the plumber. You know plumbers. They charge you $100 to step over the threshold, and it goes up from there.

Well, the plumber arrived. We chatted for a few moments. He was particularly talkative. School, kids, dogs all came up. Then he mentioned that he liked my bumper sticker. 

He said, “Now I’m not going to get political, but I just want to say I hate those nasty bumper stickers.”

I agreed. I said, “I don’t mind a positive bumper sticker, but a negative, hostile one - no thanks.”

He said, “Yeah. I mean, maybe you don’t like the guy, but he’s the President, so you know.”

I said (to myself), Oh, he voted for He Who Shall Not Be Named. Out loud I said, “The negativity is just not helpful.”

Then the plumber spent a good twenty minutes snaking the tub. I spent a good twenty minutes scrolling through my social media feeds and otherwise being feckless.  When I heard him come downstairs, I returned to the front hall with my checkbook. He was halfway out the door.

“All done,” he said. He waved his hand at the checkbook. “Don’t worry about it. It was such a small job.”

Now, I’m not saying this was social learning theory in action, but I suspect that something in the environment (my bumper sticker) changed the equation with the plumber. So maybe that’s exactly what I am saying.

The idea behind self-efficacy theory is that self-efficacy is what allows us to succeed. This is a tautology as I have written it. Efficacy is the ability to make an effect, to make things happen. Self-efficacy is the ability to do that for yourself. It’s the ability to move with agency through life toward one’s goals.  According to Albert Bandura, there are four pillars of self-efficacy. Two of them rely on input from other people. They are as follows:

  • Mastery Experiences
  • Social Modeling
  • Social Persuasion
  • Physiological States

Mastery experiences are things we learn, obstacles we overcome, goals we achieve, skills we acquire. They are directly responsible for self-efficacy, because they are accomplishments. They are indirectly responsible for it by building confidence.

Physiological states are what goes on in our brains. Thoughts, feelings, brain workings. 

Social modeling is about observing role models succeed and thereby being motivated. It’s also about learning by watching. There’s one kind of need for help from others. 

Social persuasion is likely the source of Noah St. John’s term loving mirrors. It’s the idea that one’s environment affects one, and environment includes other people. Other people who believe in you, have confidence in you, can help you overcome doubt and fear when facing challenges.

So there you have it, official word from on high in the world of psychology. Success comes with help from other people. It turns out this is not just my wishful thinking, kumbaya crap, or some kind of purple, womanist pseudo-psychology.

CAM also brought up something called the Michelangelo Phenomenon*.  This is another Term of Usage that relates to the importance of input from others. The idea is that our close relationships with others sculpt us. You know, because Michelangelo was a sculptor.

Now, this phenomenon is not the commonly noted one that partners over time come to look like one another. Nor is it about how dog owners and their dogs often bear some similarities in appearance. 

Our eyes are different colors, but something about the hair, don't you think?

This is about internal shaping. It’s about how, when we have partners that help us towards our ideals, we have increased ability to achieve them. Likewise, if people close to us tear us down, rather than support us, we are more likely to fall short of those ideals. There are a lot of reasons behind this, including the fact that moods are contagious. But another key is that when others think confidently about us, we can take that confidence they have in us and apply it to ourselves.

So, check around you. Who are your loving mirrors? Who is sculpting you? And how are you sculpting those close to you?


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