What Is Self-Efficacy?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 28, 2022
5 min read

Self-efficacy can be defined as the belief that you can be successful when carrying out a certain task.

The idea of a self-efficacy theory was first proposed in the 1960s by Albert Bandura, a Stanford psychology professor with a specialty in developmental and educational psychology. He introduced self-efficacy as one of the processes of goal realization in social cognitive theory, a learning theory based on certain observations. 

Other processes of goal realization besides self-efficacy include self-observation, self-evaluation, and self-reaction.

Self-efficacy is related to self-confidence, focusing on a person's belief in their capacity to perform tasks and succeed. The self-efficacy theory's core concept is that people are more likely to engage in activities concerning which they have high self-efficacy, and they are less likely to engage for which they don’t.

For example, say that a corporation asks two of their employees, A and B, to prepare a high-quality graph for a presentation at their upcoming conference. Employee A has a lot of expertise and experience in creating graphs but is not confident that he can create high-quality graphs. Employee B, on the other hand, has little knowledge and no experience in making graphs, but he is confident that he can create a high-quality graph for the conference presentation. 

Employee A is hesitant to create the graph and informs their supervisor that he will not take up the task. Employee B accepts the task and spends a lot of time researching how to do it since he is motivated and confident. In the end, Employee B creates the graph, and the presentation is made at the conference. The supervisor then gives employee B a promotion for making it happen, while the more experienced employee A gets nothing.

Simply put, if you have a high level of self-efficacy, you are more likely to accomplish tasks. Self-efficacy affects your motivation, learning capacity, and performance.

There are four major influences on self-efficacy. These include: 

  • Mastery of experiences.  This refers to the learning opportunities that arise when you take on a new challenge and succeed at it. When you do a task well, it can help you develop a stronger personal belief. This occurs because you are subconsciously teaching yourself that you are capable of learning new talents when practicing the skills to work on a project. Failure can have the opposite effect, but it especially will if you don't have a strong feeling of self-efficacy.  
  • Social role models. Seeing people with a high level of self-efficacy succeed because of their efforts may inspire you to believe that you too can succeed. When you see your role models succeed in projects, you're likely to pick up some good attributes as well. Anyone in your life can be a positive role model.    
  • Imaginal experiences. Visualizing yourself behaving successfully in a given situation may help you build up high levels of self-efficacy. When you imagine yourself being successful, you can set your mind to believe that success is the only outcome. 
  • Emotional and physiological states. You may assume you will succeed at a task based on how you feel psychologically or physically. Consequently, learning to regulate your anxiety and mood, especially while facing challenges, might help you enhance your self-efficacy. You may feel motivated to do well if you better learn how to approach difficult situations.

Your abilities are not fixed. In some cases, your performance might surprise you, and not always pleasantly. If you have high self-efficacy, though, you can easily bounce back from a failure because you will focus on how to handle the failure rather than letting it worry you.

To build high self-efficacy, consider doing the following: 

  • Get a peer model. Aim to learn from your peers, especially if their good conduct brings them success. You might have experienced role modeling from a young age. For instance, your teachers, parents, guardians, or siblings might have set a good example in your upbringing. Role or peer modeling not only works for children but can also be applied at any age. 
  • Get feedback. Don’t always assume that no feedback is great feedback. Getting clear and concise feedback may help you build high self-efficacy. For instance, if you’re an employee who doesn’t get feedback on your work, you may be confused about whether to continue doing what you’re doing or if you need to change something. Checking in with peers or supervisors might be a good call in such situations.
  • Participation. Participation in any environment will make you more engaged and active. Depending on how the people close to you respond, you can develop high self-efficacy by getting others to participate. For example, students who participate more in a class environment tend to learn more, develop critical thinking skills, and gain confidence.   
  • Allow people to make their own choices. No matter the outcome, positive or negative, allow people to make their own decisions. Being more accountable will help you build high self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy has a significant influence in fields such as education, research, and medical practice.

The benefits of self-efficacy include:

  • Resilience to stressHaving a high level of self-efficacy can help you change your perspective on stressful issues. Instead of allowing self-doubt to bother you at stressful times, you may be inspired to develop solutions that work for you. 
  • Healthy lifestyle habitsHigh self-efficacy can help you lead a healthy lifestyle. For instance, If your exercise routine is hard, you may find the internal encouragement to finish your routine. 
  • Improved employee performance. An employee with high self-efficacy will be determined to learn and perform a variety of tasks well.
  • Educational achievement. Students with high self-efficacy feel that if they put their minds to it, they can overcome any difficulty. A learner with high self-efficacy will create objectives for themselves and employ tactics to assist them in reaching those goals. 
  • Treating phobias.  You might be able to overcome a phobia by engaging in activities that involve your phobia. For example, if you are afraid of snakes, you may find it easier to deal with them if you interact with snakes directly (just be sure to avoid any venomous species!). Self-efficacy is developed through personal experience.

Self-esteem and self-efficacy are not the same. Self-esteem reflects one’s self-worth, while self-efficacy is the perception of one’s own ability to achieve a goal.

To put it another way, you might not be good at horseback riding because you've never ridden a horse before. In such a case, your level of ability may be lower, but because you haven't pinned your self-worth to your ability to ride a horse, your self-efficacy may still be high.

Show Sources


American Psychological Association: "Teaching Tip Sheet: Self-Efficacy."

Cambridge University Press: "self-efficacy."

Davis Phinney Foundation: "THE IMPORTANCE OF SELF-EFFICACY."

GoodTherapy: "Self-efficacy."

Penn State IT: "Self-Efficacy and Social Cognitive Theories."

Simply Scholar: "Self-Efficacy Theory."

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