Self-efficacy– an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviours necessary to produce specific performance attainments.
Self-efficacy is your belief that you will cope with, or exceed in, a situation. It is situation specific. So although I personally have high self-efficacy in a gym environment, I have low self-efficacy that I could prepare a full Sunday dinner.
Self-efficacy has been shown to be one of the strongest determinants of individuals participating in and adhering to an exercise program. This in turn translates to a higher success rate in reaching personal health and fitness goals.
Self-efficacy is a key pillar of motivation. If you believe that you can handle or excel in a particular environment then you will have a higher desire to be in that environment. So if you are highly proficient in playing FIFA on the PlayStation, then you will have a high affinity to find yourself in that environment.
Similarly if you have a high belief in your ability to perform in a gym or sporting environment then you will be keener to place yourself in those situations. This is how self-efficacy ties into being the key to your motivation to exercise. By building your belief in being able to perform whilst participating in exercise you will find that you have to worry less about trying to find the motivation to do so.
So how do you go about developing your belief in your ability?
Well, you have to begin with participating in exercise. By building positive memories and experiences, whether in a gym, your home or a fitness class, you will begin to improve your view of exercise. This demonstrates one of the odd factors about self-efficacy, it is simultaneously a predictor and a result of exercise.
There are several factors that develop your self-efficacy. Some can be easily done by yourself, whereas others require an external influence, such as a friend, family member of personal trainer.
Firstly, research has shown that self-efficacy can be improved by strategies such as goal setting and behaviour monitoring. So have a clear and concise goal in mind when starting your fitness journey. It has been shown that if your goal is large, for instance to lose 8 stone in 1 year, that splitting it into smaller, more manageable chunks will improve your motivation and adherence. So in the previous example this could be to lose 2 pounds every week.
The strongest enhancer for self-efficacy is mastery experience. This means the success and accomplishments that you have had in a similar setting. This may be when you were a child or it could be more abstract, for instance when you ran for the bus and beat the guy you assumed was fitter then you are.
Another factor that provides strong enhancement of self-belief is vicarious experience. This occurs when you watch someone that you deem to be in a similar situation to yourself succeed. This prompts the ‘If they can do it, so can I’ response. This is why being involved in fitness classes or weight loss groups can have a huge effect on your motivation.
Psychological status is another strong factor that governs self-efficacy. This can be defined as an individuals interpretation of their psychological experience, For instance, you may try a new exercise and find that you are unable to effectively perform the movement with correct form. You could view this negatively, and deem it as you have failed. Alternatively you could interpret it in a positive light, such as the fact that your ability must have progressed as you felt that you needed a more challenging exercise, and all that happened is you overshot the progression slightly.
A final construct of improving ones self-efficacy is verbal encouragement, or persuasion. This factor will require an extrinsic source, such as a friend or trainer. They will lead and encourage you, through the distribution of knowledge and feedback, to increase not only your confidence but also your understanding of what you are doing, and why.
By having positive experiences within these pillars your self-efficacy will be built and will improve. This provides the central pillar of your exercise motivation and will allow your program adherence to be maintained or improved. This will lead to further positive experiences, such as setting new personal bests and achieving goals. This in turn will harness an even higher level of self-efficacy.
You can quickly begin to see that self-efficacy works like a snowball rolling down a hill. It starts off slow and with little momentum. But as you gain more and more positive experiences the snowball picks up speed and momentum, until it is not possible to stop.
On the flip side, negative experiences around the above mentioned factors will lead to a reduction in self-efficacy. This can quickly lead to self-doubt and harness a ‘Tried that, it didn’t work, it will never work’ attitude. For this reason it is advised that you seek professional assistance, at least in the early stages. By using someone who has knowledge not only in structuring an exercise program suitable for your ability, but also in motivational techniques and specifically self-efficacy, you will give yourself a solid base. This will result in less negative experiences and more positive ones, allowing you to build your self-efficacy snowball.
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