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Failing in Order to Succeed

Everyone’s heard of the need for self-esteem. If you don’t feel good about yourself, how can you ever accomplish anything in your life?

But what you may not know is the need for something else, which may be even more important — self-efficacy. That is, the belief that you have what you need in order to succeed (even if you don’t always do so).

People with self-efficacy often have very high standards for themselves, which brings about a paradox — they may not always have the highest self-esteem, nor do they always succeed (according to their own standards). What they do do is to never give up and always continue believing in themselves and their abilities.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Melinda Beck has a column today about the role and importance self-efficacy has in our lives:

Still, such people succeed because they believe that persistent effort will let them succeed. In fact, if success comes too easily, some people never master the ability to learn from criticism. “People need to learn how to manage failure so it’s informational and not demoralizing,” says Prof. Albert Bandura.

Albert Bandura is the psychologist who first described this concept back in the 1970s and is still teaching it at Stanford University.

Self-efficacy differs from self-esteem in that it’s a judgment of specific capabilities rather than a general feeling of self-worth. “It’s easy to have high self-esteem — just aim low,” says Prof. Bandura

The column points out all of the setbacks some famous people have experienced, from Michael Jordan and Steve Jobs, to Harry Potter writer J.K. Rowling and Walt Disney. The key to each of these people’s success is that they never doubted their own abilities and believed in themselves and their contributions.

Self-efficacy has become a part of the positive psychology movement nowadays, and the concept of “resiliency.” The good news is that even if you don’t have a lot of self-efficacy or resiliency today, you can learn these skills and become more self-efficacious in your own life.

Where does such determination come from? In some cases it’s inborn optimism — akin to the kind of resilience that enables some children to emerge unscathed from extreme poverty, tragedy or abuse. Self-efficacy can also be acquired by mastering a task; by modeling the behavior of others who have succeeded; and from what Prof. Bandura calls “verbal persuasion” — getting effective encouragement that is tied to achievement, rather than empty praise.

It’s a good article describing a life skill and personality trait we may have admired in others, but didn’t quite know what it was or how to get some of it in our own lives.

Failing in Order to Succeed

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Failing in Order to Succeed. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 29 Apr 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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