Believing in yourself isn’t always easy, but it’s something you can build. Setting small goals, reflecting on past accomplishments, and cultivating a positive mindset can help improve self-efficacy.

It’s OK if you don’t always believe in yourself. Everyone faces moments of uncertainty, where they may doubt whether their knowledge and skills are up to the task ahead.

Believing in yourself isn’t just certainty that you’ll succeed; it’s confidence that you can do it, even if you might encounter challenges along the way or fail on the first attempt.

If you find it challenging to have faith in your abilities, you may have low self-efficacy, or a lack of confidence in your ability to achieve specific outcomes. However, self-efficacy can be built and strengthened through some simple everyday strategies.

Self-efficacy is a foundational psychology concept first explored in-depth by psychologist Albert Bandura in his self-efficacy theory (SET) model. Bandura defined self-efficacy as a person’s judgment of their capabilities to plan and execute a course of action to achieve a specific outcome.

In other words, self-efficacy is the confidence you have in your abilities to reach a desired result — essentially, how much you believe in yourself.

Self-efficacy can be situational, such as believing in your ability to complete a work project. It can also be a general mindset where you experience confidence in your abilities under most circumstances.

Under SET, self-efficacy is dynamic and constantly evolving. It can be changed by personal experiences and influenced by different variables in each situation. Ultimately, self-efficacy is your perception of your ability to succeed, not your actual capability or performance level.

Examples of self-efficacy

  • Feeling assured you can reach a health goal through a structured diet and exercise plan.
  • Knowing you’ll be able to speak a new language after consistently taking classes.
  • Starting a project you’re unfamiliar with but feeling confident you can figure out the best course of action.
  • Believing you’ll give an accurate and clear speech on a topic you’ve studied extensively and practiced talking about.
  • Having a general sense that you can achieve your goals with enough hard work and dedication.
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According to Bandura, four factors are essential contributors to your personal level of self-efficacy:

  • Mastery experiences: reflection on your past accomplishments in similar tasks
  • Vicarious experiences: seeing or hearing about the accomplishments of others
  • Verbal persuasion: receiving appraisal or feedback from others
  • Physiological and affective states: how your physical and emotional state influences your perception

1. Mastery experiences

When you’ve succeeded at something before, it increases your confidence that you can succeed at it or similar endeavors again.

If you haven’t succeeded in past attempts, it can contribute to feelings of low self-efficacy. You may doubt your ability to achieve a new outcome.

Similarly, a lack of experience can lead to low self-efficacy. Without any past reference points, you may feel uncertain about how your skills will align with a task.

2. Vicarious experiences

Seeing people succeed shows you that an outcome is possible and encourages the mindset of “if one person can do it, I can do it too.”

It can be discouraging when those around you haven’t been successful, or all you hear are stories of how everyone has failed at a task.

A lack of successful examples can cast doubt on whether or not your skills are enough to break the pattern of defeat.

3. Verbal persuasion

Constructive, positive feedback can build self-efficacy by celebrating your successes and providing suggestions on how to improve your achievements.

Harsh criticism, verbal abuse, and insults, however, can have the opposite effect. If someone tells you that you aren’t good enough or offers no positive reinforcement for what you’ve done, it could:

  • damage your self-esteem
  • lower your self-belief
  • create a sense of inadequacy

4. Physiological and affective states

How you feel mentally and physically matters when it comes to self-efficacy. For example, if you feel weak, fatigued, or ill, you might have low self-efficacy when it comes to physically demanding tasks.

Similarly, a negative mental state can also contribute to low self-efficacy. Stress and anxiety can compound how difficult a situation feels. Additionally, past negative experiences, like trauma, can create lasting self-esteem challenges that affect you across multiple situations.

Self-efficacy is often closely linked to another psychological concept called locus of control.

Locus of control theory explores a person’s beliefs about how much control they have over the events in their lives. It was developed in the 1960s by psychologist Julian B. Rotter.

An external locus of control, where you believe outside forces like fate or luck determine your life’s events, can contribute to lower self-efficacy by creating a sense that your efforts are inconsequential.

Ultimately, anything that negatively impacts your physical or mental well-being can negatively affect your self-efficacy.

Examples of additional factors that can influence your well-being and affect self-efficacy include:

  • isolation
  • discrimination
  • cultural expectations
  • mental health conditions

Building self-efficacy is all about building your confidence, your self-esteem, and a positive mindset. Ways you can cultivate this positive psychology trait include:

  • asking for insights and feedback from supportive, positive peers
  • finding a mentor who can guide you toward goal achievement
  • tracking your progress with visual aids, like an online photo journal
  • visualizing yourself successfully completing tasks or navigating situations
  • viewing failures as learning opportunities and stepping stones to try again
  • learning new skills through structured courses that show your progression
  • setting small, achievable goals to build a sense of mastery and accomplishment
  • finding ways to manage anxiety and stress, like meditation or breathing exercises
  • managing chronic medical conditions and being proactive about your physical health
  • participating in workshops, live demonstrations, or watching instructional videos to gain knowledge
  • surrounding yourself with people knowledgeable and successful in areas you want to build self-efficacy
  • using gratitude journaling, or writing down positive daily experiences, to promote a positive mindset
  • seeking mental health support to gain insight into trauma, mental health conditions, or developing beneficial coping strategies

Believing in yourself and your ability to succeed is known as self-efficacy. It’s a positive psychology concept influenced by:

  • how masterful you feel toward a goal
  • the success rate of others
  • how you’re verbally supported in your efforts
  • your current state of well-being

Like most psychology concepts, self-efficacy is dynamic and can change based on your experiences and other influential factors. It can be situational and overarching — but in either circumstance, it can be built and strengthened.

Setting yourself up for success, surrounding yourself with positive support networks, and creating ways to see positive progression are just a few ways you can cultivate greater self-efficacy.