SELF-EFFICACY: COPING WITH STRESSFUL LIFE CHANGES AND TRANSITIONS

Educating for Human Functioning during stressful Life Changes and Transitions is an approach to a better world.


Self-Efficacy can work as a personal resource to protect us against harmful experiences, negative emotions, and health impairments. People with a high sense of efficacy trust their competencies to master different types of environmental demands. They tend to regard demands and problems as challenges rather than threats. Therefore, high self-efficacy enables individuals to face stressful Life Changes and Transitions with confidence, feel motivated by physiological arousal, judge positive events as caused by effort and negative events as caused by external circumstances. A belief in one’s efficacy serves as a resource factor that buffers against distressing experiences fostering positive “eustress” perceptions instead. In contrast, individuals with low perceived efficacy are prone to self-doubt, arousal anxiety, threat appraisals of events and perceptions of deficiencies in coping with difficult situations and demands.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” - Helen Keller



Reductively, we could say there are two types of people in the world: the ones who decide their lives are predetermined and do not react against the authoritarian or inhumane treatment they get from their environment; and another group of self-determining individuals who decide to shape the course of their lives by acknowledging that the environment plays a role but does not blindly rule their lives. These are called Self-Agents.

A Self-Agent is a self-determining individual, which is closer to freedom than the first group. The first group has been painfully caged and enslaved by modern society, and came to believe that some amount of suffering is comfort. Self-Agents do not pretend to feel happiness but have not stopped searching for it and are most likely to be confused about what is going on around them!


Existentialism philosophy tells us that Human Freedom requires Responsibility, Choices and like Jean Paul-Sartre stated, Action is the only reality. Responsibility comes with Human Agency and this is only possible through Personal Agency, which is expressed in the power to refrain. Self-agents are fully responsible for their thoughts, feelings and actions, where the thin line between health and illness rests.


What is Human Functioning?

Human functioning is the product of a reciprocal interplay of intrapersonal, behavioural, and environmental factors – Albert Bandura’s (1986) Triadic of Reciprocal Causation. First, Personal determinants encompass biological, cognitive and emotional aspects at a more inner-psyche life level. The second contributor is the nature of the behaviour that is performed. And the third contributor is the permeability of environmental influences. Individuals are co-authors in this causal mix and the environment is not a monolithic force.


Social Cognitive Theory distinguishes between three types of environments:

  1. Imposed: impinges on people, whether they like it or not, but people still have a seemingly way of interpreting it and reacting to it.

  2. Selected: for the most part, the environment is only a potentiality, it does not come into being until selected and activated by appropriate behaviour. This is the selected living environment. For example, college students inhabit the same campus, and yet they experience different living environments depending on the courses they take, the extra-curricular they choose, and the circle of friends they nurture.

  3. Created: people also create environments that enable them to exercise better control over their lives. Higher levels of environmental changeability require increasing levels of personal agency.


To be a self-agent is to influence intentionally one’s psychosocial functioning (oneself and the environment) through the mechanisms of personal agency. In this view, personal influence is part of the causal structure. People are self-organizing, proactive, self-regulating, and self-reflecting. They are not simply bystanders to their behaviour or products of circumstances, they are active contributors to their lives. A 'helplessness attitude' is an approach to life that is synonymous with inaction, so it indicates no self-agency. The inability to exercise influence over things that harmfully affect one’s life breeds fear, apathy and despair.


Among the mechanisms of Personal Agency, none is more crucial than an individual’s beliefs in their ability to produce a desired effect by their actions – coined as Self-Efficacy by Albert Bandura. Self-Efficacy beliefs constitute the core factor of human agency. If people believe they have the power to produce results, they will endeavour to make things happen.


Self-Efficacy is the basis of Action. Perceived self-efficacy refers to beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments. This belief produces influence in regulating one’s motivation, thought processes, affective states, and actions, or it may also involve changing environmental conditions, depending on what one seeks to manage to achieve their goals.


Three Modes of Agency

  1. Individual Agency: people bring their influence to bear over events they have some control over.

  2. Proxy Agency: in many spheres of life, people do not have direct control over conditions that affect them, so they rely on Proxy Agency. They do so by influencing others, who have the resources, the knowledge and the means to act on their behalf in order to get the outcomes they desire. Children’s turn to parents, employees to their trade unions, and citizens to their representatives.

  3. Collective Agency: people do not live isolated, they have to work together to manage and approve their lives. They pull their knowledge, skills and resources, and act in concert to shape their future. Expanding the scope of agency adds to the generality of the theory to collectivistic oriented societies. The blend of individual, proxy and collective agency may vary cross-culturally but one needs all forms of agency to make it through the day, regardless of where one lives.

Human Beings have the power to effect change in their condition and because of their capacity for self-influence, people are at least partial architects of their destinies. They can improve their lives by modifying the character and practices of their social systems or by selecting and constructing environments to suit their purposes. It is true, Individuals do not operate as sole and fully autonomous agents, but neither is their behaviour exclusively determined by social interactions. Individuals acting as self-agents can exercise self-influence to make causal contributions to the course of events in their lives. Reciprocal Causation provides people with opportunities to exercise some control over their destinies and set limits on self-direction.


Self-efficacy belief is at the core of human aspiration, motivation and accomplishments. Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have no incentive to act or persist in the face of difficulties - and this increases stress levels and human dysfunction. We should all, as a collective, be supportive and foster Self-agency in all our social interactions, especially when it comes to individuals in change processes, as they are in a temporary state of vulnerability. Why not let them take charge of their circumstances, supporting self-agency instead of behaving on their behalf - shall we nevermore cause this harm to people, removing their self-agency. Let us remember that Life Changes and Transitions bring a cut of previous social settings and require a mandatory adaptation to new societal living conditions. The sociocultural transitions bring about needs to cope with new life demands, new and unfamiliar environmental opportunities and constraints, societal values and the acquisition of new skills, identity and life purpose to manage them all.



7 POSITIVE EFFECTS OF SELF-EFFICACY

  1. This self-belief works through cognitive, motivational, affective, decisional processes.

  2. Self-efficacy beliefs affect whether individuals think optimistically or pessimistically, in self-enhancing or self-debilitating ways.

  3. Such beliefs affect people’s goals and aspirations, how well they motivate themselves and their perseverance in the face of difficulties and adversity.

  4. Self-efficacy beliefs also affect people’s outcomes expectations, whether they expect their efforts to produce favourable outcomes or adverse ones.

  5. Self-efficacy impacts how opportunities and impediments are viewed, people of low efficacy are easily convinced of their futility of efforts and in the face of difficulties they quickly give up. Those of high efficacy view impediments as manageable by the development of their competencies and perseverant effort, they stay the course in the face of difficulties.

  6. Self-efficacy affects the quality of people’s emotional life and vulnerability to stress and depression.

  7. Self-efficacy determines the choices people make at critical decisional points. A factor that influences choices behaviour can profoundly affect the courses that lives take and what people become.


Human well-being and achievements require optimistic and resilient efficacy because our daily realities are full of difficulties, frustrations, conflicts, impediments, adversities, failures, and inaccuracies.


To succeed in tough endeavours such as Life Changes and Transitions, we cannot afford to be unambiguous realists. Therefore, we are not advocating “I believe, therefore, I achieve”, quite contrarily. The functional belief system in challenging attempts combines realism about tough odds and the conviction that one can beat those odds through self-development and persevering effort.


Life Changes and Transitions do not mean uncontrollable impacts. Actually, there are two ways to capitalize on the fortuitous nature of life:

  • Make chance happen by leading an active life

  • Make chance work for you by cultivating interests and new skills


Self-development and an active engagement in life give people a hand in shaping their destiny. At believe-IN, we facilitate your Life Changes and Transitions by assisting you in developing new skills for better adaptation to change and preventing psychological declines.


We Can Shape the Course that Lives Take – Self-Efficacy! Believe you can make it happen, and you are halfway there.

believe-IN. Make It Happen! ®



At believe-IN, we work with individuals and organisations, online, in English, Portuguese and Spanish, worldwide. The first step is for you to arrange your free initial 30-min consultation appointment and find out how we can support you. Go to http://www.believein.uk/bookings or e-mail us at hello@believein.uk



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