One of the personal qualities that helps most with handling change is called self-efficacy. It’s an odd word, and not one you hear a lot in everyday conversation. It’s been around since the 1970s, though, when Albert Bandura invented it as part of his theory that the beliefs we have about our abilities affect our actual outcomes. Or, as Henry Ford put it many years earlier, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right”.
In 1979 Ralf Schwarzer and Matthias Jerusalem came up with a test to predict how well people are likely to cope with daily problems and stressful life events. Since then, a lot of research has gone into showing that, in fact, our beliefs about our own abilities do affect our success in many different areas of life.
Here are the 10 items in Schwarzer & Jerusalem’s Generalised Self-Efficacy Scale.
- I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough.
- If someone opposes me, I can find the means and ways to get what I want.
- It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals.
- I am confident that I could deal efficiently with unexpected events.
- Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations.
- I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort.
- I can remain calm when facing difficulties because I can rely on my coping abilities.
- When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions.
- If I am in trouble, I can usually think of a solution.
- I can usually handle whatever comes my way.
It seems logical that if this scale accurately predicts how well you deal with life, then if you want to deal with life better, building skills which increase your ability to agree with those statements is a good way forward.
What kind of skills might those be? I can see five:
(particularly creative problem-solving under pressure)
My favorite kind of reality show – actually, the only kind I can stand at all – is the kind where people are learning and proving skills under pressure. Cooking shows, typically, since I like to cook. One of the key characteristics of the people who win these shows is that, although they may not always be the best cooks when the challenge is easy, when the challenge is something way beyond their experience they will figure out a way to achieve it.
Resource: Mind Tools has a page of creative problem-solving tools to build your skills.
The ability to influence others is an important predictor of success. Again, the people who succeed best in those reality show challenges are leaders, those who can take control of a situation and be listened to. It’s not necessarily about always getting your own way in a manipulative way, but of being able to work with others to bring about the goals you envision.
Resource: There are dozens of books and websites on negotiation, but one of the best is still Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury.
Believe it or not, perseverance is a skill. Every time you refuse to give up, you are building that skill. It’s not just something you magically have or don’t have, an accident of genetics or upbringing. You can build it.
Resource: I’m going to link to my own blog post Learning perseverance as a skill here, because I couldn’t find another resource that laid it out as clearly. If you know one, I’d love to get a link.
Rigid approaches to life won’t work well in a rapidly-changing environment. One of the key things you can do here is to learn multiple strategies and multiple techniques, so that if one doesn’t work you can quickly switch to another.
Resource: One of the great classic ways to teach flexible thinking is through stories, especially paradoxical, even humorous stories. The Mullah Nasrudin stories, for example, are an excellent course in flexible thinking (mainly by counter-example).
5. Stress management
You won’t cope well with change and the unexpected without good stress management skills. The good news is that there are a mass of good skills around that are simple to learn and straightforward to practice. You definitely will need these at some point in your life if you don’t already.
Resource: Mental Health America has some good stress advice at Live Your Life Well.
So, what’s your next step to increase your own self-efficacy?