The beliefs a person holds around their ability to handle situations, accomplish tasks, and achieve goals can be a strong determining factor in the success of their endeavors.
Low self-efficacy may prevent us from reaching our full potential; but luckily, self-efficacy is a muscle that can be built.
This article explores the best exercises, tools, and assessments to increase self-efficacy.
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.
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Measuring and Assessing: The Self-Efficacy Scale
The General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE), created and developed by Schwarzer & Jerusalem (1995), is a 10-item self-report tool. It measures optimism and was the first to address agency – the “belief that one’s actions are responsible for successful outcomes” (Schwarzer, 2012).
It is written at a 7th–8th-grade reading level and is used with adolescents and adults. The scale has an internal consistency ranging from .76 to .90, with most in the high .80s (CYFAR, n.d.). The point range is 10–40; the higher the score, the more self-efficacy. There is no cost associated with administering this scale.
A new eight-item scale developed by Chen, Gully, and Eden (2001) is considered by many to be more reliable and valid than its predecessors (Stanford SparqTools, n.d.). Reliability means that the tool consistently assesses the same construct (i.e., self-efficacy). Validity means that the tool measures what it claims to measure.
The New GSE (NGSE) is geared toward adults, is written at a 6th–8th-grade reading level, and takes three minutes to complete. You can read this PDF for more details.
There are several other scales available; however, these two are the most prominent. You can find an in-depth article discussing the scales here: Measuring Self-Efficacy with Scales and Questionnaires.
15 Questionnaires and Surveys
The Self-Efficacy Formative Questionnaire (Gaumer Erickson & Noonan, 2018) is used by teachers to assess students’ levels of self-efficacy. It measures two specific areas:
- Belief in personal ability
- Belief that ability grows with effort
To access the survey, teachers provide students with the web address and a code. Students complete a 13-item, Likert-type questionnaire, ranking each item on a scale of 1 (not very like me) to 5 (very like me). Results are available to the student immediately in graph form. A 100-point scale, similar to a traditional grading system (e.g., 70–79 is a C) makes interpretation easy for both teachers and students.
The survey is written at an 8th-grade reading level and designed for use with students in grades 6 through 12. Accommodations should be made available as needed. Overall reliability is α = .894.
Whereas the NGSE is unidimensional, the Self-Efficacy Survey is multidimensional. It measures the following 10 areas:
- Life standard
The original tool contained 130 items, but after analysis, this dropped to 104 items in the final survey. It has an internal consistency ranging from .75 to .84.
In Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Adolescents, Bandura (2006) explains the elements and considerations that are most critical for creating a self-efficacy scale. Included in the appendix are 13 scales plus a practice scale to familiarize yourself with the construction of the survey. The 13 scales are:
- Self-Efficacy to Regulate Exercise (18-item survey)
- Self-Efficacy to Regulate Eating Habits (30-item survey)
- Driving Self-Efficacy (7-item survey)
- Problem-Solving Self-Efficacy (10-item survey)
- Pain Management Self-Efficacy (12-item survey)
- Children’s Self-Efficacy Scale (55-item survey)
- Teacher Self-Efficacy Scale (28-item survey)
- Parental Self-Efficacy (48-item survey)
- Teacher Self-Efficacy to Promote Reading (8-item survey)
- Teacher Self-Efficacy to Promote Mathematics (8-item survey)
- Collective Efficacy to Promote Reading (8-item survey for schools)
- Collective Efficacy to Promote Mathematics (8-item survey for schools)
- Perceived Collective Family Efficacy (20-item survey)
These can and have been used by teachers, schools, therapists, psychologists, and coaches to better their understanding of the people with whom they work.
The key takeaway is that these assessments provide you with insights into your level of self-efficacy. They are simple to use and interpret.
After you know the results, what can you do with them?
How to Develop and Improve Self-Efficacy
There is one bit of advice that is common to almost all self-help books: Surround yourself with people who embody who you want to become or are on the same mission as you.
Developing and improving one’s self-efficacy is related to one’s environment, physically and psychologically. Changing our environment or mindset is not always easy to do. Reading books about growth mindset, emotional contagion, boundaries, and others is not enough. A person needs to implement what they have learned from reading.
Taking action can sometimes be the challenging part, but one way to make it easier is to create nano-habits that relate to a larger goal. Each time you complete that habit or series of habits, your belief in your ability increases. Your confidence grows. As this happens, your mindset around that particular task changes and becomes more positive. The way you speak and act better aligns with who you are becoming.
For example, imagine that you want to learn how to play chess. This is a difficult and challenging game of strategy. For many people, it takes years of playing to become a master chess player.
If you are an adult who has never played, you might feel intimidated by the prospect. Your self-efficacy around chess playing on a scale of 1 (I can’t remember how the pieces move.) to 5 (I’ll be a master in no time!) is actually 0. You have no self-belief in your ability at all, but you want to learn how to play.
When you start your journey, your language might be, “I’m not really a chess player.” Then, as you play more people, winning and losing games, but gaining experience, your confidence grows.
Your language becomes, “I’m learning to play chess.” When you decide to participate in your first tournament, your language is, “I’m a chess player.” You became a person who plays chess by surrounding yourself with people who play chess.
All of this began with taking action despite your lack of belief in your ability to play the game.
Chances are that someone or something sparked your initial interest, and that was enough to push you forward. It could have been something you read by someone you admire. It could have been your child who wants you to play chess with them. These environmental supports can make taking action easier. Our physical environment either supports our goal acquisition or hinders it.
How do you handle the negative self-talk that stops you from trying?
The message in The Little Engine That Could, a popular children’s book, has endured for almost 100 years. The story, about a small train trying to get over a mountain to deliver Christmas gifts to children on the other side, has a central theme: perseverance.
In the beginning, the little blue engine did not believe in its ability to get over the mountain, but because it had never been, and it wanted to help, the engine was motivated to try. Surrounding the train and encouraging her were all of the toys for the children, but it was what the train told herself that got her up the mountainside.
“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”
Giving yourself a mental high-five or an actual small reward when you accomplish your nano-habit is important. Every time you do, you increase your belief in your ability to continue.
Researcher B. J. Fogg (2020) calls these ‘tiny habits’, but whatever term you use, the critical thing to know is that rewards, even small ones, matter. What gets rewarded by the release of dopamine in our brain gets repeated.
Promoting Self-Efficacy With Students and in the Classroom
Every teacher wants their students to thrive and flourish.
They want them to be able to self-regulate behaviors, learn deeply, and take on increasingly tricky work that stretches their thinking. This is not always easy to accomplish.
Today’s student population enters the school building with baggage that cannot always be left at the door. This baggage comes from experiences outside and inside the school over time. The student might:
- Have a learning challenge that goes undetected too long
- Live in poverty
- Experience abuse
- Be homeless
- Experience bullying
As a result, the student’s behavior might manifest in several ways:
- Substance abuse
- Bullying others
- Eating disorder
- Anxiety disorder
In this environment, with its mix of high and low achievers, teachers are challenged to find ways to build a meaningful learning environment that supports and promotes self-efficacy. Bandura defines self-efficacy (Schunk, 2016) as a person’s belief that they can achieve a particular goal.
Bandura’s work identified four sources of self-efficacy. It is through these avenues that a teacher can have the most significant opportunity to promote self-efficacy in students.
Teachers use scaffolding to help students have mastery experiences. Concepts are taught progressively. As a learner solves problems and gains more confidence, they become more independent and self-regulated. This positively affects the student’s sense of autonomy and competence.
Vicarious experiences allow students to observe the successes of their peers doing the same task that they are asked to complete. This works better if the peers’ abilities are similar to that of the struggling student (Schunk, 2016).
Teachers use verbal persuasion when providing feedback to students and communicating with the student during lessons. One focus is to encourage students to do their best work consistently. This is not a comparison with other students’ work. Feedback must be specific and timely.
Physiological arousal in the form of anxiety, particularly around testing, is something teachers can help to control. While some level of stress boosts performance, anxiety generally decreases it (Cassady, 2010; Cassady & Johnson, 2002). To help reduce test or presentation anxiety, teachers can:
- Use trivia games to help students prepare
- Allow gum chewing to reduce stress (Sasaki-Otomaru et al., 2011)
- Keep mindfulness jars in the classroom
- Include a variety of fidget toys in the classroom (examples: Rubik’s Cubes, fidget spinners)
- Use chair bands or flexible seating
- Allow students more control over how their material is presented
- Provide clearly written, understandable rubrics
- Create cooperative learning environments (Kirk, n.d.)
- Use an inquiry-based approach (Kirk, n.d.)
Fostering Self-Efficacy in the Workplace
Working for any organization often requires that employees spend more hours at work than with their families.
Often, this leads to the work environment becoming a “second” family to the individual. This level of interaction can have positive and negative effects on team members.
To better manage the potential negative aspects, employers can invest in creating a supportive, collaborative, open, and fun workplace.
There is a plethora of research available about self-efficacy in organizations. Here are some highlights that can help you, whether you are an employer, employee, or consultant to organizations.
Workplace stress in the forms of role ambiguity and changes in one’s role (such as stripping an employee of various aspects of their job) negatively affects employee self-efficacy (Janjhua, Chaudhary, & Chauhan, 2014). With the proper support, clarity, and transparency from managers and leadership, employees gain more self-confidence within their roles.
Other interventions like vicarious modeling and verbal persuasion also help employees navigate organizational transitions. Many employers appreciate having creative employees on their teams. Rego, Sousa, Marques, and Cunha (2012) found links between hope, self-efficacy, and creativity. Their findings indicate that hope, positive affect, and self-efficacy predict levels of creativity in employees.
They also found that positive affect has a mediating role in the relationship between hope and self-efficacy and the resulting creativity. Employers who invest time in creating and fostering supportive work environments can reap the benefits of having more creative employees.
Jacobsen and Andersen (2016) argued for the use of conditional rewards as a way to increase employee self-efficacy. Their study included 92 high school principals with a combined teacher pool of 1,932.
Two key findings resulted from their study:
- Contingent rewards strengthen self-efficacy, and sanctions are not negatively related to self-efficacy or performance.
- Teachers’ self-efficacy can be linked positively to organizational performance.
Employers can increase employee self-efficacy by fostering an environment that encourages employees to pursue extra roles within the organization. These types of roles are not assigned, and the employee does not receive monetary compensation.
Extra roles increase the employee’s confidence and commitment within the organization. As the employee gains competence in the extra role, their self-efficacy increases and leads them to continue to endeavor in their extra role. This effect is a spiral that feeds into itself (Mañas Rodríguez, Estreder, Martinez-Tur, Díaz-Fúnez, & Pecino-Medina, 2020).
Wulantika and Ayuningtias (2020) found that “career planning is a factor that encourages the achievement of the best performance of employees to provide an increase of productivity in the organization.” Their findings indicate that there is a positive correlation between self-efficacy and performance. There also is a positive correlation between the amount of career planning an employee does and their performance.
One of the challenges human resource (HR) departments face is creating ongoing staff training and development that engages the team member and imparts the tools needed for their position. Working with adult learners is not the same as working with younger students. Adults bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. They are better able to make connections between prior learning and what is being taught.
To keep adult learners engaged, HR teams can use case learning and problem-based approaches during training. Case-based modeling involves experiential learning and script creation. According to Lyons’s (2008) early research, it is an effective tool in situations where “skill-building and decision [scenarios] can be embedded in case material.”
Later work by Lyons and Bandura (2019) indicates that case-based modeling is a good companion for both case- and problem-based learning.
A learning-based approach stresses the discussion and analysis of real-life cases. This advances student learning, understanding, and reflective judgment of complex issues. Problem-based learning engages students by solving specific problems. Learning is self-directed, done in teams, and uses the person’s prior knowledge.
3 Books on the Topic
Here is a short list of self-efficacy books.
1. Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control – Albert Bandura
Readers learn directly from Bandura about his theory, how he tested his ideas, and the positive results that occur when a person experiences self-efficacy.
Find the book on Amazon.
2. Loving What They Learn: Research-Based Strategies to Increase Student Engagement – Alexander McNeece, PhD
A helpful resource for teachers, it demonstrates the interaction between the Self-Determination Theory of motivation, self-concept, and self-efficacy.
McNeece offers ample strategies that teachers can implement to increase self-efficacy in students of all abilities.
Find the book on Amazon.
3. Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning – Jenni Donohoo
This book helps teachers understand and create an environment of collective efficacy by providing:
- Rationale and sources for establishing collective efficacy
- Conditions and leadership practices for collective efficacy to flourish
- Professional learning structures/protocols
Find the book on Amazon.
A Take-Home Message
Applying self-efficacy theory through the use of a variety of tools, exercises, and assessments will help develop, improve, and enhance anyone’s self-efficacy. These resources are useful in several different environments, including schools and workplaces.
When implementing strategies to increase self-efficacy, keep in mind that improvements take time and patience. They develop through mastery and vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological arousal.
How have you helped others develop or improve their self-efficacy?
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Self-Compassion Exercises for free.
- Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. Worth Publishers.
- Bandura, A. (2006) Guide for creating self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajarus & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (1st ed.) (pp. 307–337). Information Age Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Bandura/BanduraGuide2006.pdf
- Cassady, J. (Ed.). (2010). Anxiety in schools: The causes, consequences, and solutions for academic anxieties. Peter Lang.
- Cassady, J., & Johnson, R. (2002). Cognitive test anxiety and academic performance. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 27, 270–295.
- Chen, G., Gully, S. M., & Eden, D. (2001). Validation of a New General Self-Efficacy Scale. Organizational Research Methods, 4(1), 62–83.
- CYFAR (n.d.). General self-efficacy scale. University of Minnesota. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://cyfar.org/content/general-self-efficacy-scale and https://cyfar.org/sites/default/files/PsychometricsFiles/ General%20Self-Efficacy%20Scale%20%28Adolescents%2C%20Adults%29%20Schwarzer.pdf
- Donohoo, J. (2017). Collective efficacy: How educators’ beliefs impact student learning. Corwin.
- Fogg, B. J. (2020). Tiny habits: The small habits that change everything. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- Gaumer Erickson, A. S., & Noonan, P. M. (2018). Self-efficacy formative questionnaire. In The skills that matter: Teaching interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies in any classroom (pp. 175–176.) Corwin.
- Jacobsen, C. B., & Andersen, L. B. (2016). Leading public service organizations: How to obtain high employee self-efficacy and organizational performance. Public Management Review, 19(2), 253–273.
- Janjhua, Y., Chaudhary, R., & Chauhan, M. (2014). Relationship between employees’ self-efficacy belief and role stress: A study. Journal of Psychology, 5(2), 169–173.
- Kirk, K. (n.d.). Self-efficacy: Helping students believe in themselves. Retrieved March 3, 2020, from https://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/affective/efficacy.html.
- Lyons, P. (2008). Case-based modeling for learning management and interpersonal skills. Journal of Management Education, 32(4), 420-443.
- Lyons, P., & Bandura, R. (2019). Case-based modeling: Fostering expertise development and small group learning. European Journal of Training and Development, 43(7/8), 767–782.
- McNeece, A. (2019). Loving what they learn: Research-based strategies to increase student engagement. Solution Tree Press.
- Mañas Rodríguez, M., Estreder, Y., Martinez-Tur, V., Díaz-Fúnez, P., & Pecino-Medina, V. (2020), A positive spiral of self-efficacy among public employees, Personnel Review, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print).
- Rego, A., Sousa, F., Marques, C., & Cunha, M.P.E. (2012) Retail employees’ self-efficacy and hope predicting their positive affect and creativity. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 21(6), 923–945.
- Sasaki-Otomaru, A., Sakuma, Y., Mochizuki, Y., Ishida, S., Kanoya, Y., & Sato, C. (2011). Effect of regular gum chewing on levels of anxiety, mood, and fatigue in healthy young adults. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health: CP & EMH, 7, 133–139.
- Schunk, D. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective. Pearson.
- Schwarzer, R. (2012, February 14). General self-efficacy scale. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~health/selfscal.htm.
- Schwarzer, R., & Jerusalem, M. (1995). Generalized Self-Efficacy scale. In J. Weinman, S. Wright, & M. Johnston (Eds.), Measures in health psychology: A user’s portfolio. Causal and control beliefs (pp. 35–37). NFER-NELSON. Retrieved from https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26768/1/General_Self-Efficacy_Scale%20(GSE).pdf.
- Stanford SparqTools (n.d.). New general self-efficacy scale. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from https://sparqtools.org/mobility-measure/new-general-self-efficacy-scale/.
- Stanford SparqTools (n.d.). Frequently asked questions: How to use, evaluate and adapt measures and scales. Measuring mobility toolkit. Retrieved February 28, 2020, from http://sparqtools.org/measuringmobility-faq/#whatmeasurevalid.
- Wulantika, L. & Ayuningtias, N. (2020, January 13). Effect of career planning and self-efficacy of the performance of employees. International Conference on Business, Economic, Social Science, and Humanities – Economics, Business and Management Track (ICOBEST-EBM 2019). Atlantis Press.