The Psychology Behind Lasting Personal Growth
January 3, 2018
This is an excerpt from Boost! How the Psychology of Sports Can Enhance Your Performance in Management and Work, a book by Prof. Michael Bar-Eli, chair of BGU’s Department of Business Administration and the Nat Holman Chair in Sports Research at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management.
How can we change our expectations of our own efficacy, or ability to produce a desired result from “No, I cannot” to “Yes, I can”?
One important source is called “vicarious experiences.” Here, people obtain efficacy information by observing or imagining others engaging in a task that the observers themselves do not perform.
Vicarious sources of efficacy information (that is, witnessing others successfully completing a task) are weaker than performance accomplishments of the observers themselves, but they are still of substantial importance in enhancing one’s self-efficacy.
A great example for this source comes from Major General Avihu Ben- Nun (born 1939), who was the 11th commander of the Israeli Air Force from 1987 to 1992. In 1995 he too was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Unlike other celebrities with Parkinson’s who often try to hide their disease, Ben-Nun announced it publicly, thereby serving as an inspiration for many others fighting the decease. I often use Ben- Nun’s struggle against Parkinson’s as a model; I tell myself that if he can handle it, evidently for so many years, I can, too!
The strongest source, and the most dependable foundation of self-efficacy judgments, however, is “performance accomplishments,” also known as “enactive mastery experiences.” Performance accomplishments refer to clear successes and failures, which provide the most influential source of efficacy information and the most authentic evidence on which we can build robust beliefs about personal efficacy.
If such experiences are generally successful, they will raise the level of self-efficacy; repeated failure will result in lower efficacy expectations.
For example, Parkinson’s disturbs my daily activities and functions for a number of hours every day. I set a goal, however, to increase the number of Parkinson’s- free hours per day (or at least keep this number stable) by regulating my body and mind through medication, rest, physical activity, and joyful intellectual activities, such as writing this book.
Success in achieving this goal increases my confidence, not only in my ability to gain more Parkinson’s-free hours, but also in my ability to successfully reduce the Parkinson’s influence on my life in general.
The performance accomplishments source demonstrates not only that reality (i.e., one’s performance) can foster one’s expectations, but also that expectations (i.e., self-efficacy) can foster reality. This situation results in a “performance-efficacy cycle” that may account for our ability to cope with increasingly difficult problems: you wipe out a small problem, successfully coping with it; then you wipe out a somewhat bigger one, and so on.