“Believe in yourself!” is a popular motivational phrase and the moral of countless books, movies and songs. However, it’s easier said than done. How can you start believing in yourself?
Self-belief, or self-efficacy, comes from a few main sources: experiencing mastery and meeting your goals, seeing people similar to you succeed, positive feedback, and emotional and physical well-being. It’s not always easy to find these, and they come with a flipside - what if you see someone like you fail? - but it’s definitely not impossible to use these ideas to cultivate some self-belief.
In this article, I’ll take a look at the nature and benefits of self-belief. What’s more important, I’ll share my favorite actionable tips for believing in yourself.
What is self-belief?
You know the schtick: all adversities can be overcome if you only believe in yourself! Have faith! Be true to your heart!
It’s rarely that simple in the real world. Having faith in yourself isn’t going to help you achieve something if you lack the opportunities, skills or resources. For example, no amount of self-belief is going to make me sound good while belting out Adele at the local karaoke night, or run faster than my legs will let me. Likewise, I can’t stretch the days to be longer so that I have time for all the things I’d like to do.
What self-belief will help with, however, is finding ways to learn and develop the necessary skills or acquire the necessary resources.
Self-belief is also known as self-efficacy. Coined by American psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s, self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.”
In other words, self-efficacy is a realistic belief in our capability to succeed.
Why is self-belief important?
So self-belief or self-efficacy isn’t the magic wand fictional storylines make it out to be, but it’s still important to have it. When all else fails, it’s self-efficacy that will drive us forward and get us out of a slump.
According to Bandura, self-efficacy will also help us cope with anxiety and fear. Bandura goes as far as to posit that it’s not the frightful situations themselves that make us anxious, but rather our perceived lack of control in these situations. In other words, we experience more anxiety when we don’t believe in our ability to handle the situation.
According to a 2018 study conducted in South Africa, higher self-efficacy scores predict both higher life satisfaction and happiness. Similar results were found in a 2011 Italian study, where self-efficacy was proven to predict happiness and positive thinking in adolescents, an age group that is notorious for their lack of optimism.
Problems with self-efficacy are something students need a lot of help with. You probably remember from your own school days that it’s not always easy to believe in yourself academically.
Yet, self-efficacy is related to academic achievement. A 2010 study found that university students with high levels of self-efficacy are more likely to adopt a deep and strategic approach to studying, which will lead to improved results.
Similar effects are found in work settings. For example, a 2018 article reports that occupational self-efficacy raises internal motivation, which in turn leads to improved performance.
Where does self-efficacy come from?
According to Bandura’s theory, self-efficacy comes from four main sources:
- Mastery experiences, meaning personal experiences of success of conquering a challenge or reaching a goal.
- Examples of social models, meaning that seeing someone similar to yourself succeed at something can help you believe in yourself. This does come with a caveat, though - seeing someone else fail can lead to self-doubt.
- Social persuasion, or positive feedback to your performance.
- Emotional and physical well-being, meaning that it’s much easier to believe in yourself when you’re generally healthy and positive.
How to believe in yourself
The sources of self-efficacy seem simple, but it’s still not easy to start believing in yourself. However, by breaking these ideas into 5 actionable tips, you can boost your self-belief and become your own greatest cheerleader.
1. Set realistic goals
The easiest way to get mastery experiences is to set realistic, yet still challenging goals to work towards.
The key is making them realistic: if you’re not a runner, setting a 5-kilometer goal in your first week is likely to end in disappointment. A 1- or 2-kilometer goal is much more realistic and you have a higher chance of succeeding.
It’s also best to set short-term goals or break long-term goals into bite-sized pieces. The more pieces of success you get, the better!
2. Acknowledge your wins
When we don’t believe in ourselves, we tend to downplay and brush off our accomplishments. However, it’s extremely important to acknowledge and celebrate your wins: this is your proof that you can do everything you want and succeed in it!
It’s also important to share your successes. It can feel embarrassing to post about your “Employee of the Month” title on social media, or pointless to add every accomplishment to your résumé, but your successes are the reward and reflection of your hard work. Taking the time to acknowledge it may be the best thing you can do for yourself.
3. Accept compliments
Just like we can brush off accomplishments, we can brush off compliments. Accepting a compliment isn’t just the polite thing to do, though, it can also work miracles on your self-belief.
Positive feedback is one of the main sources of self-efficacy, so the next time someone pays you a compliment, don’t shrug it off. Thank them and try to view the compliment as proof that you’re doing a good job and people are noticing.
4. You do you
It’s perfectly normal to have role models to look up to. Ideally, they should motivate us - if we see someone like us succeed, we will gain some confidence, too.
However, getting too stuck watching someone else also leaves us vulnerable to their failures. It’s good to have some inspiration, but in the words of Fleetwood Mac, you can also go your own way. Staying authentic to yourself will give a kind of a frame to your self-belief. In other words, it’s the self you can believe in.
5. Take care of yourself
If staying true to yourself is the frame, then taking care of yourself is the foundation for your self-belief: without it, everything can come crashing down.
It’s a lot harder to believe in yourself when you’re not sleeping or eating enough and running on fumes. Our physical and emotional well-being affects our everyday performance, which will affect our self-belief in turn.
Making sure you’re eating well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and finding time for hobbies and relaxation is essential for maintaining self-efficacy. Sure, you may be able to handle a short period of sleep deprivation in the name of a greater goal, but neglecting your needs takes a toll pretty quickly.
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The sources of self-belief are simple, but not necessarily easy to find. However, by setting realistic goals, acknowledging successes and accepting positive feedback, finding your own way and most importantly, taking care of yourself and your needs, you can learn how to believe in yourself and reap the myriad of benefits self-efficacy brings.
What do you think? Do you find it hard to believe in yourself? Are you confident in yourself and do you trust your own abilities? Or do you have any other tips that have helped you believe in yourself? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!