Restoring Positivity for 2021

2020 was a year that posed monumental challenges for all of us. The Australian bushfires, Beirut explosion, police brutality exacerbating racial tensions, and of course, the pandemic – the list goes on. Even among those whose health and safety was not compromised by the circumstances of 2020, many experienced loss of job, family/relationship conflicts, mental health struggles, and more. Although we have entered a new year, the negative experiences gathered from 2020 still weigh heavily on us. When combined with our natural proclivity towards negativity bias, this can make us feel defeated by 2021 before it has barely begun.

There is an evolutionary rationale behind negativity bias, the human tendency to focus on and remember aversive experiences. In our primitive days, it was crucial to remember that time we were bitten by a snake, or fell ill from eating a poisonous plant so that we could recognize and avoid these dangerous stimuli in the future. We lean into this bias because it protects us. However, if left unregulated, negativity bias can ultimately cause more damage than good by developing into maladaptive thinking patterns. We may become hypervigilant when there is no real threat present, positive experiences slip by without the acknowledgment they deserve, and we lose our sense of hope. So how do we counter negativity bias as we proceed with 2021?

  • Gain awareness of positive experiences as they happen.
    Sometimes the enjoyment of an experience may be very obvious, such as if you were to laugh so hard that your abdominal muscles cramp up. Sometimes your enjoyment maybe more subdued, such as if you were to notice the smooth velvety texture of a chair that you are using, or if your regular coffee shop barista greeted you by your name and with a smile. No matter how small, it is important to consciously register these experiences, otherwise your mind may distort the day to seem much more negative than it really was.
  • Practice fair reflection on a daily basis.
    Think of your positive and negative thoughts as two children in your mind, each itching to tell their stories from the day. Your job is not to decide who has the best stories, instead you play a role of ensuring that each child feels heard and acknowledged. If you notice the child sharing negative experiences is highly distressed, take time to assess and tend to needs as you deem necessary. However, do not dismiss the contributions of the child who shared positive aspects of the day.
  • Be proactive to incorporate activities that will make your day more pleasant.
    Try to set aside some time purely to engage in activities you find relaxing or enjoyable. This might be that regular run that gives you a rush of endorphins, or your daily soothing skincare routine. It could also be something new to you, like trying out rock climbing, pottery-making, or a live online concert for the first time. Having some variation in your arsenal of pleasurable activities helps keep things stimulating. On days when free time seems nonexistent, small adjustments can enhance the experience of tasks on your to-do list. Play a podcast or music at you enjoy as you do your chores, or throw on that shirt that makes you feel like a million bucks when you wear it.

Entering 2021 when many impactful factors remain out of our control, it is crucial to empower ourselves through the factors within our control. This can make a significant difference in how we experience challenges that all of us are subjected to. Every time you try out one of the aforementioned suggestions, give yourself a mental note of appreciation for taking a step (regardless of how big or small) towards enhancing your quality of life. Lastly, remember that you do not have to face these struggles alone. Reach out to social support, such as family members and friends, and seek professional help when necessary.

Written by:
Ms. Michelle Chak
Clinic Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

ACT on Self Compassion

There is a saying that “What we resist persists”. It basically means that by resisting thoughts and feelings that we don’t want, they tend to hang around. This resistance refers to any efforts we undertake to avoid pain. This is a common strategy for dealing with pain, which, unfortunately, is not effective in the long run. We actually prolong suffering. ( CK.Germer PhD. )

During the CoVid period you may have noticed an increase in reminders that we should practise Self-Care. Which means undertaking behaviour to improve our own wellbeing. This is a great idea, but is it enough? More and more people have started noticing a general sense of unease, despite practising Self-Care. So how about taking it up a notch? And practise Self-Compassion. 

There are many definitions of Self Compassion. One that I particularly like is very simple. Self compassion means Acknowledging Suffering and Responding with Kindness. In other words, extending the same warmth and kindness to self as you do to others. ( Dr. Russ Harris)

We all hurt at times and now during CoVid, we’re becoming aware that we have to find new ways of dealing with our thoughts and feelings, as our old ways, such as favourite past times, are not available anymore or are not as effective anymore.

There is a lot of research indicating that Self Compassion is a great antidote to depression, anxiety, trauma, feeling disconnected and experiencing self-doubt. It plays an increasingly important role in psychotherapies. In ACT, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, (the acronym is pronounced as one word to highlight the importance for behavioural change), it is an intricate part of each step of the process.

For many people Self Compassion may be new, as we often don’t take the time to stand still to experience the impact of certain events, thoughts and feelings on ourselves. People may think it is not so important and prefer to skate over thoughts and feelings rather than taking a moment to stand still with them.

Funnily enough, when we do stand still, we often feel lighter, freer and more in tune with ourselves. You may feel that this is not your cup of tea. You may have even tried meditation and you’re just not cut out for that. The good news is that you do not need to meditate, be aware of your breathing or close your eyes.

Just sit quietly for a few minutes. Remember a time when you cared for a loved one and recall that feeling. You can look at your hands that provided the care for your loved ones. Now extend that same feeling to yourself. Simply by placing your hands on your opposite upper arms or on your chest. Feel the warmth of your hands and how you are present in that moment.

As you feel your body, how you sit in your chair, be aware of whatever shows up in your mind. Continue to extend the same kindness to your thoughts and feelings without pushing them away or engaging with them. Even thoughts of resistance to this exercise are great to practise with. Just give it a go and see what happens.

Now this is a more structured exercise, there are plenty of other ways how you can acknowledge suffering in your life and respond with kindness. Feel free to reflect on how you can bring more self-compassion into your life. When you put it into practice be aware of how it makes you feel. This is a great way to lay the foundation for experiencing more self-compassion in your daily life.

Written By:
Allard Mueller
Psychotherapist  and Counsellor

Sources:

• The mindful path to Self Compassion, Christopher K. Germer, PhD
• How to develop Self-compassion – in just about anyone, Dr Russ Harris

Emotion Response Types

This blog is related to the previous blog: “Why is emotion important and what is Emotion Focused Therapy?”.

In therapy it can be helpful to reflect deeper upon what emotions we are experiencing in response to a certain situation.

Emotion responses can be categorized into four broad types:

•  Primary adaptive emotion responses
This is an unlearned, spontaneous and direct emotional response that is beneficial/adaptive and fits/matches the current situation. For example:
When there is a violation or an attack on ourselves or loved ones (situation), we will feel anger (emotion), and we will want to protect/assert/defend (adaptive action).

• Maladaptive emotion responses
This is a learned, direct emotional response that fits your deeper emotional experience but that is not beneficial and got triggered by a past experience and does not match the current situation. For example:
Someone in your environment offers genuine caring or concern (situation), my perception of caring or concern = potential threat because this is what used to happen in the past (activation patterns due to past experiences), we will feel anger (emotion), and respond on that – for example we might break contact with that person (even though there is no violation or threat in this current situation) (maladaptive action). So the emotional response anger is understandable if we look at the past experience, even though it is not helpful for this person in this current situation.

• Secondary reactive emotion responses
This is an emotion about another emotion which is not beneficial and does not match the current situation and your actual deeper emotional experience. For example: When someone experiences a loss (situation), that person can feel sad (primary emotion), which can be followed by anger that we feel sadness (secondary reactive emotion), and we will react with attack or punishment to ourselves or others (maladaptive action).

• Instrumental emotion responses
This is a strategic emotional response to get what you want, but doesn’t fit your true deeper emotional experience. This can be consciously intended but can also be unconsciously learned. For example:
When you are not getting what you want (situation), but you want attention or your way (intention), you show sadness “crocodile tears” to get what you want (instrumental emotion display).

Written by:
Flo Westendorp, Registered Clinical Psychologist
Extended Health Care Psychologist Certificate, MSc & BSc (Clinical Health Care Psychology)

Social Support

Is there anyone in your life you can reach out to when you need to talk to someone?
Is there someone you can rely on if you need a helping hand?
Is there someone you can call when you have good news to share?

Have there been times in your life, when you searched online for information on how to handle a particular issue, reached for the phone to talk to someone when you had a bad day, or accepted help from someone when you felt overwhelmed? We all, at one time or another, and particularly in times of stress, look for ways to ameliorate stress and negative feelings. Social support can help to manage stress and we all need a good social support network. There are, however, different ways in which our support system can be helpful and it’s important that we learn how to ask for the type of support that we want/need at any given moment. For example, having a listening ear from an empathic friend feels different from getting advice from a friend who is an active problem-solver. We may feel overwhelmed when the support does not match what we need at that moment. Understanding the type and/or amount of social support we need at any given time is an important skill to have and helps us to have our needs met more effectively and efficiently.

Types of social support
• Informational Support: provides advice, suggestions, and information to help you problem-solve or explore potential next steps that may work well. For example, reaching out to your doctor to get information related to your medical condition or reaching out to someone who has previously lost their job for tips on coping with the changes.
• Emotional Support: offers empathy, trust, warmth, care, and nurturance. Taking into consideration your emotional wellness, listening to your concerns or challenges, allowing you to express your feelings and emotions, or providing you with physical comfort (e.g. hugs or a pat on the back). For example, reaching out to a friend who you can confide in and express your concerns to, without being judged.
• Practical/Instrumental Support: offers tangible aid and direct ways of support. For example, someone who can take an active stance to assist with specific tasks or responsibilities, helping with chores, or providing transportation. This kind of support helps to ease some of the daily stressors you may experience.
• Companionship/Esteem Support: provides a sense of social belonging and engages with you in shared social or self-care activities. For example, someone who would join you in different activities, including going for a walk, taking a yoga class, or watching a movie together. It could also be someone who reminds you of your strengths or let you know that they believe in you.

How to utilize your social support system?
Many people in your life can offer social support. These can include your parents, spouse or partner, children, siblings, other family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, health professionals, religious or social support groups, and sometimes even strangers. Different people may offer different types of support, so it is very likely that you will need to rely on different people for different types of support. Before reaching out for support, you may want to take a moment for self-reflection and think about what you need to feel supported and empowered.
•  What would be most helpful?
•  What types of support do I need?
•  What type of support am I most comfortable with receiving?
•  Who can I reach out for the support I need?
•  Am I comfortable with asking for support?

After reflecting on your needs, tell the person exactly what he or she can do to support you. You might think, “If my partner/friend really knows me, he or she will know how to help me.” The problem is that your partner/friend cannot read your mind. By waiting for them to offer their support is not the best way to approach your social support system and might lead you to feel frustrated for not getting the types of support you need. Be specific, clear, and concrete when you ask for what you need so your support system is more likely to provide you with exactly what the support that matches your needs. Similarly, do not assume that you know what types of support your partner, friends, or others need, it is always best to check-in with them.

Social support is associated with increased psychological and physical well-being. Many may find it hard to ask for help or to utilize social support system during difficult times. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, it is a strength. Just imagine that if your loved one or close friend is in need of help, would you rather them reach out for support or isolate themselves and face the issues themselves? When you are reaching out for social support, you are allowing people in your life to have the opportunity to extend their help and feel that their help is valued.

Written by:
Dr. Ooi Ting Huay
Clinical Psychologist

SACAC Counselling

ACT and uncertain times

ACT is an apt acronym for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which broadly sits under the umbrella of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT).

Someone remarked to me recently that they were surprised by how many
different kinds of Anxiety had passed through their lives recently. They are
clearly not alone in that – to catalogue all the things that we could be anxious about here in November 2020 could take longer than counting the grains of sand on a beach, or stars in the sky. Traditional CBT seeks to create a dialogue between oneself and the Worries that may stop by, settle in or have taken up permanent residence. It asks us to consider each thought in the light of helpful or unhelpful thinking patterns, find ways to separate and identify them – are they (to name just a few) ‘castrophizing’, ‘black and white thinking’, ‘making mountains out of molehills’ are they ‘predicting the worst’??? Or are they one of the other many ways that we have identified that our mind works to understand and make a narrative of its experiences (past and present)?

ACT however, is less concerned with disputing, refuting, looking for evidence for or against the thoughts, it does not want to debate or generally struggle against thoughts. ACT holds that Anxiety is both useful, necessary and an inbuilt survival necessity. Worry and anxieties may in fact be helpful, if we can be curious about thoughts, it might be that even the most painful thoughts can have something useful to say. Dr. Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap) has outlined some ideas for questions to ask ourselves when Anxiety shows up in order to pay attention with openness and curiosity.

“Is/are this/these thought/s …
• alerting me to something important, I need to address?
• reminding me of something that requires preparation, planning, or action?
• reminding me of important values and goals?
• reminding me to be compassionate to myself or others?
• reminding me about my behavior or attitude?
• alerting me to potential threats and risks I need to prepare for?
• guiding me towards the life I want?
• reminding me how I want to treat myself or others?
• reminding me what I want to stand for (or stand against) in the world?
• alerting me to things I need to do differently?

If there is something useful in the thought/s showing up, let’s take that on board, and let it hold into values-guided action. But if there’s nothing useful, let’s simply acknowledge these thoughts are here, and allow them to come and stay and go in their own good time, while we give our energy and attention to what’s important.”

Often in struggling against, trying to distract from, alleviate the pain or distress humans find themselves engaging in behavior that takes them further from the values and the things that are important to them. This may make itself know through alcohol or other addictions, compulsive behaviours, suicidal ideations, self harm or many other ways of coping. Rather that attempting to avoid, minimize or distract from painful thoughts – ACT attempts to help people hold an anchor, if needed and at other times to live alongside and make room for the distressing feelings and allow the thoughts to come and go; knowing that like the weather it will come and it will go – and it will change without us needing to struggle against it.

ACT is a practical and experiential therapy, the above ideas about unhooking from painful, distressing or anxious thoughts are just part of the model that is utilized by many therapists today and has been identified as one of the gold standard talking therapy treatments for Anxiety and Depression in clinical research.

Dr Russ Harris https://thehappinesstrap.com/

Written by:
Veronica McKibbin
Counsellor
SACAC Counselling

Medicines and the Mind

One of the most common questions about mental health problems: is it just a chemical imbalance in the brain? To give a reliable answer we need to go beyond measuring the uptake of neurotransmitters in particular brain regions. We need to combine accounts from people (sufferers and voluntary subjects) with an understanding of drugs and how they behave in our bodies, and also how our brains react (or not) to drugs, especially by observing changes during live brain scans.

My father, who died over 20 years ago, suffered in his last year from a degree of dementia; this was never properly diagnosed but it seemed more like Parkinson’s disease than any other condition. He may have had a series of mini-strokes in one of the regions of his brain controlling movement. In particular we were astonished when he told us he had seen a dog
in the house, when we were certain there had been no dog. My father didn’t doubt he had seen a dog – it wasn’t like a dream. We later learned that such hallucinations are not uncommon in Parkinson’s patients.

I read very recently about Mitul Mehta’s work in London investigating the ways in which drugs actually affect the mind and brain. His team used psilocybin, a hallucinogenic drug, to simulate hallucinations. They knew that there can be an increase in the 5-HT2A receptors in the visual pathways in Parkinson’s patients suffering visual hallucinations. They also knew of a drug developed for cancer treatment that reduces the effects of 5-HT2A stimulation. Could the cancer drug help the Parkinson’s patients? Volunteers were given the cancer drug, put into a scanner then given psylocibin. It reduced the hallucinations. Later actual Parkinson’s patients were given the drug for 2 weeks; their reactions were monitored and they were also scanned to try and find changes in their visual processing pathways.

Most drugs used to treat mental health conditions were developed before scanners were available. Mehta believes that it is now time to open new windows on how our brains respond to such drugs using scanners as part of controlled experiments, and hopefully point the way to better medications. Eventually we may have better answers to those tough questions, by altering medications, seeing directly how they change the brain, and asking
patients what their experiences were.

Written by:
Dr Tim Bunn, 
New Scientist 13.06.20

When to turn, turn, turn? Let them tell you

I’m not prone to quoting biblical phrases too often, so I shall take these from a song instead:

To everything

(Turn, turn, turn)

There is a season

(Turn, turn, turn)

And a time to every purpose

Under Heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down

A time to dance, a time to mourn

A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

Seeger, P (1959)

There is something very settling and yet unsettling about these words. They suggest perhaps a sense of order and of sequence, something which can ground us and orient us. This is surely a comfort when we try to navigate the seeming unpredictability and randomness of life. Yet, it is not always clear when the time is, especially when you live in a place with less defined seasons; is it a time to build up or to break down? Is casting away such a good idea? In many ways, perhaps, these are not things for us to know – as the song suggests. But there is, it seems, a stronger pull to provide answers in our currently abnormal world. It is something we may do well to caution against.

You don’t have to go far at the moment to find someone with an answer to life’s questions. Despite a growing tendency to denigrate established thinking, everyone seems to be an expert (even me for some reason). Consultants abound, and people seek to ‘influence’ others on all aspects of life. News can sound more like opinion than fact and in an age where you can study Klingon at university, the act of building knowledge may seem increasingly trivial. 

However, for your child, it is a developmental process which should be allowed to take its course – and not just at school. Curiosity is at its core, and never more clearly expressed than in play. I spend much of my time – somewhat to the bemusement of many parents – following children’s play. They seem to take it all quite seriously, which draws me in. To paraphrase Winnicott, a paediatrician and psycho-analyst of deceptive simplicity; it is only in playing that a child is able to be creative, and ‘…it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.’ (Winnicott, 1971, P.54) This experience is an exploration and one which is not known from the outset, even by the most organised of children. Momentum develops and takes it somewhere. This unpredictability has value and is the space for development. It is something to allow, to go along with, to follow and discover – if you try and construct or control it, it loses that value. It’s a bit like a conversation. You have to listen to do it properly.

So when your child asks you to play, get stuck in. And the next time they ask whether it’s a time to lose or a time to keep, perhaps consider seeing what they think before saying more. They may well surprise you. 

References:
Winnicott, D. (1971) Playing and Reality. London, Routledge.

McGuinn, R. The Byrds. (1965) Seeger, P (1959) ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ Los Angeles, Columbia Records.  

(Adapted from; King James Version. (1611) The Holy Bible; Ecclesiastes (3:1-8))

Written by:
Robert Leveson, 
Psychotherapist & Counsellor, 
Children and Families (Reg; TSP, BPC)

Making a Habit of Connection

What can I say about forming habits? The idea that what we do over and over again will create a change in our life, for better or worse.  While we know this to be true with respect to organizing our calendars, exercising or learning a new skill, can we apply that same mindset to deepening our relationships?

As we know, good and bad habits are both formed by repeating the same behavior over time with practice.   Many times when I am working with couples or families, I am their final stop before divorce court or complete disengagement in the family.  I begin work with them after years of repetitive negative interactions and behaviors towards one another, habits if you will.   And interestingly, they will often come in with a litany of things that have been tried and failed.  One question I have recently been following-up with has been, “for how long did you try…surprising your spouse, making time to talk about what you appreciate about one another, asking them about their day…(fill in the blank).”

When disenchantment with relationships set in, instead of being in a relationship where we allow ourselves to be influenced by our unintentional habits, what if  we consciously create habits that allow us to connect and feel closer to our spouse, our child, even our boss or co-workers?   Could it change how we view our relationships, how connected and happy we feel in our relationships? 

According to Shawn Achor, Author of the Happiness advantage, the answer is yes.  In his Tedx Talk: The Happy secret to better work,  he explains, “it is not necessarily reality that shapes us but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality.  If we change the lens, we change the outcome…Ninety percent of your happiness is predicted by how your brain views the world.” He goes on to talk about how if you make one positive 2-minute change for 21 consecutive days, your brain actually works more positively.

While a 2 minute change in how you relate or changing a habit doesn’t sound like much, it can be a simple step to enhancing your positive feelings in your relationships.  This idea is shared by  Author James, in his book, Atomic Habits: tiny changes, remarkable results, he explains  “the difference a tiny improvement over time is astounding…success is the product of daily habits-not once in a lifetime transformations.”  A 1% improvement isn’t much initially but with consistency and time, you will see big changes and feel more connected.   A 1% investment in positive connection habits compound over time (just like money in the bank); you will be able to see marked improvements with just a little effort.  So when deciding between the extravagant get away and the daily note to say what you like about your relationship, perhaps the daily note will be a better way to impact your relationships than the grand gesture. 

When we begin to make changes, it is important to stick with the habit.  So many times we are seeing no change, we give up or revert back to old patterns of thinking and relating.  Progress while it is slow and steady is often unseen.  Mr. Clear describes this phenomenon as “the plateau of latent potential.”  He explains this by using the example of the formation of bamboo; “Bamboo can barely be seen for the first five years as it builds extensive root systems underground before exploding ninety feet into the air within six weeks.”   It is important to keep at something to see change, we can’t expect that deepening connection is going to be an overnight process when it has usually taken years to lose it. 

Remember, connection is a habit.  It doesn’t always come easily and life can get in our way, negativity can develop into resentments.  But when this happens, we have to stop and think about how we might be able to positively influence our relationships.  How might we build the types of relationships that feel supportive, connected and strong?  We have to work at it.  We have to dedicate ourselves to the process of being better, by being committed to small change, by being consistent with that change and being patient enough to reap the long-term gains.  If we do this, perhaps we can spend more time enjoying one another and less time trying to triage our relationships after the negativity is all that we can see.  

Sources:
Ted Talks: The Happy Secret to Better work https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work
Clear, J (2018) Atomic Habits: Tiny changes remarkable results. London: Penguin Random House UK publishers

Written by:
Kimberly Fisel
Marriage and Family Therapist

Releasing The Anger Towards Our Parents- Seeing Reality As What It Is

This article deals with a highly difficult, sensitive, but important topic.
It is about the pain of having a childhood where our needs are not met, the
unresolved anger we hold towards our parents, and what we can do about it.
It will feel particularly relevant if you have been through childhood trauma, caused either by neglect, abuse, or other toxic family dynamics. The goal is not for us to harbour self-pity or to blame anyone, but simply to validate some of the painful experiences, and to look at what we can do now to release some of these emotional poisons that we have carried for far too long. Even when we are living as successful individuals in independent adult bodies, we can feel caged by these strong emotional turmoil.

The pain of unresolved relational trauma from childhood often presents as self-critical thoughts, feeling intolerant of our mistakes, or engaging in self-harming behaviors. Self-compassion allows us to transform our pain.
It is not difficult to feel compassion in response to another person’s suffering. It evokes a desire to understand their pain and be of service by offering help or kindness. This same intention of warmth and caring can be offered to ourselves in the form of self-compassion when we set an intention to respond to our own suffering with warmth and gentleness.

“Self-compassion involves two key actions. First, we must set limits with ourselves to reduce habitual negative thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate harm. Second, we must repeatedly practice new kind and loving thoughts and behaviors.”
Self-compassion Dr. Arielle Schwartz

In order to heal from childhood trauma, it is important to acknowledge the pain that you felt there. There is a clinical reason to reflect on your memories of your parents and, doing so does not make you wrong or bad, it’s important to understand that your experience with your parents may not only have been either/or, it possibly has been both/and. The ability to hold both positive and negative aspects of another person, such as your parents, is a healthy, positive thing. When we recognize that, it opens up the possibility for us to feel more fully, to make more sense of our experiences, to seek out the right supports, and to decide more clearly what, if anything, we may need or want to do in that relationship and/or just for ourselves.

As the old therapy saying goes: “We cannot heal what we cannot feel.”
Healing happens by acknowledging your full spectrum of feelings about your parents. When we can hold both views about the painful and the positive aspects of our parents, we grow more accustomed to holding integrated views of others and of ourselves.

Therapy and therapists often get negative criticism for making our clients exhume the past simply for the sake of complaining and “making mom and dad” wrong. While therapy absolutely does invite you to turn backward, to look at what was, there is intentionality and clinical reasoning to that.
When we’re able to recall our memories, to make sense of them, and to feel all of our attendant feelings about those memories in the presence of a kind, compassionate witness, we’re able to support our nervous systems and psyches in healing.

https://www.eggshelltherapy.com/
https://www.anniewright.com/
https://drarielleschwartz.com/

Written by:
Laura Spalvieri
M. Soc. Sc. Prof. Counselling, Prof. Dip. Psychotherapy, GDAPP, GDPC
Counsellor/ Psychotherapist/ TA Practitioner  

I believe I can; therefore, I am succeeding

I choose to start this article by sharing with you two quotes that illustrate the notion I want to cover below.

The first quote is by Dr Seuss from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!. “You have brains in your head and feet in your shoes; you can steer yourself in any direction you choose!” 

The second is from a slightly different source of inspiration, Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

These quotes illustrate the notion of self-efficacy described by Albert Bandura as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage any potential situations.” In other words, it is people’s belief in their own ability to succeed and influence events that affect their lives. It is determining how people think, feel, behave, and motivate themselves. Self- efficacy plays an essential role in how you approach every aspect of your life (academic, work, friendships, parenting, sports, hobbies, health, and wellbeing) and determines what goals you choose to pursue, how you go about accomplishing those goals, and how you reflect upon your own performance.

Self-efficacy is formed in early childhood, and its growth continues to evolve throughout the lifespan as people are confronted to new adversities, setbacks and frustrations.

Self-efficacy is a psychological skill that help you deal better with difficulties. You can foster and strengthen it by working on its four main foundations:

– “Mastery Experiences”: it refers to the experiences we gain when we take on a new challenge. By getting out of our comfort zone and trying out new things, we create an opportunity for growth. We are teaching ourselves that we can acquire new skills, improve and succeed. So it is important to celebrate our successes, big or small and reflect on how we made it possible like trough perseverance or continuous efforts.

– “Social Modeling”: According to Bandura, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed.” Hence, find positive role models that are similar to you; observe them and get inspired. You can have several depending on your area of interest, and it can be anyone from your immediate environments like a parent, a teacher and a mentor to someone from the public sphere. 

– “Social Persuasion”: This refers to the positive impact that words can have on someone’s self-efficacy. Bandura explains that through encouragement and positive feedbacks, people are led to believe that they have or can develop the skills and capabilities to succeed. This drives them to overcome self-doubt and employ their resources to achieve the task at hand. So seek positive affirmations and listen to the encouragements and positives feedbacks you are getting.

– “Psychological Responses”: Bandura explains that “it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted”. This means that by learning how to manage your thoughts and emotions, you feel a higher sense of control over the situation and over yourself, which make you feel more capable of managing potential threats. This improves your belief of self-efficacy and decreases avoidance type behaviour like shying away from challenges.

By developing high self-efficacy, you are able to look at difficulties as challenges rather than threats. Struggle, step-backs, and failure don’t mean defeat; instead, they reveal an opportunity for growth, a chance to cope, to adapt, to learn and to find new ways to overcome.

According to Albert Bandura, “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” He specifies that yes, “Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.”

Sources:
Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in changing societies. New York: Cambridge University Press
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Worth Publishers

Written by:
Lucie Ramet

Clinical Psychologist