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12 Steps to Help You ‘Think You Can’

By Gay Falkowski


If you have MS and follow research findings about what helps manage the disease, you might have heard about self-efficacy. In a study from Washington State University, people with MS with higher self-efficacy scores reported better overall health as well as less pain interference, fatigue, depression, perceived stress, and interference with participation in valued activities. So what is self-efficacy?

That timeless storybook tale of The Little Engine That Could is a great example of self-efficacy in action. As he struggled to chug up a steep hill, the Little Engine repeated, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” That’s basically what self-efficacy is all about: When you think you can, you’ve improved your chances of succeeding in whatever task you’re trying to conquer. Here are a dozen more tidbits of information to help you understand and achieve self-efficacy.

1) Unlike self-esteem, self-efficacy isn’t about a sense of self-worth; it’s about believing you are capable of producing a desired result – that you can achieve your goals.

2) Observing someone else perform a task or handle a situation can help you to perform the same task by imitation, and if you succeed in performing a task, you are likely to think that you will succeed as well, if the task is not too difficult.

3) Observing people who are similar to yourself succeed will increase your beliefs that you can master a similar activity.

4) When other people encourage and convince you to perform a task, you tend to believe that you are more capable of performing the task.

5) Constructive feedback is important in maintaining a sense of efficacy as it may help overcome self-doubt.

6) Moods, emotions, physical reactions, and stress levels may influence how you feel about your personal abilities. Being able to diminish or control anxiety may have positive effect on self-efficacy beliefs.

7) Small achievements can pack a powerful punch. Pick one small change you’d like to make and go for it. Then pick another small change. Then another. Reflect on each success before moving on to your next small goal.

8) Reminiscing on past successes can help drum up a greater sense of self-efficacy. Reflect on times when you succeeded at accomplishing things you didn’t think you could do.

9) Visualization is a powerful tool. Not only is seeing believing, when it comes to self-efficacy, believing is seeing ... results. Visualization not only primes your brain for success and enhances self-efficacy, it also helps you to see the smaller steps you need to take to reach your end goal.

10) Managing your self-doubt is just one more way to keep “I think I can’t” thoughts from derailing your success. When self-defeating thoughts bubble up, accept them as part of the process and move on. These types of thoughts don’t necessarily reflect your true capabilities.

11) A good mood can also boost self-efficacy while a bad mood can undermine it. Write out all the things that uplift you (i.e. special songs, favorite quotes, etc.) and use them to your advantage as you navigate towards your goals.

12) Ask for encouragement from friends and family and stay away from those who discourage you. Quality social support is a key ingredient to self-efficacy, persistence, and ultimately success. Find your best advocates and invite them to be part of your campaign for change.