Tag Archives: Self-efficacy

Lessons in acceptance

I had some very clear ideas of how I was going to spend my 40th birthday. I felt that the number 40 had some weight to it, I really wanted to make something of the day. So I planned skating on sparkling ice on the lake with my husband in the early morning sunshine, drinking hot chocolate from a thermos, then cake with my co-workers in the afternoon, and dinner out with Australian Shiraz as a compulsory component. A new metropolitan-style restaurant downtown was my choice and I looked forward to a nice family meal. And work, of course, during the day, as it is my passion, so wouldn’t leave that out.

As it turned out, there were some problems executing the plan. The weather was a terrible grey with fog and rain in the morning. The ice – if any – would be wet and unsafe. Joel had been sick for days and the dinner reservation had to be cancelled. The cake at work found a happy, but decimated group of very sweet co-workers – the rest of them sick at home or away for work. Luckily, there was an urgent deadline job to do and a grant application to put in so the work bit went fine. No Shiraz on reserve at home, though.

I guess the point is that I didn’t mind. Not the least bit, in fact. I accepted the day to be as it was and not the way I had wanted it to be. Bicycling in the rain to get some dry crackers and apple juice for my sick son was maybe not what I had planned, but was perfectly content doing. A pity that he threw it all up a couple of hours later.

Acceptance is not the same as losing personal agency. In fact, it is only through agency we can gain control of our situations and act in responsible ways. A sense of personal agency is empowering, even in the most miserable situations. We don’t always have a free choice. But we can choose how to act in a given situation.

Acceptance and commitment therapy is a therapy form taking advantage of acceptance of all feelings and experiences as a basis for change. In stead of avoiding, repressing or rigidly reiterating hurtful or unwanted feelings and using them as an explanation for destructive behaviour, ACT advises Accepting your reactions and being present, Choosing a valued direction, and Taking action. It sounds pretty straightforward when you think about it.

To me this sounds much like the type of self-regulation we are trying to promote in children using the Triple P parenting program. Good parenting is all about teaching children to experience their feelings, impressions, and impulses, and yet not to be ruled by them, but be able to regulate the direction and actions they take. To wait for their turn, to continue trying to solve a maths problem even if it’s difficult, to control the impulse of hitting their mate in the face for calling them a loser at soccer.

Effective self-regulation is actually quite a big ask and there are a lot of adults out there who could do with more such skills. Sometimes, lack of self-regulation is overt, you can easily tell when someone seems out of control. However, sometimes it is subtle: have you ever had a co-worker whose problems somehow always turned out to be your problems? Well, that’s a sign of self-regulatory processes in need of a brush-up.

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The good news? We can promote self-regulation in each other. If I have a problem and someone helps me find the answer based on my own resources rather than giving it to me, I improve my problem-solving ability and self-efficacy. I learn that many of the answers I might be looking for are well within my reach and will use that experience next time I encounter a difficulty. Thus, interaction with others becomes a way of gaining insights rather than projecting fears and feelings of inadequacy on those we meet.

So I Accepted that my birthday turned out differently than I had planned, Chose to direct my bike towards downtown and Took action: a new dress on sale crowned the day’s ACT. Self-regulated and done! And Joel is all better now.

You can do it!

The night before my first solo driving trip in Melbourne I had nightmares. It’s not that I don’t like driving – in fact I am an experienced driver and have driven lots of different cars on all sides of the road, big and small, manual and automatic. I drive carefully and confidently and I think I am considerate on the roads. But I am spatially challenged, meaning that I have no sense of direction whatsoever and have therefore serious issues with finding my way. In addition, I cannot tell right from left without thinking hard about it. This challenge of my spatial intelligence is reflected in those parts of the IQ test where you are supposed to match up 3D images with one another to see which of four possible pieces fits with the sample image missing a part. Impossible! How can people figure that out?

Because I am adamant not to let such things restrict me I have had many detours and sweaty arrivals just because I did not take extra precautions or double check my choices on which way to turn while en route. But now that I am soon turning 40 I figure that I have to find a way to live with my spatial challenge and maybe give myself a brake. So I spent some of the evening consulting Google maps while my husband had a fun time proposing seven different routes because it didn’t matter. Well, it did for me, and I chose the most straightforward route that was a bit longer, but much simpler than the others. I memorised the street names and distances, although I also planned to have my laptop on the passenger seat.

Nonetheless, when the morning came I had a lot of excuses ready for why I shouldn’t go or why my husband should come with me. My hesitation could have to do with the fact that, while I was at it, I planned four meetings that day so I not only had to get to one destination, but three, and there was no time for messing up. The reason I didn’t seriously consider just dropping the whole project of driving a fat jeep in left traffic to parts of a huge city I had never been to before was my self-efficacy. I believed I could do it.

In fact, I knew I could do it, that I would figure it out. The term self-efficacy was coined by the psychologist Albert Bandura in his book on Social Learning Theory from 1977. Self-efficacy is a very widely used and cited concept and is related to the person’s belief about his or her ability to complete or master a certain task or meet a challenge effectively. It is for good reason that sports psychology uses self-efficacy as one of its core concepts: you can only visualize yourself with a gold medal in hand if you have high self-efficacy. I did my PhD on Type 2 Diabetes and one of our very interesting findings was the importance of self-efficacy for metabolic control in diabetes. I dare to say the same goes for every single chronic condition and in fact health behaviour in general. We also see the major role self-efficacy plays in parenting.

As simple as it seems, it is true: if you believe you can do something, the odds are that you will succeed. Well, unless you mix up boasting or an unrealistic self-image with self-efficacy. Having high self-efficacy means that you take responsibility for your actions and that the possibility of both success and failure lies within your reach. The good news is that self-efficacy is possible to affect, which indeed is what a lot of cognitive behavioural therapy does. If you don’t believe you can make a change in your life you need to start working on why you don’t believe you can make a change.

I did find my way to all my destinations, drove a total of 72 kilometers, and was not even late. It did help to plan and to ask my researcher colleague for directions at my first destination. It turned out that she knew exactly what it was like to be spatially challenged. So when the road I was driving on did this impossible thing dividing itself into two going in complete different directions I knew what to do because she had told me: stick to the right, let’s see, it’s this hand! I am not alone, in fact there are plenty of us spatially challenged, otherwise rather intelligent, people out there. You can do a simple test to tell: if you call on us to turn right too quickly and without pointing, we will either turn left or say which right?

It did feel a bit phony, but when things got tough that day I just said to myself: you can do it! The best news with self-efficacy is in fact that successes create a positive loop with better self-efficacy and more successes. Parents intuitively know this. So keep chanting “you can do it” to your child the next time it runs into a challenge and a small miracle is bound to happen in front of your eyes.