People often write about and discuss problem solving in terms of strategies, knowledge, skills, availability of resources, adaptive coping styles and even cognitive flexibility; however a substantial and crucial part of problem solving capacity is often neglected. It is self-efficacy. If you compare the above mentioned matters to a car, it will be like having a new car with all the sophisticated, expensive, upgraded elements but without the receiving the key of the car. The key is necessary to ignite the car and allow all the great components to work together. Self-efficacy is the necessary key of problem solving capacities.
Bandura (1997) claims that “people’s level of motivation, affective state and action are based more on what they believe than on what is objectively true” (p.2). What we believe, feel and think effects our behaviour. People’s belief that they can produce a desirable outcome, influences the decisions they make, the goals they set, the level of effort which they put in their actions and last but not least the level of resilience, perseverance and commitment that they have. One, who believes in the ability to carry out an effective behaviour, which will create a change, will continue to execute the behaviour as long as the belief exists. Hence, self-efficacy influences the onset, intensity and duration of coping behaviour.
Self-efficacy beliefs involve future predictions of outcome and visualization of future events. A negative belief that our behaviour will not be effective in solving our problem will also be accompanied by negative emotions and avoidant coping such as denial and distancing. The anticipation of a negative outcome increases the focus on the emotional distress that the problem generated rather than on the possible strategies that can end the problem. Naturally, the more important the problem is to us, the more emotional distress we will feel, and especially when we do not believe that we are able to change anything.
Unless people believe that it is in their best interest to act, they will have little incentive to do so. Self-efficacy influences thus, the choices people make and the course of action they take. Individuals, who believe in their abilities to succeed, will be willing to deal with adversities, failures and setbacks awaiting their triumph. Self-efficacy beliefs represent subjective judgments of own capacities. It reflects the belief of being able to control challenging demands from the environment. Self-efficacy can also be seen as confidence in one’s own ability to deal with stressors (Bandura, 1995). People with high self-efficacy are more optimistic, socially integrated and like challenging themselves in different areas of life. High self-efficacy facilitates thus achievements of goals and psychological well-being.
Individuals with low self-efficacy concentrate on their own deficiencies and anxieties rather than on the task at hand. One who doubts one’s ability to realize goals will probably be discouraged at the first sign of an obstacle. Low self-efficacy also enhances insecurity and the risk of the individual being emotionally distressed (Dieserud, Roysamb, Ekeberg, & Kraft ,2001). The belief of inability to cope with a stressful situation leads to anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness. Anxiety paralyzes the individual and increases passivity. Preoccupation with fears and doubts will subsequently impair cognitive functioning, decrease emotion regulation and increase vulnerability to stress and depression (Adair, Belanger,& Dion, 1998). The perception of personal incompetence will therefore reduce attempts and effort made to deal with the problem.
Adair, J. G., Belanger, D., & Dion, K. L.(1998). Advances in Psychological Sciences. Sussex: Psychological press.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: towards a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Bandura, A. (1995). Exercise of personal and collective efficacy in changing societies. In A. Bandura (Ed.), Self-efficacy in changing societies (pp. 1-45). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dieserud, G., Roysamb, E., Ekeberg, O., & Kraft, P. (2001). Towards an integrative model of suicide attempt: a cognitive psychological approach. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 31, 2,153-165.