Self-efficacy may be a better goal than self-esteem

Q: I don’t know how many times I have been told that life would be more enjoyable for me if I took some time to raise my self-esteem.

I got that advice all the way through high school, from various professors at university and from my colleagues at work.

It is not that I don’t try. I make lists of reasons to like myself, cherish the occasional compliment from other people and spend hours admiring myself in front of the bathroom mirror.

Nothing seems to work.

I still berate myself more than I immerse myself in self-glory and to make it worse, I hide myself in shame and guilt whenever I walk into the company of family and friends.

I am not sure that I will ever get over this thing but I would like to.

A: I think that the pursuit of self-esteem is difficult. The bottom line is that no one seems to know what self-esteem really is.

We know self-esteem is a general sense of how each of us sees ourself as a person and we know that this same self-concept is framed within all kinds of positive and reaffirming conjectures and feelings.

However, what that means is illusive and because self-esteem is illusive, it is hard for your bathroom mirror to capture it for you.

You might find more success pursuing something called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the confidence that you have the ability to handle any number of circumstances.

It is not based on the overwhelming sense of who you are as a person. It is simply knowing that you can figure some things out and do them.

The trick to self-efficacy is to realize that you can have higher senses of self-efficacy without necessarily having extraordinary moments of competence.

Let us pretend that you want to have a wonderful flowerbed in front of your house, but you also know that you were born with a purple thumb. For the most part, whatever you try to grow fails. If you have a low sense of self-efficacy, you will try to plant your flower garden, fail miserably, and drive your sense of self- efficacy down even further. And there goes your self-esteem, straight down the tube as well.

However, if you have a higher sense of self-efficacy, you approach the situation differently. Instead of pursuing a failed horticulture adventure, you will likely talk to those who know about flowerbeds, read books filled with suggestions, and maybe even hire someone to advise and help you cultivate the finished product.

The trick with self-efficacy is brutal honesty about what you can and cannot do. Obviously, you have some skills. If you did not, you would not have successfully attended university and you would not likely be out in a career.

To claim success in self-efficacy, you do not have to be the best at what you do. You do not need to have a shelf filled with scholarships and awards from your studies and you do not have to have a star pasted on your office door at work. You simply need that list of what you can and cannot do, do what you are capable of doing, and make sure that you get the right kinds of help from the right kinds of people when you do not have the required skills for a task.

Here is the irony. The more you forget about self-esteem and focus on self-efficacy, or the confidence in using your skills appropriately, the more likely it is that your general sense of well being will swell on its own, and there you have it, a positive sense of self-esteem.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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