Being is believing

The confidence you have in yourself will have a significant impact on your future success.

Running legs 311 (photo credit: Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Running legs 311
(photo credit: Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Did you ever hear of the books The Power of Positive Thinking or Think and Grow Rich? They have been best-sellers for decades and have sold millions of copies all over the world. They represent pop psychology and inspire people to believe you can do anything if you just believe it and put your mind to it.
Positive psychology looks at such books and asks is if there really is substance to those claims or is it just Pollyanna-type thinking.
Albert Bandura, a psychologist at Stanford University, took up the challenge of such a phenomenon.
He came up with the theory of “selfefficacy” to explain how our beliefs can help us to success. Self-efficacy means the belief you have in yourself will have a significant impact on your future success.
The remarkable story of Roger Bannister and the four-minute mile supports such a theory. During the early 1950s running the mile was considered the most prestigious of track events. Bannister was a medical student and a world class runner, but not one of the best.
Until 1954 runners believed that they could not run the mile in less than four minutes. The best runners in the world were running the mile in four minutes and two seconds and thought that to be able to run any faster contradicted our physiological makeup. Elite runners ended up proving their point, as even though they tried, they could not beat the four-minute barrier.
Bannister said that was nonsense, and he would be the one to do it. He was discounted as a dreamer, one who was detached from reality.
He was a good runner, but he was only running the mile at four minutes and 12 seconds at that time.
He improved to four minutes and three seconds and then hit a wall. Yet he continued to train and believed it was possible. Finally in April 1954 on his home turf in England, he ran the mile in three minutes and 59 seconds. It was a sensation and front-page news all over the world.
It was called the “Dream Mile” and described as the impossible now becoming possible.
But the significance of this broken barrier is not restricted to the determination and belief of one individual. The power of self-efficacy was proven by the impact of Bannister’s accomplishment on other runners. Within six weeks a runner from New Zealand ran the mile in three minutes and 58 seconds, and by the end of the year 27 other runners broke the four-minute barrier.
What had happened? They now believed that if Bannister could do it, they could too.
The best way to describe self-efficacy is that you have a belief in your ability to succeed in a particular situation and that belief then increases the chance of your succeeding. It is something that we can work on continuously throughout life. It is not that you are born with it or not. You can learn to cultivate it, getting ever more confident in your ability.
The factors that contribute to developing selfefficacy and confidence are a balance between internal sense of mastery (internal motivation) and recognition by other people you respect (external motivation).
Whether you are an artist, athlete or scholar, you can begin this process by finding a challenge in an area you are good at and that you think would give you a sense of accomplishment upon completion. That sense of accomplishment is your internal motivation.
Since we are social beings we also care about what other people think, especially those people we respect. This challenge will need to be one that can be acknowledged by those people. Their recognition or encouragement will give you a belief in your own ability to complete challenging tasks. This will act as the external motivation.
A popular way of describing this mastery challenge is to think of exiting your comfort zone.
If you always remain within your comfort zone, you will not feel that sense of mastery because you are remaining in the same place.
Mastery comes from moving forward and achieving something new and slightly more challenging than what you have done before. A key is it should be only slightly more challenging, not a big jump. It should be something you had never done before. It can be as simple as baking bread, speaking to a group in public or even writing an article. The key is to do it in an area you enjoy.
Also important to the process is that you have a vision of your own success. You need to try and see you having completed or accomplishment the challenge, in our mind’s eye. That helps you believe it and then breaking barriers becomes more possible.
The popular song by R. Kelly “I Believe I Can Fly” surprisingly conveys the message pretty clearly: “I believe I can fly... There are miracles in life I must achieve. But first I know it starts inside of me, oh, if I can see it, then I can do it. If I just believe it, there’s nothing to it.”
Dr. Mann is a clinical psychologist and certified life coach who helps teenagers, adults and executives achieve positive goals.