Do you believe you can?

Sunday, March 12, 2017
Recently I heard an interview with a female engineer about her role in the documentary "Dream Big: Engineering Our World." The movie stresses the importance of creativity in jobs like engineering and other STEM career choices. When the interviewer asked which courses kids could take to help be successful in a career like engineering, she gave a surprising answer. The key to success in these careers did not rest in a single course, but "believing in yourself."

According to, self-efficacy is a person's belief about his or her ability and capacity to accomplish a task or to deal with the challenges of life. Albert Bandura, Ph.D., a social psychologist who coined the term self-efficacy, believes that ability is not fixed. He breaks down the process of improving self-efficacy through accomplishing, observing, imitating and verbal reinforcement.

Verbal reinforcement can also play a role in self concept, which is determined, at least in part, by the messages we hear about ourselves. Everyone reading this has probably been told at one time that she or he is a good writer. This news may have come from a teacher, parent, friend, or stranger, which made it even better because that person had no vested interest in complimenting you.

Your self-concept may be that you are a writer, your self-esteem is the way you feel about it, and your self-efficacy is the ability to believe you can succeed as a writer. Without self-efficacy, your exceptional skills and talent won't take you to the next level because you don't believe you belong there.

Writing and/or critique groups can help a writer achieve all the steps necessary to increasing self-efficacy. When the group loves your writing, you have accomplished a goal, and hear about that success (verbal reinforcement). When someone else in the group succeeds, you realize it is possible. When a great story is broken down into understandable steps, you can imitate that process.

So what are you telling yourself about yourself? I love the old saying "Whether you think you can or can't, you are correct." Our thoughts affect our behavior, and our behavior determines our success. So what do you think?


Mary Horner is a freelance writer and editor and the author of Strengthen Your Nonfiction Writing. She teaches communications at St. Louis and St. Charles Community Colleges.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Mary--I love your break-down of writing critique groups as the "whole package" necessary to achieve self-efficacy because it's true. Being surrounded by fellow writers who are dedicated to providing constructive criticism is the #1 way to succeed as a writer.

Your post sent me hurtling back to my childhood and that classic children's story--"The Little Engine That Could." Writers have to keep telling themselves, "I think I can, I think I can" until they're able to say, "I did."

Thanks for this post, Mary.

Mary Horner said...

Sioux, I thought of the same thing, and almost used that for a title! I've always been interested in the reasons why some succeed and others don't when talent is about equal. I know there are other factors, but I found this theory thought-provoking.

Pat Wahler said...

Or another way of looking at the issue-persistence pays off. One of the most challenging things (for me, at least) is the tendency to compare my accomplishments to those of other writers. Shesh! Nothing can be more destructive to how I see myself.


Mary Horner said...

I think it's just human nature to compare ourselves to others, when the only person we need to compete with is the person in the mirror. I only wish I could follow my own advice!

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