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Self-Efficacy Is So Much Better Than Self-Esteem

·367 words·2 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

There’s no better feeling than believing in yourself. And not believing in yourself in abstract, nebulous terms. But believing in your ability to set your mind to a task and to complete it. Believing in your ability to get things done.

Seriously, it’s an amazing feeling. And it’s not just me that’s saying so — but psychological research. Because this particular quality has a name. It’s called self-efficacy, and it’s exactly like it sounds: Self-efficacy revolves around your ability to be effective. Self-efficacy involves believing that you can set goals and complete tasks.

Self-efficacy is distinct from feeling like you have self-worth, like you’re good and have value just because — also known as self-esteem. In fact, self-efficacy is a lot better than self-esteem, more likely to lead to happy life outcomes and success in life. And in spite of how much self-esteem was pushed in self-help and educational settings, especially in the 80s and 90s, there’s no evidence that high self-esteem produces positive outcomes.

In the early research, there was in fact a correlation between success and high self-esteem, but they got the causality backwards. Self-esteem didn’t cause success. People who started out feeling good about themselves became successful. It was the opposite.** **People who had become successful came to feel good about themselves. So success caused self-esteem. 

For more information on the limitations of and misconceptions about self-esteem and the attendant research, please see this  peer-reviewed literature review by Baumeister, et. al.

The bottom line, however, is that working on your self-efficacy is frankly a better tactic to thriving life and overall happiness. Because when you’re able to achieve when you set your mind to — and you know it — then you’re more likely to develop self-esteem — and a feeling of self-worth — as a natural side effect of your actions.

Or to put it another way, we come to like ourselves when we realize we can do things. We don’t get good at doing things simply because we like ourselves.

Related: The surest way to build self-efficacy is to develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed one. That and working on self-compassion for when you inevitably make mistakes while you learn.


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