Thursday, May 8, 2008

WSJ: "If at First You Don't Succeed, You're in Excellent Company"

From the April 29, 2008, edition of The Wall Street Journal comes an article for those of us who have received the tenth rejection letter -- and the twentieth. Excerpts:

What makes some people rebound from defeats and go on to greatness while others throw in the towel? Psychologists call it "self-efficacy," the unshakable belief some people have that they have what it takes to succeed. First described by Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s, self-efficacy has become a key concept in educational circles, and is being applied to health care, management, sports and seemingly intractable social problems like AIDS in developing countries. It's also a hallmark of the "positive psychology" movement now sweeping the mental-health field, which focuses on developing character strengths rather than alleviating pathologies.

Self-efficacy differs from self-esteem in that it's a judgment of specific capabilities rather than a general feeling of self-worth. "It's easy to have high self-esteem -- just aim low," says Prof. Bandura, who is still teaching at Stanford at age 82. On the other hand, he notes, there are people with high self-efficacy who "drive themselves hard but have low self-esteem because their performance always falls short of their high standards." ...

Where does such determination come from? In some cases it's inborn optimism -- akin to the kind of resilience that enables some children to emerge unscathed from extreme poverty, tragedy or abuse. Self-efficacy can also be acquired by mastering a task; by modeling the behavior of others who have succeeded; and from what Prof. Bandura calls "verbal persuasion" -- getting effective encouragement that is tied to achievement, rather than empty praise. ...

What if you really do lack the talent to succeed at whatever you're trying to do? That's a tricky question, psychologists say -- one that's on display in the early episodes of "American Idol" each season. Try to objectively assess how much you are likely to improve with training and hard work, and how much it's worth to you, or whether there are other ways to enjoy your passion -- being a coach instead of a player, for instance. On the other hand, what if Dr. Seuss had given up after his 27th rejection and not tried once more? In the words of Henry Ford: "Whether you think that you can or you can't, you're usually right."
Read the whole thing.

(Picture: CC 2007 by


RC said...

Self-efficacy -- now that is something i can get behind way before self-esteem.

Loren Eaton said...

Agreed. It's ironic that some of the groups equipping people to do nearly super-human things (e.g. The Marines) do so by breaking down self-esteem first. I suppose you could say they replace it with self-efficacy.