5 Keys to Lasting Self-Efficacy and Self-Worth

Self-efficacy - your ability to apply yourself fully, and your belief that you can make things happen

Self-worth - your sense of your own worthiness, and your belief that you're good enough

With all the twists and turns in life and work and relationships, it's damn easy to lose sight of your self-efficacy and self-worth, and to suffer when those things are damaged.

It's hard as hell to come back from, so it makes more sense to keep nurturing your self-efficacy and self-worth rather than waiting until it's too late or when it feels like you've lost them.

Here are some of the keys to lasting self-efficacy and self-worth, so you can keep on top of them.

1. You're Greater than the Sum of Your Beliefs

People believe all kinds of funny things. The Earth is flat. Climate change is a hoax. Fox News is a news channel.

But alongside those are hundreds, thousands of beliefs that you carry around with you every minute of every day. Beliefs that inform your choices, your behaviour, and your experience of life.

Your beliefs shape your world and your experience in it.

It's easy to look at a belief, something like "If I don't nail this it will all go horribly wrong", and think that it's accurate, or true, or relevant. But actually, many are wildly inaccurate, fake news and as relevant as a cream cake is to a thorny maths problem.

Your beliefs are only thoughts. They're just really sticky ones.

Believe that people have to earn your trust and you’ll make people work hard for it. Believe that you’re better at what you do than anyone else and you’ll have a hard time when others get their way. Believe that you have to prove yourself and you’ll work and work and work for it ’til you bleed. And if you believe that you’re a pirate you’ll start wearing an eye patch and find yourself a little parrot friend.

It’s astonishing just how much your life is shaped by the beliefs you hold, and it’s shocking that you might not even know it’s happening.

So rather than have your beliefs limit your self-efficacy and self-worth, here are a couple of ways to be greater than the sum of your beliefs.

Strive for meaning

Beliefs provide a framework for thought and behaviour, helping you navigate your way through life and make sense of the world. But when some of those beliefs no longer reflect who you are or what matters to you, something’s mightily wrong.

This is how people find themselves lost in their lives—they become disconnected from what actually has meaning. And sometimes, sadly, people end up clinging to their beliefs no matter how crazy, dumb or out-dated they are, simply because it’s the only thing left to trust.

So you have to move towards meaning.

You have to bring into your life the things that matter most to you, and you have to honour, express and demonstrate what matters most even when that flies in the face of a belief you hold. Especially when it flies in the face of a belief you hold.

That’s a sure sign that you’ve outgrown an old belief, and a big clue towards a more empowering belief that you lean into.

Let go of what doesn’t work

Your beliefs are some of the strongest pathways in your brain, able to be activated without any deliberate thought. They’re among the go-to circuits your brain leans on most. You might say then, that your brain has confidence in your beliefs.

That makes them super-sticky, and it takes zero effort to leave them be and just go about your day as you always have.

My belief that I can have a meaningful impact helps me to focus and to centre myself when I lose that focus. But my belief that having a meaningful impact is a great responsibility has sometimes got in the way, made me too rigid and added heaps of unnecessary pressure. So I let that one go.

Your ability to live a full life and be confident in that ability sometimes demands that you let go of what doesn’t serve you any more. And doing that starts with a thought as simple as, “I don’t need this any more.”

That’s it. That all it takes. A gentle acknowledgement that what once might have worked, now doesn’t.

You don’t have to pick it apart or try to understand it, you just need to soften into what your life might be like without that thought, without that belief, without that thing that’s getting in your way.

It’s through letting go that you get to grow.

Test new beliefs

Sometimes the blocker to a new way of thinking or a new belief is the belief that making the shift will be hard or painful, or that it might turn you "into something you’re not".

This is just more thinking, another belief stacked on top to make you think it's better to stay right where you are, so it’s important to find a simple way to cut through this with minimal fuss.

Instead of thinking about it as a fundamental change, or something that's hard, uncomfortable or painful, just try on a new belief like you might a new coat.

Take the pressure off yourself, slip into a new belief and see how it fits. When I got rid of my belief about my duty to have an impact, I looked at what would be easier and simpler. I landed on the belief that if I'm being myself and doing my best, that's plenty.

So check to see how a new belief makes you feel (clue: if it makes you feel lighter, then it’s a great fit). See what works, and discard the rest.

2. Get better at what matters to you

“Get out there and do it” and “Follow your passion” are among the most asinine pieces of advice you’ll ever receive.

It's easy and fatuous to say that, but what the “follow your passion” brigade neglect to mention is how easy it is to doubt what you want, feel like you can't go after it, or wonder if you’re wanting the "right" thing at all.

Get Better at What Matters to You

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So here are a handful of pointers that will help you to get better at what matters to you, which directly fuels self-efficacy and self-worth.

It’s not just one thing

I want to make a tangible difference to people. I want to laugh until I pee. I want to spend more time in Portland, Oregon. I want to get my novel published. And I want all of the mind-blowing sex.

While it helps to focus on one thing at a time or risk spreading yourself too thin, the notion that your “passion” is one thing that will bring everything in your life into focus is bullshit.

It’s okay to want more than one thing, and it’s okay if your passion evolves from one thing into something else. That doesn’t mean you’re flakey and it doesn’t mean you don’t know what you want. It simply means you’re learning and growing.

Takeaway: It’s okay to want more than one thing. The trick is in prioritising and then trusting your choices.

It’s not a magic eraser

Read enough of those chest-pumping, high-fiving, ego-inflating articles about following your passion and you might think that it’s a way to magically solve all the problems in your life.

It’s true that when you align your life around what matters to you it’s easier to let the things that don’t matter fall away, but that doesn’t always equal everything being sugar-coated, peachy-wonderfulness.

And when reality hits, it's easy to think that there's something wrong with what you're doing or how you're doing it, and that in turn hits your self-worth.

If you’re haemorrhaging cash, starting a new business is unlikely to stop the flow. If you have an issue in your relationship that you’ve been avoiding, moving jobs is unlikely to solve it. And if you have a health issue that’s proving challenging, that challenge will remain whether you start that cool project or not.

Takeaway: Conflating going after what you want with erasing the problems in your life is fantasy. Always own the reality of how things are.

Scale is irrelevant

When you start to look at what you want, and how you want it, it’s tempting to go big. It’s got to be all or nothing, you tell yourself. Because if you don't go for it all guns blazing, why bother at all?

The “make epic shit” brigade will have you believe that if you’re not going after something huge, life-changing, culture-shifting or earth-shattering, that you’re not doing it right. That you’re selling yourself short, or playing it safe. They’ll tell you stories about how they’re sailing around the world on a bread-board, or forming a collective dedicated to helping everyone make six figures inside a month, and you end up feeling like something you want to scrape off the bottom of your shoe in comparison.

What you want can be as gentle as breath on your neck and as warming as the sun on your face.

It doesn’t have to change everything, but it should always enrich or nourish something.

Takeaway: Purpose can be more about richness and texture as it is impact.

It can’t be outside-in

We’re living in an age of cheap inspiration.

It takes zero effort to read something on Facebook and share it with the comment, “So inspiring…”. It takes little effort to regurgitate memes that distract for a moment rather than actually amounting to a hill o' beans. And it's really easy to look at what someone else has, and think that you need that too.

Cynical? Maybe. But there’s no denying that so much of what we think we want comes to us courtesy of everything around us. It’s those very inputs that lead you toward fake wants and desires that are really about status, validation or recognition—fake wants that will strip your self-efficacy and self-worth to the bone.

What matters to you and what you want don't happen outside-in.

Takeaway: The process of figuring out what matters and what you want, then aligning around it, is precisely what helps to fuel self-efficacy and self-worth.

You might doubt everything

Knowing what you want and then bringing it about is, in some measure, a disruptive process.

It’s moving from one thing into another, and any change brings with it resistance. It’s entirely natural and completely expected.

If you’re not watching, that resistance leads to things like self-doubt and second-guessing. It can create gulfs and even crises of self-confidence, and it can feel like everything in you is urging you to turn back, toward safety.

Discomfort and resistance often trump desire and meaning, which is a sure-fire way to feel crappy about yourself. While that’s simply how we’re wired it doesn’t mean we’re slaves to it.

Feeling resistant to change or uncomfortable during it doesn't mean you’re on the wrong course, it's just an indication that you can lean more into self-trust to guide you through.

Takeaway: Moving forwards with doubt and resistance is how you grow.

If self-efficacy is your ability to apply yourself fully and your belief that you can make things happen (and it is), and if self-worth is your sense of your own worthiness and your belief that you're good enough (and it is), then getting better at what matters to you is a shingly brilliant way to nurture those things.

3. Be prepared to be the Underdog

Get better at what matters to you

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Underdog’s are renowned for getting oh-so-close, for falling just a little bit short of the winning post. They’re the ones who get splashed as life drives through a massive puddle a little too fast.

Bastard life. I just washed these.

It happens all the time. In business. In relationships. In creative pursuits. Anywhere there’s a goal, or objective, or target, there’s an underdog.

But you know something? Believe it or not, when it comes to your self-efficacy and self-worth, there are some big reasons that it pays to be the underdog.

Because it makes you reach

The underdog is the one who tries. They’re the ones who don’t know if they can do it or how far they can go.

They're the reachers. Reachers are my kind of people. The kind of people who reach for something just because it means the world to them.

It might not be a straight line and it might not come easy, but they still reach.

That’s the stuff that great stories are made from, and I think it’s what people who hold the belief that they can, and that they're worthy of trying, are made from too.

Because you learn to apply ease

When things are tough, one of three things happens.

You either fold like a damp sock, struggle like an amorous panda, or you learn how to make things easier.

The latter option is where you figure out the difference between facing struggle and hardship with brute strength, which only gets you so far, and embracing your circumstances with love, or grace or joy.

Facing up to a challenge and asking yourself, "What's a way this could be easier?", is a deceptively simple question. This isn't designed to lower your sights or have you back off, it's designed to have you apply ease, instead of applying struggle.

Ease is engaging with the expectation that you'll do your best. Struggle is engaging with the expectation that your best might not be enough. Ease is the choice to soften into the moment as you already are. Struggle is hardening against the moment, because you need to protect yourself.

See the difference?

Because it teaches you the value of support

Whether it’s a team who have your back, a group of peers who push you, or friends who act as a sounding board, surrounding yourself with the right support makes a world of difference.

But as the underdog there's the tendency to believe that you have to do it all yourself, that it’s all on your shoulders, all down to you.

Often this is the fear of looking weak by asking for help, or a lack of belief that anyone would turn around and say, “Sure, I’ll help you.”

The reasons not to seek support are many and compelling. But the single reason to seek support outweighs all of them: because you're not alone and you don’t have to do everything alone.

Because it works your confidence muscle

When you work-out, those lifts, presses, stretches and core exercises all combine to lose fat and tone muscle, and the same thing happens with your confidence.

The stretch inherent in reaching for something that’s just out of reach tones and builds confidence, and I love that I get to observe that happen in my clients.

It’s beautiful and goose-pimply, and working your confidence muscle is what makes reaching further, easier.

Because it proves that the value is in the journey

Underdogs understand that they won’t win all the time; that it’s the manner in which they engage in this moment, right now, that makes all the difference. That's the essence of self-efficacy and self-worth.

You can’t wait for everything to be right, or solid, or perfect, and when all there is is right now. You can’t pin your hopes and define your value on some outcome in the future. You have to find enough value in where you are and who you are right now, just as things are.

Being the underdog is living proof that the value is in the journey, because no matter what happens you still get to be whole, add value and do cool shit.

So if you’re an underdog, let me congratulate you. You’re the lucky one.

4. Let Yourself Be Seen

Let Yourself Be Seen

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If a tree falls in a wood and there’s nobody around to hear it fall, does it make a sound?

Yes, of course it bloody does. It's a massive great big tree falling down; that shit is going to be noisy as all hell.

My facetiousness is simply here to support the fact that choosing not to see something doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. Choosing not to hear something doesn’t change the fact that it makes a sound.

And sometimes in life, even though you’ll prefer not to be seen by others because there’s something you’d rather not see or hear yourself, you're still there.

Sometimes things go completely wrong and that warm wash of shame comes over you. 

Maybe a dream feels completely out of your reach and you don’t want to feel bad about not being up to it. Or perhaps you've been rejected by someone and you’ve learned to hide, so you can avoid getting hurt again.

As long as you hide that part of you that hurts, and hide the noise it makes, you think it will go away.

But it doesn’t.

It just becomes a rock in the river of your self-efficacy and self-worth, and all it does is to deprive yourself from feeling whole and showing that to the world.

If there was a guy among your circle of friends—let’s call him Kenny—who went around with his hands in front of his eyes pretending that people weren’t there, wouldn’t you want to have him quit it and just be present?

You could him up for a chat, and all you'd get down the line would be “La, la, la, la-la, la, la, can’t hear you, la, la-la…”. You'd head out to a movie with him, and he'd spend the whole damn picture with a bag over his head asking you what’s happening and whether Al Pacino’s in it. And then at the end of dinner, Kenny squeezes his eyes shut and says, “Bill? What bill? I can’t see a bill.”

Don't be like Kenny, because Kenny isn't taking part in life at all.

You might not want to see what’s there, because it makes you feel bad, or it hurts, or it's awkward. So it takes a little courage at first, to sweep back that curtain and see what you’ve been trying not to look at.

But what’s back there isn’t something to be ashamed about and doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just a part of you that you get to say “Hey” to before going about your day as best you can.

And of course, it's the precursor to letting someone else see you as you already are.

5. Measure Your Life in a Better Way

Measure Your Life in a Better Way

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Do you measure a life in pounds and ounces like it’s a lump of rump? 3 pounds of aged rump attracts quite a price, why shouldn’t the same apply to your tushie?

Do you measure it in feet and inches, like Tom Cruise's tailor or Trump's Doctor?

Or maybe you measure it by the weight of accumulated objects at the end of things. The person with the most stuff wins! Surely a photo-finish between Kylie Jenner and the Kardashians?

What about happiness, where does that fit? What if your self-efficacy and self-worth was measured by how happy you are or how many happy moments you’ve had? Surely that’s a decent indicator of size or scale—the more time you spend being happy has got to be a good thing, right?

Only, people like Harvey Weinstein and Vladimir Putin have spent a good amount of time with a smile on their face, and I don’t think you’d want to ask either of them round to your place for drinks.

Hm. So, what about the happiness that you create?

If you can create happiness rather than consume it, surely you’re doing some brilliant work and should get some kind of medal for being a lovely person. Right? Right? Isn’t that right?

Well, I see happiness as an individual's’ response to a moment in time.

It’s simply a choice you make about where you are and what’s going on for you, and in that way I don’t think you can necessarily bank your self-worth on creating happiness for someone else any more than you can create eyebrows for them. It’s down to them.

Okay, so weight, length, quantity and happiness are out. What does that leave?

Actually, I think that’s the perfect question to ask yourself – what do you leave?

What are you leaving behind you as you go through your day? What will be left behind you at the end of this year?

In “It’s A Wonderful Life“, George Bailey got to see what would happen if he was removed from the world; he got to see how things would turn out differently if he hadn’t been around to do all the things he’d done.

Things didn’t look so good in Bedford Falls without George, but it doesn’t have to be a Clarence-induced shift in the cosmos for you to have a legacy. Pretty much everything you do has an impact.

Step out of a hot bath and the level of water in the tub lowers. Climb out of bed in the morning and you leave behind an imprint in the pillow. Drink a glass of water and you leave some of yourself on the glass.

This is a better way to measure a life.

Not by things, and not by making your efficacy and worth conditional, but by the difference you make because of who you are.

George Bailey discovered the simple joy of being a father. The simple value in helping people in his work. The simple truth in being who he was.

Whether big or small, epochal or subtle, the simple act of showing up as yourself and honoring what matters to you has self-efficacy and self-worth embedded in it. And it has to be the most important and valuable measure there is.

Your Self-Efficacy and Self-Worth are all yours...

So many ideas. So many strategies. So many insights.

All of this is yours to take away and do something with. Otherwise we might as well not bother.

Your self-efficacy and self-worth belong to you. They're yours to nurture. Yours to shape. Yours to own.

Out of all the ideas here, what jumps out for you, or what's bubbling up?

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