Don’t you just love the current pandemic gobbledygook? Reading too much of it can be harmful to you. Phrases like “social distancing,” “flattening the curve,” “frontline warriors,” and “quarantine,” just spin up frightful emotions. 

One that’s caught my attention is “essential business.” Today, it’s all about opening these “essential businesses” as quickly as possible. In this, my 31st daily emotional education piece, I will focus on an unusual essential business, yet one that’s always been quintessential and indispensable for living well. I believe our lives hang on this essential business.

This cardinal essential business is “self-efficacy,” believing in your confidence to deal with various circumstances and situations in life. This “essential business” was first described by psychologist Albert Bandura, Ph.D. in 1977.

Your belief in your ability to perform in difficult situations and to produce specific goals influences the energy you expend towards reaching for those goals.  Self-efficacy influences how you feel about yourself and helps shape how successful you will be in achieving your life’s goals. Your belief in your ability to succeed in a particular situation, how you think, act, and how you feel about yourself in the world are pretty essential, wouldn’t you agree? Wouldn’t you prefer to be motivated and committed to a lifelong healthy lifestyle, feel non-anxious, non-depressed, be socially connected, happy, filled with self-acceptance and have an optimistic outlook on life?  You’ll find these by keeping your self-efficacy essential business open 24/7.

From exercise to eating, smoking cessation to self-management of chronic disease, and alcohol use to pain management, self-efficacy is certainly an essential business, one that need remain open and at the forefront of our lives now during COVID-19, and always. It is at the forefront of our healthy behaviors. And like most of life, it rests on the notion, “the link is what your think.”

You can easily spot those with strong self-efficacy, especially during the challenges COVID-19 bring. They recover from any setback and disappointment quickly, they see opportunity during adversity, and they continue committed to achieving their goals regardless of the obstacles the pandemic has presented. 

People with a weaker sense of self-efficacy are those who are avoiding any challenging undertakings now, are focused on the negative, and are losing – or have lost – confidence in their ability to get through the strains of this time. 

Self-efficacy isn’t something you are born with. The good news is it’s a psychological skill you can build. Here are the four ingredients you’ll need;

         1.  Personal mastery experiences – your past successes improve your belief that you can do it again. “Hey, I’ve done this before with success.”

         2.  Vicarious social modeling – seeing others who are similar to you succeed will help. “If s/he can do it, I can do it.” 

         3.  Social persuasion – who doesn’t like compliments, high-fives, encouragement, and other positive reinforcements?  “You rock!”

         4.  Physiological responses – the way you perceive and interpret your moods, physical reactions, and stress levels will impact how you feel about your abilities in a particular situation. Yes, “the link is what you think.”

Here’s a quick 10 item scale, the “General Self-Efficacy Scale,” that you can take right now to measure your self-efficacy tank. 

Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 4:

1=Not at all true, 2=Hardly true, 3=Moderately true, 4=Exactly true

  1. I can always manage to solve difficult problems if I try hard enough
  2. If someone opposes me, I can find the means and ways to get what I want
  3. It is easy for me to stick to my aims and accomplish my goals
  4. I am confident that I can deal efficiently with unexpected events
  5. Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations
  6. I can solve most problems if I invest the necessary effort
  7. I can remain calm when facing difficulties because I can rely on my coping abilities
  8. When I am confronted with a problem, I can usually find several solutions
  9. If I am in trouble, I can usually think of a solution
  10. I can usually handle whatever comes my way

The higher your score, from 10 to 40, the greater the probablity that you’ll stick with your goals, have favorable emotions, be more optimistic in your outlook and create more satisfaction in your daily life…and see this COVID-19 time filled with opportunities to continue growing.

Here are some guidelines to grow your essential self-efficacy:

         1.  Challenge your negative self-assumptions – Is my thought true? Would a kind and helpful person say this to another person? If not, what makes me say this to myself? What do I get out of thinking this about myself? If I make myself feel badly, or abandon a healthy lifestyle by thinking this way about myself, how’s that helping me now? Make a list of at least five of your strengths and create other ways to manage your thoughts about living better now.

         2.  Ensure early success and celebrate every step forward – choose activities that you know for certain you’ll be successful in, then slowly move up the ladder, each time, achieving more and more to build your self-confidence and the “I can do it” attitude. Too many easy successes though may lead you to give up when you do bump into failure. So enthusiastically set challenging, achievable, realistic goals, and enjoy the process of moving forward.

         3.  Watch others succeed in the activity you want to take on – better if they are similar to you, so neighbors, friends, co-workers, family members, all can give you the boost in your self-efficacy level. Be careful, though, not to compare yourself to those who are way ahead – the compare and despair syndrome can be a killer. And remember, everyone began as a beginner.

         4.  Find a supportive, affirmative voice – experienced fitness and health coaches, emotional educators, physicians and others in health care are skilled in helping people find appropriate self-encouragement. Be on the lookout for positive feedback to strengthen your self-efficacy. 

While government and the public fight about what’s an essential business and what’s not, protest about how soon an essential business should reopen, your life hangs on this essential business. Keep it open 24/7.