In college I studied psychology and absolutely loved its theories. The field is so new and unknown that simply being able to describe how people behave is an accomplishment. Freud, the most famous psychologist, was really just a creative writer with a bit of fact.
I find something powerful in these theories. They allow me to make sense of a life that is often confusing and complex. For example, I recently fulfilled a dream by going from corporate blogger to personal blogger (this site).
It’s a great time for me but can be tough, and when I tell this to friends and family I receive a whole range of reactions, from support to disdain.
It becomes hard, at times, to find people to relate with. Most in my corporate network have trouble sympathizing with my new lifestyle, and I with them.
Complaining about your boss is no longer relevant to me, and hearing about annoying people at Starbucks seems petty to most.
It got me thinking about why this happens and I found an interesting psychology theory. One that applies to more than mid-career changes, but also to parents, teachers, and counselors.
Social Cognitive Career Theory
Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) represents an effort to extend Bandura’s social cognitive theory to the context of career development.
It is part of a revolution in psychology that believes people are an active agents in, and shapers of, their career development. This element of self-direction can be just as important as genetic and environmental factors, and puts an emphasis on self-exploration as a model for strong career decisions.
The theory draws on three basic constructs self-efficacy beliefs, outcome expectations, and goals.
Self-efficacy refers to personal beliefs about an individual’s capabilities to perform . They are context-specific, meaning they change depending on the topic (e.g. I can be a writer, but not an engineer).
It is surprising how many of us have strong beliefs about careers “we know we cannot do,” but where do these thoughts come from?
They are thought to develop from four sources:
- Personal accomplishments
- Vicarious experiences
- Social persuasion
- Physical and emotional states
Remember that these are beliefs not actual actions and results. Many of us will not try something, that we could be great at, simply because at some point in our life we developed a limiting belief.
The difference between self-efficacy and outcome expectations relates to beliefs about performance and consequences.
Self-efficacy is the belief that one can execute the behavior needed to produce the desired outcome (performance).
Outcome expectation is a person’s estimate that a certain behavior will produce a resulting outcome (consequence).
These expectations are thought to develop from:
- Performing that action in the past
- Observation of the outcomes produced by others
- Attention to self-generated outcomes (e.g. self-approval)
- Reaction of others to outcomes
- Sensitivity to physical cues during task performance (emotional disturbance, sense of well-being)
Goal-setting has been defined as deciding on specific outcomes of learning or performance. By setting personal goals, people help to organize, guide, and sustain their own behavior, even through overly long intervals, without external reinforcement.
Thus goals constitute a critical mechanism through which people exercise personal agency or self-empowerment.
The interplay between self-efficacy and outcome expectations is constant. The achievement of a goal increases self-efficacy and improve outcome expectations for the next time. Often creating a positive reinforcement loop, or, through failure to achieve a goal, a lack of new goals in a negative reinforcement loop.
One factor that seems to strongly effect goal-setting is specificity. One study found that those with high self-efficacy tended to set specific goals, whereas those with low self-efficacy tended to set vague ones.
Those with specific goals tended to achieve more, set more challenging goals, progress more, and evaluate personal progress more effectively.
Thinking about your own, or your children’s, self-efficacy is important. Do you think you can do it?
If not, what is stopping you, are you thinking about something that prevents you from trying it?
Do you set goals, specific ones, and do you feel comfortable doing so?
In my situation, I find myself living and dying by goals. I have to self-start my day and continue pushing through distractions.
Having a specific but challenging goal has defined my work. Even more, it guides me through tough times and when questions of self-doubt arise.
But, then again, I think I have a high self-efficacy and a strange lack of fear for the outcomes of my behavior. How about you, is there one area you excel in or have trouble with?