(This is the first in a series of columns from Northeast State’s Dr. J. Michael Ramey, Evening Coordinator at the Kingsport Center for Higher Education).
Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air. ~ John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), 6th President of the United States
By Dr. J. Michael Ramey
Students who do not fit the profile of the traditional undergraduate have always faced a unique set of obstacles and difficulties. Fortunately, the Tennessee Reconnect initiative is helping to remove what is perhaps the chief obstacle for many adult learners: the cost of tuition.
Through this series, I hope to spotlight some characteristics of these adult learners and promote understanding of issues faced by them as well as the wider college community.
This first post will focus on something called self-efficacy (accent on the eff as in effort). That’s a five-dollar word for a fairly simple concept – “how well I think I can execute some course of action.” For example, if you have high self-efficacy it means you are confident that you will succeed.
This ties in directly with the quote from Mr. Adams, above: you are more likely to persevere if you are confident in your likelihood of success. Conversely, if you lack confidence in your future success, the “magical talisman” loses power.
It may be comforting to know, however, that one’s level of self-efficacy can change over time. In other words, you aren’t stuck with a once-for-all number.
In fact, according to leading expert in the field Albert Bandura, there are four factors that can significantly increase or decrease one’s self-efficacy. The first is known as ‘enactive attainment.’ Every time we master a skill or unit of knowledge our overall confidence that we can achieve increases; when we fall short, our confidence decreases.
The second factor is known as “modeling.” In this case, our self-efficacy grows when we watch someone else succeed. Moreover, the factor is enhanced when we view ourselves as similar to the person.
Social persuasion, the third factor, carries the most potential for negative influence. While it is possible for others to increase our self-efficacy through direct encouragement, direct discouragement from others is more powerful. Unfortunately, it appears that the average person is more likely to believe discouraging remarks than encouraging ones.
The fourth factor encompasses several physical signs of distress, known collectively as physiological factors. These factors include sweaty palms, shaking, nervous stomach and more. While the factors have little effect on people with high self-efficacy, those with already low self-efficacy are likely to interpret these physical phenomena as signs of inability. Their level of confidence plummets further.
First, pursue opportunities for mastery and success in your daily life, even small ones. Every time you complete a task successfully, whether it’s a household chore, a craft project, or even a video game level, you are contributing to feelings of confidence in your ability to achieve. If you don’t already, try keeping a daily success log in which you document these small victories. Every time you look back at the log you will experience an additional boost in confidence.
Second, search for individuals who you consider similar to yourself and who have achieved what you wish to achieve – in this case, an academic degree. If you view the degree earner as “just like you,” the impact on self-efficacy will be greater.
Third, avoid any person who tries to discourage you from achieving your goal. If the person cannot be avoided completely then at the very least minimize contact. And while you’re at it, minimize contact with any kind of negativity, even if the person is not actively discouraging you. At the same time, surround yourself with positive people who encourage you.
Fourth, when it comes to physiological factors just realize that sweaty palms, and the like, are not indicators of ability. Even the greatest sports champions get butterflies before the big game. All these physical signs are really saying is that achieving a goal is important to you.
Please leave a comment and let me know if you’ve put some of these tips into practice. Also, please let me know which future topics you would like to see covered. Next month I’ll be taking a look at some traits that are common among adult learners. Hope you’ll join me then!