Dr. Wall Says

Speak up, listen up, bridge the gap

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…

In graduate school my dissertation project explored the development of autonomy in adolescents with diabetes. The research topic was actually quite interesting, but years later what I find to be the most useful information gleaned from that dissertation is the clear definition of three concepts that were central to the issues that were being investigated; self esteem, self-efficacy and autonomy.

image courtesy of loverforbooks.blogspot.com
image courtesy of loverforbooks.blogspot.com

Self-esteem is a really nebulous concept. There has been quite a bit of research on the topic, but the best definition I have for self-esteem is the ability to accept who we are openly and without judgment. When I describe it to clients I usually say, that having good self-esteem means knowing what your strengths and your weaknesses are and being okay with yourself as you are. This doesn’t mean that you don’t strive to improve or overcome weaknesses or faults, but  neither do you beat yourself up or devalue yourself because of them.

If self-esteem were a sentence it would be, “I am good enough.” Note the distinction between that and what some people have mistakenly been trying to teach children in order to build self-esteem, which is, “I am special!”  The latter statement and the efforts to create that point of view do not lead to good self-esteem. If anything, the misguided attempts from parents, educators and other childcare providers to make children feel special over the past two decades has eroded the development of self-esteem in many individuals who realize that at the end of the day most of us are not really special, and that if everyone is special, than being special is actually nothing special.

Autonomy is the ability to function independently from others. Over the course of our life, and especially during adolescence, we develop autonomy from our parents. We learn how to think and take action without necessarily relying on them to do so. If autonomy were a sentence it would be “I can do it on my own.” It is every child’s job to work on developing appropriate levels of autonomy from their parents and parents’ job to let go of the reigns and give some autonomy to children. Helicopter parenting is an example of failure in this domain. In order to develop autonomy, we need to be allowed to try and fail, and re-try and plan on our own. Helicopter parents are so over involved in their children’s lives that they don’t give them autonomy. These children run the risk of being reliant on their parents far longer than they need to. Actually, one of the things they may fail to develop is self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is the belief that one is capable of doing something. Self-efficacious people know or understand their abilities and feel generally competent to complete a task. Albert Bandura coined the term in 1977, in his article, “Self-Efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change,” in which he defined self-efficacy as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.” Self-efficacy is such an important concept; it is central to self-esteem, to perseverance, motivation and success. If there were one sentence to express self-efficacy it would be “I think I can.” People who have strong self-efficacy are more likely to take on challenges, and develop strong commitment and interest in what they do. When faced with failure, they are more likely to try again because ultimately they see themselves as capable of figuring out the problem. Self-efficacy is what we want to be developing in our children and ourselves. Whether facing professional, academic or lifestyle goals, those of us who possess self-efficacy are more likely to move forward and actually have a chance at real success simply because we believe ourselves to be capable.

Stay tuned for more about how to build self-efficacy….

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Hi! I'm Dr. Alessandra Wall

I help smart driven women and forward-thinking companies bridge the gap & build real conversations.

Here on the ‘Dr. Wall Says’, I share tools, tips, and insights about speaking up, getting heard and how women can take up space and thrive in the 21st century.



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