How to go from “I think I can” to “I know I can”
Psychology Today, Michelle Gielan
January 2011

If life were to present you with a challenge or if something were to go wrong unexpectedly, would you be able to handle it? Think about that for a minute.

You might be thinking: If what were to go wrong? How can I answer that if I don’t know exactly what we are talking about?

The key is to think beyond any particular challenge, setback, or roadblock. The real question is: no matter what were to happen to you or to those around you, would you be able to handle it and prevail?

When we answer yes, that often means we have a high degree of what’s called self-efficacy. While it is not something we often talk about, self-efficacy plays an important role in life. It is the belief that when challenges arise, we are able to use our skills and abilities to navigate situations and triumph.1 We believe we are resourceful and capable to face anything. It is an important ingredient in making positive changes in life, including accomplishing those pesky New Year’s resolutions. And so it is no wonder researchers have found that having a high degree of self-efficacy is linked to greater levels of well-being and happiness.


Our minds are free: When we believe that we can triumph no matter what, we don’t spend time worrying about all the things that could go wrong. Instead we can focus our attention on what is happening right now or the positive future we hope to create.

We conserve our energy: With self-efficacy, scientists have found that we approach challenges more calmly.1 Less anxiety means we expend less of our precious psychological energy.

We take action: People high in self-efficacy are more likely to confront their fears or stressors. That means that we are often more likely to get past a hurdle sooner.2

We bounce back more quickly: Research has shown that those of us with greater self-efficacy will take positive steps to fix our moods, making us more ready for the next challenge.3


The great thing about our level of self-efficacy is that we can raise it with a little bit of work. Try the following two exercises to help boost your belief in yourself and your abilities.

#1 – Recall times when you came out on top. Set aside 20 minutes a day, twice a week, for one month. During that time, in a quiet place, reflect on times when you’ve accomplished a goal you set for yourself or when you’ve triumphed over life’s curveballs. Explore in writing what happened, what resources or skills you used, and why you were able to get through it. Do you have a particular strength that helped? How were you resourceful? How do you feel now about what you accomplished? A supportive friend or family member might be able to help identify some of your strengths. List as many examples as you can remember.

#2 – Search for stories of people who have overcome a big challenge or made a positive change. Stories of inspiration are powerful tools we can use to boost our own self-efficacy. “If he can do it, so can I,” goes the old saying. Look for real life examples of people who have persevered or overcome challenges you find daunting. Maybe a friend lost 80 pounds? Perhaps a co-worker closed the deal she had been working on for months? Ask those people if they will share their stories with you. Afterwards, explore on paper how they managed to persevere or accomplish their goal.


We are often stronger than we give ourselves credit for. Celebrate your successes and the accomplishments of those around you. Learn from these achievements just as you would learn from your mistakes. Take the best of what has happened in the past to help boost your belief that no matter what, you will figure out a solution and reach your goals. You will handle any challenge and prevail!