How to Build Self-Efficacy (2019)

How to Build Self-Efficacy

Motivation to Build Self-Efficacy

This blog explains How to Build Self-Efficacy to boost work productivity and positivity in life. And also explores how to build Self-Esteem to improve self-efficacy. 


Exploring Self-Esteem


Self-esteem, the belief that one has value and worth as a person or healthy self-respect, is an important basic need of human beings. It drives us to set a high bar for our achievements and then measure how well we are performing.


In the right dose with a positive voice, it is a powerful source of productive motivation, spurring us forward to achieve great things.


However, if performance falls short of one’s internal standard, this drive can turn into an inner critic and a potent source of negative emotions. As a result, it can have a negative impact on one’s ability to improve and maintain well-being.


The benefits of high self-esteem include:

  • Facilitates greater resilience through persistence in the face of challenge
  • Leads to the greater initiative
  • Promotes leadership as those with higher esteem are more willing to speak up in group situations
  • Has a relationship to feelings of happiness


Those with low self-esteem are “more prone than others to get sick or suffer other physical problems in connection with stressful daily events”. Additionally, those with low self-esteem may benefit more from therapy than from coaching, and an appropriate referral should be considered.


However, there is a growing movement that the focus on fostering high self-esteem, largely emphasized in American culture in the middle of the 21st century, is also not all good. High self-esteem can also lead to more undesirable outcomes:

  • Narcissism, coupled with aggression
  • Increased focus on social comparison
  • An inflated view of how others perceive the person with high self-esteem
  • A willingness to be more critical of others
  • A greater willingness to experiment with potentially risky health behaviors


If esteem is based on the social comparison, rather than one’s true sense of value, it is difficult to avoid a judgmental mindset, with the labeling of others as “good,” “bad,” “better,” or “worse.” Additionally, as others progress, the goals of the client would continually need to shift to keep up with the increased competition.


When self-esteem is grounded in a client’s comparison of self to others in their environment, their goals are driven by the success (or failure) of others rather than their own autonomous motivation.


Contingent self-esteem is experienced by people who are preoccupied with questions of worth and esteem and who see their worth as dependent on reaching certain standards, appearing in certain ways, or accomplishing certain goals.


This is especially detrimental in the context of health and wellness behaviors and goals if clients are motivated by external drivers such as the desire to please and appear worthy to others rather than experiencing autonomous motivation.


When external factors are instigators of change, coupled with thoughts such as, “I want to please you” or “I will get in trouble if I don’t do it,” learning, creativity, and task performance are diminished.


In coaching, if a client’s self-esteem is dependent on the perception of the coach, the praise received from the coach, and the success of a goal, the pressure to meet expectations undermine the success and lowers authentic enthusiasm.


Self-Compassion: How to Suffer Well and Calm One’s Inner Critic

Kristin Neff proposes that self-compassion includes three elements: self-kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness.


Self-kindness requires recognition that the human experience inevitably includes suffering, heartache, embarrassment, disappointment, and failure.


When one practices self-kindness amidst such trials, one chooses to be gentle and forgiving rather than angry and self-critical. This kindness may need to be accompanied by a willingness to be vulnerable and be truly seen, imperfections and all.


Brené Brown suggests that shame is bred by harsh, self-critical judgment and is often kept hidden and secret to hide vulnerability. Fortunately, a good coaching relationship founded on trust and authenticity can help a client be more willing to experience and share vulnerability followed by self-kindness.


Having a sense that one is part of the greater common human experience, rather than feeling isolated and individualized, also contributes to greater self-compassion. When a client is aware that he or she is likely not alone in experiencing such negative feelings, it becomes easier to accept those feelings.


Additionally, it is important to acknowledge that one’s situation is impacted by the environment as much as it is by individual choice. The social context and environment (people, places, things) in which a client life is equally important to address when considering behavior change and when identifying solutions for improved life experience.


Self-compassion involves openness to experiencing the full range of human emotions so that they are acknowledged and honored without suppression, avoidance, exaggeration, or rumination. The practice of mindfulness allows for a nonjudgmental and observational approach to one’s thoughts and feelings.


Self-Compassion Leads to Self-Determination

The benefits of self-compassion are numerous, especially related to a client’s need for self-determination. First, experiencing a connectedness with others—acknowledging the interconnectedness of all humankind—supports one’s most basic need for relatedness.


When behaviors are driven by love, rather than fear, feelings of confidence and a sense of security are more likely to take hold. Frenzy is tamed, leading to a calmer heart and mind.


When a client is calm, he or she is better able to make wise and intentional choices informed by emotional intelligence. Autonomy is supported when one is encouraged to be reflective and make choices in line with one’s values, needs, and motivations.


Better behavioral choices lead to an increased chance of success, or mastery experiences, which completes the circle in building confidence or a sense of competency for the next task.


Nonviolent Communication: A Model for Expressing Compassion

Several useful tools for supporting compassion— both for the client and coach—can be found in the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s framework of nonviolent communication.


An empathetic connection can bring clients out, helping them acknowledge their feelings and needs, leading to a deeper awareness of the client and a more connected coaching relationship. Once this is accomplished, there’s no limit to the constructive actions a client can take and the behavior changes they can make.


Defining Empathy

Defining Empathy

Empathy is a respectful understanding of another person’s experience, including his or her feelings, needs, and desires. It is not a prelude to the work of coaching; it is the work of coaching.


Through the respectful and appreciative understanding of a client’s experiences, the coach supports the client in expanding his or her awareness, creating openness, and facilitating change. 


All coaching relationships must begin with the premise that change is facilitated by a calm, safe, and judgment-free relational space in which people are free to honestly share their thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires without fear of judgment, ridicule, or pressure.


This is especially true when clients experience a seemingly irresolvable conflict between what they want and where they currently are. The more a client feels “stuck” and unable to move, the more important it is for coaches to express empathy and to appreciate the discomfort of being on a fence.


Although coaches widely recognize the importance of creating such a generative relational space with clients, it is sometimes difficult to maintain a calm, safe, judgment-free posture in the face of health-risk behaviors. It becomes even more difficult when those behaviors persist in spite of a coach’s best efforts to support self-responsibility and behavior change.


As the coach, it is tempting to push the client hard to make change happen. It is important to remember, however, that this can actually interfere with empathy and provoke resistance to change.


People often confuse empathy with pity and sympathy. Understanding the distinction is important for coaches to learn. In the context of coaching, sympathy means identifying with someone’s experience primarily on an emotional level.


Sympathizing with someone means “I feel your pain” or “I share your joy.” Sympathizing with someone who feels sad can make us feel sad. The same goes for every other emotion, both positive and negative. That’s because emotions are contagious.


Although such “emotional contagion” is a dynamic shared by all animals, using some of the same faculties as empathy, it doesn’t involve listening with the whole being. Indeed, sympathy often interferes with listening because it turns our attention more toward our own feelings, needs, and desires than to those of the other.


The result can be overlooking the clients’ needs and desires. That’s why, although expressing pity and sympathy can help at times, it does not have the transformational power of empathy.


Pity is also not useful in the coaching relationship as it means grieving someone’s experience, usually because of circumstantial hardships. For example, we may pity a starving child or an outcast member of society.


Such sorrow can lead to charitable actions, such as giving assistance or showing mercy. Although helpful, these actions, which stem from viewing and relating to people as casualties, usually do not serve to empower them.


A person who pities someone communicates in effect, “I feel sorry for you.” That attitude undermines self-esteem and has no place in coaching. Few people like to be pitied, no matter how difficult the situation.


Coaching comes from the framework of believing in the client’s ability to learn from and grow in any situation. Pitying runs counter to this framework, implying fateful resignation.


Empathy is not about feeling sorry for someone; it’s about understanding and respecting where someone is coming from. Empathy necessitates both emotional and cognitive awareness to appreciate a person’s experience, to connect respectfully, and to give voice to what people may be feeling, needing, and desiring.


Empathy requires full engagement and deep appreciation. There is no hurry or judgment in empathy; rather, there is a safe, calm, no-fault zone where people can discover and develop their truths.


Whereas sympathy is typically not discretionary, welling up in us like an intruder in ways that are sometimes helpful and sometimes not, empathy treasures emotion as a guest. Its impact is to open clients up to significant learning, growth, and change.


When we are empathetic, we say in effect, “I respect your pain” or “I celebrate your joy.” To do so, we recognize the emotion for what it is and appreciate what it has to teach us. This requires us to learn and use the language of empathy.


Expressing empathy requires us to develop a different language. It necessitates the conscious engagement of emotional intelligence and the intuitive dance of dialogue. It takes real mastery, especially when people are acting out their pain in hostile or destructive ways.


Coaching case

Katty Well: “I am having such a difficult time with my manager. I think I’m going to get fired from my job, and then how will I afford to eat all of the healthy foods we’ve been discussing?”


Coach Steve with pity: “Oh, you poor thing! It is just terrible the way your manager treats you! You should win a prize just for putting up with that!”


Coach Steve with sympathy: “I completely understand. I remember when I worked for someone just like that about 10 years ago. It is so frustrating to not be understood; I remember it just like it was yesterday, but I got through it and so can you.”


Coach Steve with empathy: “It does sound like a difficult time, and I hear how worried you are while also really wanting to keep your positive momentum going.”


Expressing Empathy with Nonviolent Communication


The NVC model for expressing empathy assumes four important distinctions:


Make observations, not evaluations. By limiting our descriptions to what can be perceived by the five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch) in specific times and places, we stave off the tendency to judge, exaggerate, interpret, generalize, catastrophize, assume, or criticize. For example, “I failed to exercise last week” is an evaluation. “I went to the gym one time last week” is an observation.


Express feelings, not thoughts. Many are in the habit of confusing thoughts and feelings. Although grammatically correct, none of the following sentences express feelings: “I feel like a failure,” “I feel it is useless,” “I feel that my boss is controlling,” and “I feel inadequate.”


These are thoughts masquerading as feelings, and they are not useful in expressing empathy. NVC refers to them as “faux feelings.”


Identify needs, not strategies. The distinction between universal human needs and specific strategies to meet those needs represents the crux of NVC. “Needs are more than the things we can’t live without. They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and more meaningful experience as a human.


Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us,” such as the need for competence, connection, safety, or love.


Although grammatically correct, none of the following sentences expresses universal needs: “I need you to stop at the store,” “I need to work out every day,” and “I need to get going on this project.” These are strategies for meeting universal needs. They do not represent the needs themselves.


Make requests, not demands. Once we’ve become clear about the feelings and underlying needs, it’s time to either confirm our understanding or agree on an action.


Either way, NVC uses the language of request: “Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say?” or “What agreements would you be willing to make with regard to exercise in the coming week?” It is important to respect both the autonomy of the person and the possibility of the moment.


Undergirding Rosenberg’s method is an awareness of a causal connection between personal feelings and universal needs (i.e., “When universal needs are being met, people feel good. When they aren’t being met, people feel bad.”). These feelings and needs are often below the surface. No change is possible until and unless those needs are fully and respectfully recognized and expressed.


The Role of Empathy for the Coach

An awareness of one’s own feelings and needs is crucial if coaches want to be an empathic presence for their clients. A mindful coaching practice includes the intentional practice of acknowledging one’s own feelings and needs outside of and within the coaching relationship.


When coaches find it difficult to give empathy, it probably means they are not receiving enough empathy themselves.



Both regular self-empathy and mutual empathy among significant others are essential practices for authentic coaching presence because a coach will not be able to be fully present with a client unless he or she can come to work free of distraction from beckoning unmet needs.


Verbal Persuasion—Evoking Change Talk

Verbal Persuasion

Many different environmental factors impact self-efficacy; two of the most important are the things people say to us (verbal persuasion) and the things people do around us (vicarious experience). Verbal persuasion is not about wearing the “expert hat” and telling clients what they should do. That typically generates both resistance and resentment.


Wearing the appreciative hat and stimulating a client to discover what they can do, however, is an entirely different matter. Inputs such as these tend to enrich life and generate movement as clients become persuaded that they have what it takes to initiate and maintain the desired behavior.


However, the more coaches try to persuade clients of what they should do, the more resistance coaches evoke, which decreases readiness to change. To assist clients to become persuaded with-out provoking resistance, coaches communicate confidence in the ability of clients to reach their vision and achieve their goals.


When that confidence is heartfelt, sincere, and based on client strengths, it helps bolster self-efficacy. Although it may take time and many such verbal inputs from a variety of socially interactive phenomena, client inertia can be overcome. Put simply, the coach’s belief in a client increases a client’s belief in himself or herself.


It is the work of the coach not only to assist clients with the decisional balance of weighing pros and cons but also to support clients in acquiring the belief that they have what it takes to move forward and that life will support them in wonderful ways once they get started.


As we have mentioned, Dave Buck of CoachVille frames the persuasive work of coaching in the terms, “My certainty is greater than your doubt.” Such persuasion involves all aspects of being, including the cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual domains. It hinges on the track record and credibility of the coach and the quality of the coaching relationship.


Albert Bandura would caution against inauthentic, or unrealistic, persuasion suggesting that “cheerleading” for behaviors that aren’t realistic undermines a client’s progress and the coach’s efforts.


Bandura’s recognition that verbal persuasion must be appropriately scaled reflects the basic insight of the transtheoretical model’s stages of change as well as Bill’s work on flow. Masterful coaches dance with their clients to set appropriate, stage-specific challenges and to identify the relevant skills to be learned over time.


When this happens, the coaching relationship can remain indefinitely productive because there are always new challenges to tackle and new skills to learn. AI is an especially powerful framework and process for assisting clients to become persuaded that they have what it takes to do what they want to do.


By evoking the stories of their best experiences and exploring their core values, strengths, generative conditions, and heartfelt wishes, clients become empowered to dream, design, and deliver their destinies.


When clients express resistance, the TTM, NVC, and Motivational Interviewing models are invaluable. Resistance may come from the coach’s inaccurate assessment of a client’s readiness to change, setting a challenge that does not match the client’s capacity or formidable internal and external obstacles.


Resistance may also develop when coaches speak from the expert position, telling clients what they “need,” should, or “have” to do to reach their goals.


Motivational Interviewing uses many tools to avoid provoking resistance, including expressing empathy, silence, attentiveness, open questions, as well as reflective listening statements. These Motivational Interviewing tools have the ability to shift the client from resistance talk to change talk, thus increasing the client’s perceived self-efficacy.


Bandura notes that it is far easier to discourage someone with our words than it is to encourage them. The wrong words spoken at the wrong time can undermine confidence and produce disappointing results.


Wearing the expert that can overwhelm and intimidate rather than empower and inspire. It’s better to listen and remain silent than to push the wrong buttons in our attempt to get things moving.


Mindful Listening

Mindful Listening

Mindful listening is perhaps the most important of all coaching skills. It is certainly a critical component in building trust and rapport with a client. Additionally, it is the most important element in improving the quality of the conversation between coach and client. When coaches are distracted, whether physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually, the coaching relationship suffers.


Listening to that brings full, nonjudgmental awareness of what someone is saying in the present moment is the hallmark of great coaching. Indeed, there may be no other relationship in our clients’ lives where they are heard in the way they are heard by coaches. People seldom have the undivided, nonjudgmental attention of anyone, even for brief periods of time.


Trying to do two things at once may cause us to lose strands of the conversation and degrade the quality of our inquiries and reflections. And clients can tell when coaches are not 100% present. If coaches fail to pay full attention, their energy becomes less focused and engaging.


Clients will often accept this low level of focus and engagement because it is the norm in modern culture. It’s up to the coach to take the conversation to a higher level by paying full attention.


Paying attention is about more than just listening to or looking at the client. In the over-stimulating environment of today, brains have become “wired into a state of frenzy and chronic distraction”


Coaches and clients need to retrain their brains to sustain attention to be truly mindful in the present moment. Mindfulness is the nonjudgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment. Mindfulness is a way to break free from being on autopilot or from being frenzied and caught up in the core emotions of anxiety, sadness, and anger.


By paying attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, relationships, and environments without judgment or condemnation, it is possible to wake up to the experience of what’s going on around us and within us while it’s actually happening. This frees one to make informed decisions about new directions. Therefore, mindfulness is important for both the coach and client in the coaching session.


Mindful listening involves listening for the meaningful whole, including such diverse elements as a client’s best experiences, core values, significant moments, feelings, current challenges, and future dreams. In addition, the stories clients tell enable coaches to tap into their intuition in order to generate better questions and more evocative reflections.


These are the raw materials for coaching. Masterful coaches listen to the words and to the truth beyond the words. It is important to not only listen to the facts (cognitive listening) but also to the feelings and needs behind the facts (effective listening). “The facts, ma’am, just the facts,” may be suitable for detective work, but it is never enough for coaching.


Clients’ moods, emotions, tones, energy, body language, hesitations, and pacing provide important clues. Listening to trends and repeated patterns can lead to important insights.


Here are some quick tips for mindful listening:

  • Do not think about what you will say next until your client has spoken the last word of his or her thought.
  • Pause after your client has spoken.
  • Weave the client’s last words into the next step.
  • Weave the client’s story into later steps.
  • Listen for emotions as well as facts.
  • Do not interrupt (except in the rare moment when your client wanders off track).
  • Mirror what the client has said to confirm your understanding.


Mindfulness is also a critical skill for coaches in managing their emotions during coaching sessions. The more coaches are aware of their inner experience, the less they will allow their own experiences, feelings, opinions, and worries to get in the way of being present in the moment.


When clients trigger an emotional response for the coach, a mindful coach will notice those feelings and gently set them aside to stay focused wholly on the client.


Following the coaching session, the coach can then examine those feelings alone or with a mentor coach. Coaches must silence the voices in their own heads so they can actively pay attention to the voice of the client. “Listen until I don’t exist” is the motto of great coaches.


That’s because they set aside their agendas in order to pay singular attention to their clients’ agendas. Coaches describe the experience as both liberating and deep. Mindful listening is transformational, not only for the client but also for the coach.


Coaching Case

Coach Steve has had a busy day of coaching; clients were scheduled for him back to back with barely a moment’s break in between. As if that weren’t enough to make him feel frenzied, Steve just finished a session with his most difficult client and is beginning to regret one of the questions he asked his client because it seemed to take the session off track.


However, Steve has another coaching session with Lynda Well in two minutes and knows that he needs to be mindful and calm for her. He takes three slow, deep breaths, being mindful of each breath in and out.


Next, he focuses on a mantra: “I am grateful for this opportunity to connect and make a difference. I am open and curious about what will unfold. I choose to be present.”


By increasing mindfulness during coaching sessions, clients learn to increase mindfulness in their daily experiences. They naturally grow to pay more attention not only to eating and exercising but also to the many dynamics of health, wellness, and life.


How Coaches Handle a Client’s Negative Emotions

 Client’s Negative Emotions

Emotional states and the balance of negative and positive emotions have an enormous impact on the brain’s capacity for learning. Coaches assist clients in developing optimal emotional states to support learning. The first step toward an “organized mind” is to tame an overdose of negative emotional frenzy that many people deal with daily.


Negative emotions reduce the brain’s ability to learn, to take in new knowledge and skills, by impairing the function of the prefrontal cortex, impairing access to working memory which is the raw material for creativity. This hampers curiosity, cognitive agility, and creative and strategic thinking.


A study of physician empathy concluded that patients whose physicians have high empathy scores were significantly more likely to have good control of blood sugar and cholesterol levels than physicians with low empathy scores. A coach’s compassion makes an important contribution in helping clients handle their negative emotions.


Most people, particularly those who have chronic diseases and feel badly about their personal contribution to a disease process, have a vocal inner critic, a voice that says “I can’t do this,” “I’m not good enough,” and “I failed.” Self-criticism is a potent source of negativity that depletes brain resources, making it hard to move forward.


When coaches radiate warmth, patience, and empathy, clients are better able to let go of the past, accept themselves, and feel self-compassion. It can be difficult for health professionals to be patient and empathetic when people are not making progress, and yet acceptance and empathy are essential if coaches are to help clients loosen the grip of negative emotions and self-talk.


Kristin Neff a psychologist studying self-compassion, who started a self-compassion movement, has studied the value of self-compassion as a method of processing negative emotions and suffering well. Self-compassion toward one’s negative emotions leads to a softer, kinder motivation that improves the brain’s ability to learn and change.


Unfortunately, fear of failing and of being a failure is not an optimal source of motivation. In contrast, Neff’s formula for self-compassion is an excellent guide for coaches;


It starts with a mindful acceptance of negative emotions, followed by a heartfelt connection to others who share similar negative emotions, and, lastly, self-kindness, perhaps crossing one’s hands over the heart area for a moment.


Goleman suggests that there are two types of emotional reactions: low road and the high road. Low-road reactions occur automatically, such as when we hear a sudden noise in the night and our heart jumps. High-road reactions occur when we reappraise the situation, halting the further release of stress hormones, adrenaline, and cortisol.


Reappraisal dampens the overactive amygdala (the inner “uh oh” voice). When we reappraise events, we are more likely to remember the content of those events. When we can mindfully distinguish between an event and our interpretations of it, we are setting the stage for optimistic reappraisal.


The reappraisal process is a matter of becoming aware of often unconscious interpretations, bringing relevant filters (values, beliefs, culture) to consciousness and introducing positive changes in our perspectives.


A task of a coach then is to support clients in making reappraisal a conscious, ongoing process. Optimistic reappraisals are important in building a client’s internal resources. Reappraisal is not about suppressing emotions. In fact, suppression leads to higher levels of negative emotions and worsening disease symptoms.


We are also vulnerable to errors and poor judgments when brain function is impaired by fear. 

The coaching conversation can bring this often unconscious process to the conscious mind, where it can be named and normalized. Calming the amygdala by naming the threat enables more constructive activity in the problem-solving portion of the brain.


Fredrickson has shown that positive emotions improve attention, open-mindedness, creativity, and the ability to reach a strategic perspective.


Furthermore, when we are able to attain and sustain a positive emotion to negative emotion ratio above 3:1, our level of resilience rises to enable our ability to adapt and change. Positive emotions are vital for brain learning in the moment and for a client’s change success over time.


In each coaching session, coaches create an oasis for clients, one that is calm, mindful, undistracted, and positive. Coaches also help clients become more self-compassionate toward their negative emotions and inner critics and develop a level of positive emotions needed for curiosity and creativity, leading to new insights and possibilities.


Coaches support clients in learning from their behavioral experiments to substitute curiosity for negative self-talk that can come from perceived failure.