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If recovery were a desert island, and you knew a) you’d be stranded there for a very long time and b) could only bring one thing … what would you bring?
If I could only take one thing with me, it would be courage. Courage in its most basic sense is “heart.” It’s the unwavering belief that you have what it takes to pull through even the most challenging of circumstances. People who are “courageous” are people who face their biggest fears and difficulties with a commitment to moving through them, regardless of how scary or daunting the hurdle.
“Self-efficacy” is the fancier clinical term that we therapists sometimes use to describe the same thing — namely, the belief that ultimately you can achieve successful recovery. Self-efficacy is key to confronting recovery with courage and to persevering through the rough patches. And research has shown that people with higher levels of self-efficacy are quicker to rebound from relapse and more likely to persevere in their recovery.
3 Tips for Building Self-Efficacy
You may be wondering if self-efficacy, as an unwavering belief in yourself, is an inborn trait that you’re just born with, or if you can cultivate it. My firm belief, based on years of working with clients, is that anyone can cultivate self-efficacy. It may take time and work. In this sense, it’s not dissimilar to building up a savings account for retirement or working a weight loss program until you shed those 20 pounds. But the good news is courage isn’t just a trait that’s relegated to a few people with the right DNA or personality type. Anybody can become courageous when they put in the investment of time and hard work.
On that note, here are three tips for building self-efficacy, starting today:
1. Start by reading Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, if you’ve not already read it
Louise Hay is an acclaimed spiritual writer and healer whose contributions in the area of self-affirmation have been a big help to my clients. In You Can Heal Your Life, Hay lays a helpful foundation for her readers regarding what it means to take responsibility for your health and life, by overcoming negative self-perceptions that get in the way of believing in yourself.
2. Come up with two to three simple, personalized self-affirmations that emotionally resonate for you
Self-affirmations are not very helpful if they are too general and don’t pertain to your particular situation, so be deliberate about taking as much time as you need to reflect on two to three statements that are simple enough to remember but also resonate deeply for you at the emotional level.
Being able to resonate emotionally with the self-affirmations you choose will be important, too. Our emotions drive so much of our behavior after all. Say, for example, I’m trying to get someone to change or stop a particular behavior, like texting while driving. Typically, simply telling somebody to stop texting while driving won’t work very well, or at least not consistently in a way that sticks. But if I can tell them a heartbreaking story that connects deeply with them at the emotional level, there’s a much better chance I’ll be successful at helping them change their behavior. A similar dynamic pertains to self-affirmations: they need to resonate with you emotionally.
If you’re having trouble landing on three self-affirmations, a quick Google searchwill turn up more than enough ideas. Sometimes it can help to speak with a therapist or trusted friend in recovery, too: they may be able to help you notice certain external behaviors that may be clues to negative core beliefs that need changing.
3. Practice these self-affirmations daily as often as you can
Repetition isn’t just “the mother of all learning.” It’s also the key that unlocks the door to the subconscious mind, which plays an incredibly powerful role in the choices and behaviors we make. There is a general consensus within the scientific community that 95 percent of our cognitive functions (our decisions, actions, emotions and behavior) stem from our unconscious mind. That means our conscious mind is only responsible for roughly five percent of our decisions, actions, emotions and behavior. But the unconscious mind, like the rest of the brain, is also plastic and can change over time with the inputs it receives.
That makes the regular repetition of these positive self-affirmations of central importance. Start off your morning by turning off your alarm clock and repeating your affirmation(s) in front of the mirror, and say it like you mean it (even if you don’t). Say them to yourself when you’re commuting or during a lunch break. Put them to music and dance to them when nobody is looking. Or sing them in the shower when nobody is listening. Over time, you’ll notice a change.