“When you grow up, you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: And that is…everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you, and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”
– Steve Jobs, 1995
You might enjoy reading that somewhat famous quote again and again. If you are like most people, you will marvel at the elementary, yet deeply empowering words. You will be empowered by a feeling that you can do anything! You might like the quote so much that you will find it on youtube and watch it several times, progressively feeling your confidence build as you prepare to do whatever you set your mind to!
And then…you won’t. You will return to the same exact life you had before. You will go from “once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again,” to…being the same, again.
Why? What secret lies in those powerful words that touch us but still don’t succeed in emancipating us from the shackles of our current existence?
The solution is in understanding what touches you about Steve’s quote. He is highlighting a fundamental value that you need to do almost anything called self-efficacy; the belief that you can achieve what you set out to accomplish. Steve’s quote is a pithy and phenomenal tribute to his development of his own self-efficacy. He thought about the world as he knew it and decided that he was able to change it.
But if we hear Steve’s own observations, it can’t usually do anything constructive for us aside from create our internal ooohs and aaahhhs. Self-efficacy can’t usually be taught, so Steve’s own self-efficacious beliefs don’t transfer to us, and we are left unchanged.
Similarly, self-efficacy is an idea many parents have instinctively tried to instill into their children by reading them one of my childhood favorites, The Little Engine That Could. In case you haven’t read it recently, an engineless train filled with toys and goodies for children is stuck on one side of the mountain. Several ostensibly strong and able-bodied engines are asked to pull the train over the mountain to delight the boys and girls on the other side. But they refuse, denying that it is possible. The darling Little Engine heroically succeeds in pulling the entire train by repeating “I think I can…I think I can…I think I can” until it is over the mountain. The Little Engine is a paradigm of self-efficacy. Yet, most kids don’t pick up sufficient self-efficacy from reading that story, despite its charm.
Is there a way to build your own self-efficacy? Research suggests that you can. One powerful way is by choosing something you want to accomplish and then setting specific mini goals along the way. Whenever you reach a mini goal, you get mental feedback that you are able to achieve a bit of the task. When your brain realizes that, it automatically develops self-efficacy about part of that task, and it kindles a desire to accomplish, which propels you further toward your goal.
That sounds easy, right? Goal setting is all the rage in business, relationships, and personal development. But most goals you set won’t be enough to make you have self-efficacy. The mini goals you set need to follow what I call the PRS system to change your belief in yourself, which I modeled after research published by Dr. Dale H. Schunk of UNC/ Greensboro. The mini goals need to be: Proximate, Reasonably difficult, and Specific.
Proximate means that each mini goal should be close and attainable in the near future. Since you are using them to self-assess your ability and revel in small bits of progress, your mini goals need to be ones that you can meet frequently. For example, if you are learning a new language, setting a goal such as learning 5 – 10 words might be an empowering mini goal. It’s close so it can give feedback quickly. The next goal might be to learn another ten and to combine them for twenty. Mini goals that are near in time are short, and then become sweet when they are met.
Make sure that your goal is challenging enough. Your mind can appreciate when a mini goal you reached was tough to accomplish or when it was easy. Succeeding at a mini goal which was hard to do is a strong indicator of your capabilities. Initially, you might like having reached mini goals handed to you on a silver platter, but your true feelings of accomplishment will stem from achieving challenging goals that properly demonstrate your abilities.
Specific, concrete mini goals raise efficacy and motivation better than general goals. It is better for you to set a goal for jogging for 15 minutes or writing the first paragraph of a blog post than saying, “I will do my best” or “I will see how much I can do in an hour.” In fact, Dr. Schunk’s research found that a general goal such as “Do Your Best!”” or “Shoot for the Stars!” had no significant impact on motivation or efficacy at all, just like Steve Jobs’ moving quote.
Discover the power of self-efficacy through setting PRS mini goals. The next Windows release might not be modeled after you and your company. Still, “once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again!”
Steven J. Maybruch, LSW, is a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety, dating, and relationships. He is the creator of The Circle of Calm Program™, the first wristband/ e-book combination for creating confidence, positivity, and calm in kids and adolescents,and co-founder of The Relationship Couple, LLC.