There are many reasons clients hire personal trainers. Individualized program design, accountability, to gain knowledge about specific equipment, effective workouts, injury rehabilitation or prevention are all superb reasons. But to learn how to believe in themselves is a skill that flies under the radar.
The concept of self-efficacy is central to psychologist Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory, which emphasizes the role of observational learning, social experience, and reciprocal determinism in the development of personality. According to Bandura, a person’s attitudes, abilities, and cognitive skills comprise what is known as the self-system. This system plays a major role in how we perceive situations and how we behave in response to different situations. Self-efficacy is an essential part of this self-system.
People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:
- View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
- Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
- Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
- Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments
People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:
- Avoid challenging tasks
- Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
- Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
- Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities
Self-efficacy is a concept I've been working on personally and with my clients for the last year. It seems to be a common theme amongst clients to want to avoid discussing nutrition or regular workout routines because it's viewed as challenging and difficult. The level of self efficacy reflects the confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment.
As fitness professionals, imagine the possibilities for our clients when we focus on increasing their self confidence and improving mental attitudes! It could impact every aspect of their lives, not just fitness related goals.
So, where does self-efficacy come from? According to Bandura, there are four major sources of self-efficacy.
1. Mastery Experiences
"The most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences," Bandura explained. Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. However, failing to adequately deal with a task or challenge can undermine and weaken it.
As personal trainers, effective goal setting is a great way to
-build self-efficacy; effective meaning measurable and realistic
-carefully select short and long term goals to help establish a set path to achieve even the smallest accomplishments.
2. Social Modeling
Witnessing other people successfully completing a task is another important source of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, "Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers' beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed."
As a personal trainer, you may help your clients select role models. Professional athletes, support groups, introducing them to past or current clients, friends and/or family that have had success in similar goals. Creative ideas like making a collage of activities and role models to put on the fridge or in their home gym. Keep in mind what works for others may not work for your client. The concept behind this is "If he/she can do it, I can do it!"
3. Social Persuasion
Bandura also asserted that people could be persuaded to believe they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand.
As personal trainers, I believe this is the most important aspect of our interactions with our clients. Together you have set realistic and measurable goals and it's part of our job to keep them motivated. Increasing the awareness to their "self-talk" is key. While in session you can reinforce these beliefs by using their name and their goals while performing difficult exercises or tasks. You could try introducing the tools of positive affirmations and positive self-talk.
"You're doing great, Sandra! This exercise is strengthening your core and getting you in shape for bikini season! I know it's challenging and you're doing it!"
"I really appreciate your honesty in your food journal, Sandra. It's important that I'm fully aware of what you're doing on your own time so we can accomplish your goal of decreasing body fat percentage by 2% in the next 6 weeks. You are doing great!"
4. Psychological Responses
Our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions and stress levels can all impact how a person feels about their personal abilities in a particular situation. A person who becomes extremely nervous before speaking in public may develop a weak sense of self-efficacy in these situations. However, Bandura also notes "it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted." By learning how to minimize stress and elevate mood when facing difficult or challenging tasks, people can improve their sense of self-efficacy.
This aspect may be the most difficult to monitor. Personal trainers face the challenge of meeting with their clients only several hours a week. This might not allow us to be aware of the situations causing our clients stress, as well as their reaction to it.
What we can do is listen carefully when we are with them. Taking notes, remembering annoying co-workers and specific situations causing stress all go a long way with clients. By offering any self-care advice that you believe to be appropriate, your client can build upon physical fitness by improving his or her mental attitude.
References: Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.