If you wanted to become a better tennis player, would you start by challenging Roger Federer? You might, if you were already a world-class player. If you can barely get the ball over the net, I doubt a game with Roger would do you much good. It all has to do with your self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is the term psychologists and social scientists use to describe a person’s belief in his/her ability to perform some specific task. All else being equal, the more someone believes in his/her ability, the better he/she will perform. Starting a business is no exception.
Before you get too excited, let’s remember that good performance also requires some minimum level of skill. No matter how much I believe in myself, Roger Federer is likely to trounce me on the tennis court. No matter how much I believe in my ability to run a business, I actually have to know how to attract customers and track money.
The good news is that the skills required to run a small or a part-time business can be learned by anyone of reasonable intelligence. Numerous courses are available at community colleges and bookstores carry some good titles on the subject. Online sources also exist. In other words, don’t let lack of knowledge slow you down. That one is too easy to fix.
Alas, though, some people have enough knowledge to get started, but never do. Why? One reason may be that they do not believe they can do it. Fortunately, that belief is not fixed–it can be changed over time.
There are four ways to increase your self-efficacy. The first and most powerful way is called enactive mastery. This is just a fancy way of saying that if you want to increase your self-efficacy, engage in the thing you want to get better at. Pick challenges that are not too overwhelming. Boxers, for example, are paired with people they have a chance of beating so that their confidence increase with time. Were they constantly paired with fighters of a much higher caliber, they would never come to believe they are capable of winning.
Next, there is modeling. Modeling allows us to observe the behavior of others and apply it to our own lives. For example, if I see a friend succeed in business, I may say to myself, “Well, if he/she can do it, so can I.” This is why our choice of role models is so important.
Third, social persuasion may help us come to believe more in our abilities. Having friends, teachers, and bosses who help us work on ourselves by providing objective feedback along with encouragement makes it easier to succeed. The lesson? Don’t hang around pessimistic, negative people.
Last, we all get the “butterflies” sometimes. People who interpret these kinds of physiological arousal as a good thing tend to be high in self-esteem. Those who interpret them as an indication of lack of ability tend to be low in self-esteem. When nervousness in the face of a challenge visits, it is possible to pause and rethink your interpretation in a more positive way. With practice, the very thing that causes your anxiety can be used to bolster it.
I believe that lack of self-efficacy thwarts more attempts at entrepreneurship than lack of skill. If you want to improve your life by starting a business, remember that the self-efficacy you lack now can be increased over time.