Building Self-Efficacy and Self-Agency with Intention Setting

Self-efficacy is defined as a person's belief in their ability to achieve goals.

Higher levels of self-efficacy are linked to enhanced performance, better social outcomes and overall physical and psychological health. Furthermore, self-efficacy has a positive effect on self-agency, which is a person's ability to coordinate their inner and outer resources to reach a goal. Self-efficacy is different from self-esteem because it focuses on "doing," whereas self-esteem focuses on "being" of value. 

According to Dr. Albert Bandura, the Stanford psychologist who introduced the concept of self-efficacy there are 4 ways to increase self-efficacy; mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional and physiological states. Mastery experiences can result from setting goals and then achieving them. If I say I am going to start exercising and I follow through, then my beliefs about my ability to a accomplish goals is increased and I have stronger beliefs in my ability to achieve future goals. Vicarious experiences relate to believing you are capable of achievement because someone you know has modeled achievement to you. The effect of role models and mentors on our success is highlighted. The enhancement of self-efficacy through verbal persuasion is the result of positive self-talk or positive unconditional regard from a family member, friend, supervisor, peer or counselor. Emotional and physiological states refers to the importance of our overall emotional and physical well-being to the development of self-efficacy.

In seeking to establish a sense of optimal well-being it is very useful to focus on techniques to enhance self-efficacy and self-agency since our beliefs about our abilities underlie our stress management, accomplishments and almost every action step we take. If and when you believe you are capable of attaining the next level in your path, coupled with a proven track record of coordinating your inner and outer resources to create progress, a greater ease of manner will unfold. 

In building self-efficacy and self-agency, first set an intention. This will give a secure foundation of beliefs to your goal oriented behavior. The overall aim of the believer is to integrate the physical, mental, emotional, moral and spiritual aspects of human living as worship of Allah SWT, so as to attain (taqwa), awareness of Allah SWT in day to day activities. The Muslim's ability to achieve this has to do with their self-efficacy. If a Muslim has a robust self-efficacy he or she will actualize beliefs about his or her abilities to move closer to a state of taqwa. The formulation of intention requires one to next set a goal, establish a purpose and create an action plan.

From an Islamic psychological perspective,

formulating and purifying intention is integral to purifying the heart. If you notice that your values and behaviors are misaligned, and you repetitively act in ways that counter your beliefs this is a good indication that you have cognitive dissonance with some degree of anxiety. To integrate your aspects of self and return to wholeness, the heart has to be purified in order to gain clarity about which direction to take. To build the knowledge on how to integrate your being, resolve cognitive dissonance and align values and behavior, return to the heart. The way of knowing that is through the heart tells us how to do things. The way of knowing that is through the mind tells us what to do. We benefit when actualizing both paths to knowledge.

This does not mean the Muslim on the path of taqwa, leaves this world behind, rather it means he or she is clear about how his or her goals and action plans in this world are connected to his or her ultimate intention to serve Allah SWT. For example, if my goal is professional development, I seek to establish myself professionally for the sake of Allah SWT and to earn an income to my support family. Although, this is a great goal, I may fail if I don't have a solid action plan.

The goal is set on the level of the mind,

which is closely associated with beliefs (eman). In our path to success we want to harness the mind and beliefs to get to the heart (qalb). This is where to find an understanding of how to take action to achieve the goal. The heart is associated with ihsan, which is moving beyond beliefs to the level of worshipping Allah SWT as if we see him. Here is where we connect to a sense of divine purpose and where our beliefs become awakened. The purpose relates to why we should pursue a goal to attainment. Once clear about what to do and why to do it, then strategize and come up with an action plan for how to get it done.

Keeping with the example above, an action plan to use professional development for optimal benefit and personal growth includes spiritual, emotional, physical and mental components. The spiritual component keeps us connected to our intention, where the goal came from in the first place. For example, in order to reach my goal of professional development I may resolve to study Islam for 20 minutes each evening. The emotional component of the action plan relates to strengthening my inner resources in order to fuel the behaviors I need to reach my goals. For example, I may put aside 30 minutes each day to practice self-care so as to maintain my sense of tolerance and patience towards self and others. The mental component of the action plan relates to developing the intellectual resources I need for professional development. For example, I may study a new software program for 1 hour in the evening to attain greater job security. The physical component of the action plan relates to maintaining the physical health necessary to sustain professional development. For example, I may exercise at least 5 times per week to keep my overall energy level up.

When creating the action plan,

the importance of setting quantifiable markers cannot be understated. Quantifiable markers, such as how many times a week or how many repetitions per day, allow one to measure and monitor their goal oriented behavior to stay on track. Once your intention is clear, make sure that the goals you set for yourself are realistic and personalized to your situation. For someone who is struggling with self-doubt, even small goals in the right direction will make a big difference over time and eventually roll into bigger goals, inshallah. On the other hand, a person with a healthy sense of self may be ready for more complex goals. The enhanced self-efficacy that is cultivated when a goal is achieved, big or small, can then be generalized into achieving goals in various dimension of life: occupational, spiritual, social, intellectual, emotional and physical.

For further reading - Come to Success through Living Eman, by Kamal Shaarawy & Leslie Schaffer