Skip to main content

Increase your self-efficacy and increase your motivation

My newsletter today is about flagging motivation, and how increasing your self-efficacy can improve your ability to stay motivated throughout the dissertation and the rest of your career.

If you are interested in assessing whether you need to work on your own self efficacy, check out my "Academic Self-Efficacy Assessment." It is based on research by R. Schwarzer and M. Jerusalem.

Here are some suggestions as to ways to improve your own self-efficacy. This is absolutely vital if you are going to enjoy and flourish in academia.

  1. Imagine yourself succeeding. Be very specific and as visual as possible. E.g. See your self at faculty meetings, teaching, being called “professor” or “doctor.” Imagine people congratulating you on your success.
  2. Be very careful about what you say to yourself about “failure” experiences. Notice that you probably never actually fail. You were not 100% terrible at what you did. Indeed, you might have made several mistakes, but that is not a failure. For example, your advisor may have found many errors in your last chapter. If you say to yourself, “This is hopeless; I’ll never be able to do this,” you’ve planted the seed of non-coping in your brain. It’s much better to say, “When I’ve recovered from that depressing meeting, I’ll make a list of the steps I need to take to fix that chapter, then I’ll fix one item each day.”
  3. Related to number two is this idea: make positive use of negative feedback to motivate you to improve, not to beat yourself up. For example, if you find out you are not good at writing, get a tutor, an editor, or take a class to improve your skills. Don’t fold and give up. This will improve your sense that you can have an effect on the world and that you’re not a victim.
  4. Make sure that you are aware of the “coping strategies” that are necessary to succeed. The strategies I discuss in my newsletter, on my website and on my blog pertaining to organization, effective communication with colleagues, and successful writing are all examples of coping strategies. Knowing that you have adequate coping strategies will help you believe you can perform a task.
  5. Use others as models. You know that graduate student that you hate – the one who is going to finish the dissertation first? Try learning from him or her. In all probability, this person is not a genius. However, he or she probably has great study skills and other techniques that keep him or her moving along the path.
    Do what you can to improve your relationship with your advisor and committee. (See our recent teleclass on getting along with your advisor.) If you haven’t yet chosen your advisor, keep in mind the key role that the advisor will play in your sense of self-efficacy.
  6. Seek out supportive people who believe in you. The corollary is to avoid people who don’t believe in you. Let your friends, relatives and significant others know that you need supportive comments and not just “How’s the thesis going?” or worse, “Aren’t you done yet?” You can even go so far as to tell them to say such phrases, as “I know you can do it, “or” It’s hard but you’ve done lots of other hard things.
  7. Monitor how you perceive your own emotional reactions. Learn to re-label stress reactions as normal, expectable, and able to be changed.
  8. Work on moderating your emotional reactions by practicing relaxation, yoga, meditation, or getting more exercise. Believing that you can effect a change in your reactions will make you feel more self-efficacious.


  1. good tips! now i just have to remember these...


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD) : After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD). I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn' t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career , by Paul Gray and David E. Drew. Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck wi

Academic Exhaustion Syndrome: Four Recovery Strategies

The semester’s over. If you’re anything like the academics I coach, you feel like death warmed over.  Those last stacks of grading got done on sheer will, determination and fumes. And this is before considering your writing deadlines, committee responsibilities, and other demands.  You are suffering from Academic Exhaustion Syndrome.  Academic Exhaustion Syndrome (an advanced, more scholarly state of burn out) is a state of emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, ending with grading, over the course of the semester and academic year. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation to work, you have fantasies of standing up and screaming in the middle of a meeting, and you wonder what temporary loss of reality testing made you decide to become an academic.  This dreaded Syndrome can: Reduce your productivity and saps your energy Make you irritable and have thoughts of strangling an undergraduate Make you feel like you have nothing more to g

The Second Holiday Writing Challenge for Academics

Here's a little boost for those who need a little kickstart to write over the holidays.  I first offered a Holiday Writing Challenge  back in 2005, so I'd say it's about time to do it again. Here's what you do: Post in the comment section: what you'd like to work on (if anything) over the holidays, and the maximum amount of time you'd like to spend on it daily . Please keep this time limit reasonable and low unless you're under huge deadline pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done! Whether you're a professor or a grad student, make sure you get a copy of the Dissertation Toolkit.  These tools will give you more information and tips for productive and creative writing.  For those of you who have had trouble making yourself write, you may want to start with VERY short writing goals . Even 5 or 10 minutes will be enough to get you jumpstarted.  Don't go more than 25 or 30 minutes withou