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Why Self-Efficacy Matters & How to Build It

By Annika Piros PT, DPT | Therapydia Tanasbourne


Has the weather or your mood ever stopped you from achieving a goal? Is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your motivation to carry-on with usual routines? (the ones that are within your control.) Having control over our behaviors, motivations, social environments is a theory that psychologists, educators, and clinicians refer to as self-efficacy. In the words of psychologist Albert Bandura: self-efficacy is an “individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments”. It is a concept used to promote behavior change in the self-management of i.e. chronic disease, exercise, pain control, eating, smoking cessation, and alcohol use.

One way to measure self-efficacy of a habit – like exercise – is through answering a questionnaire. The Self-Efficacy for Exercise scale (SEE) is a self-reported scale that helps one gauge how they are feeling about their exercise habits. It is scored from 0-90 points where a low score indicates low self-efficacy and a high score indicates high self-efficacy. Higher self-efficacy predicts both better physical activity, health, and quality of life (Roman et al. 2009); it allows one to carry on with the habit of exercise despite encountering obstacles (ie. being busy, stress, an injury, or bad weather). 

Self-Efficacy Exercises

Physical Therapists use the SEE scale listed above, along with their clinical judgement, to determine how self-efficacy will affect a patient’s outcomes in therapy. If a patient scores low on self-efficacy, this may signal to the therapist that prescribing home exercises alone will be insufficient in helping a patient achieve their goals. A physical therapist educated patients on how to build up self-efficacy for long term success and well-being after an injury. Three general strategies are listed below:

1. Goal-Setting 

A PT will help you set realistic goals and a plan to achieve them. Approaching goals slowly and trying not to over-stress about the results can help build self-efficacy

2. Identifying and Reframing Obstacles

Pain can be viewed as an obstacle to exercise when injured; your PT will help you identify what is normal vs abnormal pain to work through as well as how to modify activities to continue exercising!

3. Choosing Activities We Enjoy

This sounds obvious, but choosing an activity you like for exercise makes it that much easier to stick with the habit!

Building self-efficacy helps a person gain control over their behaviors in order to adopt healthy habits and stick with them, despite challenges or obstacles they may face. Learning how to manage an injury and be less reliant on others is a sign of high self-efficacy.  A physical therapist will teach you how to “be your own PT” by the end of a course of rehab; you will learn how to identify obstacles that are keeping you from reaching your wellness goals. In addition to helping you recover from an injury, physical therapists are equipped to teach patients strategies to make exercise a habit even when pain, injury, or obstacles get in the way. Have questions? Reach out to your local PT today to see how you can improve your self-efficacy with exercise!





Jessica Jones

Physical Therapist

Jessica recently moved to Seattle from Boston, MA and is excited to join the Therapydia team. Her treatment experience includes orthopedics, sports medicine, pediatrics, and vestibular therapy. Jessica received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Northeastern University in Boston, MA in 2016. She has completed the Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and is in the process of completing a Comprehensive Vestibular Rehabilitation certification. Jessica believes in empowering and inspiring patients to take control of their health through education, movement, and exercise. She enjoys treating patients of all ages and levels while utilizing soft tissue techniques, neuromuscular re-education, balance training as well as therapeutic exercise. In her free time, Jessica enjoys yoga, dancing, kayaking, and hiking with her dog!


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