"If you think you can, or can’t - you are right." - Henry Ford, 1947
I thought my first draft was terrible, and I probably would have stopped there if it wasn’t for Stuart.
I have written many words over the years in my various blog posts, and I had been told on a number of occasions that people had enjoyed reading them. I had been thinking about possibly compiling them into a sort of anthology for a while, but I didn’t think I could actually write a book. From feedback about my coaching, I knew that people were finding value in the content I wanted to write about.
Wanting to write, having the intention to write is a great place to start, but it wasn’t enough. Then I started noticing that lots of other people were publishing their first “lock-down book”, so I started to think it couldn’t be that hard, could it?
Writing an entire book seemed unlikely, so I started small. Taking a conference paper I wrote a few years back and adapting it into a format that might be a chapter was something I thought I could try.
When Stuart read it, he didn’t say it was great; I don’t think he even said it was good. Just that, in his opinion, it was worth continuing because “I think you are on to something here.”
So, I did. The more I wrote, the better I felt about it and the more I could see myself publishing something of value.
Today, and between my first draft of these sentences, I am keeping an eye out for the van I expect will deliver the first physical copies of Listening Differently: In Professional Life.
Reflecting on how I got here, I doubt you will be surprised to hear that I think it was the belief that I could write a book that was the key. This got me thinking about what shifted in me to get me to that place and what might be possible if I could replicate the process in other areas of my life.
That led me to the concept of "self-efficacy" or "what I believe I can do with my skills under certain conditions". It is not belief in the religious or faith sense but rather opinions or assessments that you hold about what is possible for you. That got me wondering how and where we find the evidence or grounding for those opinions.
When he first formulated the concept of self-efficacy in 1977, Albert Bandura proposed four primary sources of that evidence.
1. Mastery Experience – The experience of succeeding at something similar in the past.
2. Verbal persuasion – Being told that we are performing well can contribute to a belief that we have the ability to perform.
3. Vicarious experience – Being able to see or model ourselves after someone else’s success.
4. Emotion and physiological states – The influence mood and physical health and well-being has on our self-efficacy assessments.
We don’t need all of them, but the more of them there are, the higher our levels of self-efficacy. In 2013, James Maddux suggested a fifth source of self-efficacy:
5. Imaginal experiences - the art of visualising ourselves behaving effectively or successfully in a given situation.
Looking back on my journey with the book, I can see the role that each of those sources played.
1. The assessment that I have successfully done something like this before in my past blog posts and conference papers.
2. The assessment that others, and one person in particular whose opinion I valued, were sincere when they told me I was on to something.
3. The assessment that it was possible to publish a book, grounded by evidence that other people were declaring on LinkedIn that they had successfully done it.
4. I came across a book that provided inspiration in terms of the how-to steps, which meant I could see I could do the things needed to publish a book. That generated a mood of ambition.
5. I had been thinking about (or visualising) being “an author” for a while. I started telling people that I was writing a book. Saying it out loud was scary at first, but then people started asking, “How is the book going?” which is what people ask authors, so…
Implications for creating future success
Our self-efficacy, our assessment of what we can do with our skills in a particular set of circumstances, influences our entire human experience, including the goals we strive for, the amount of energy we expend toward achieving those goals, and our likelihood of attaining particular levels of performance.
Studies show that individuals with high levels of self-efficacy are more resilient to failures and tend to perform better in a number of domains such as health, physical activity and exercise, and in professional life.
So here are six things I recommend you try if you want to cultivate high levels of self-efficacy and give yourself the best chance of achieving your goals:
1. Start small or aim to start with a tiny part. Put 100% of your effort into producing something you know will most likely be a 50% draft of 1% of what you are ultimately aiming at. If your goal is to write a book, then your aim for today might be to write the first draft of a short section of the chapter that you feel most confident writing about. If your goal is to swim a kilometre in under half an hour, then getting to the pool and just splashing about might be all you need to do today.
At the end of the day, make sure you acknowledge that you succeeded in doing what you set out to do – and then make your plans to do the same thing the following day. Draft a different section, splash about from one end of the pool to the other.
2. Find your Stuart. Someone you trust to provide you with well-grounded assessments. If nobody who can do that comes to mind, find someone you trust and give them a copy of Listening Differently: In Professional Life with the request that they read it and then practice sharing assessments with you.
3. You can’t be what you can’t see. Search out other people like you who are achieving similar goals. You are looking for evidence just that it is possible. Follow them on Instagram or LinkedIn and remember - there was a day when they first wondered what might be possible.
4. Practise noticing your mood. Ask yourself what story you are telling yourself about the possibility of you achieving your goal and how you are responding to the uncertainty that is associated with the journey. If you sense you are in a negative mood, it can help to do one of each of the first three things. They help provide evidence for you to feel that someone like you can achieve your goal and that, while nothing is ever certain, you have the capability to respond to whatever circumstances might arise. That will help shift you towards being curious about the next challenge and feeling ambitious about getting stuff done!
5. Visualise your success. Imagine what it will feel like when you achieve your goal. Start telling a few people that you are taking the first steps towards whatever you want to achieve. That helps make it real.
6. Keep showing up. Writers write. Swimmers swim. Entrepreneurs …well, you get the idea. The more you do it, the more evidence you have that you can do it. If you don’t show up, then you won’t.
In short, if you can find success in taking those first steps, your success in reaching small goals will feedback to further your sense of self-efficacy and support your efforts to achieve larger goals. Before you know it, you will have a draft of the whole book or will be swimming a kilometre a day. After that, you can take your success and build on it in other domains of your life.
To paraphrase Henry Ford – if you have a positive assessment of your self-efficacy or a negative one – it will determine what is possible.