Centre for Confidence and Well-being

Skip to content
Carol's Blog
Postcards from Scotland

The Centre's recommended alternatives to artifical self-esteem boosting

Please bear in mind that the Centre is in favour of a balanced approach and does not believe that one programme, initiative or intervention has the capacity to resolve all problems.

Ordinary realities are strewn with impediments, adversities, setbacks, frustrations and inequities. People must, therefore, have a robust sense of efficacy to sustain the perseverant effort needed to succeed. (Albert Bandura)

Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief that he or she has the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve a particular goal or could acquire them in the future. Self-efficacy is not synonymous with self-esteem. The latter is a global and emotional judgement individuals make about their self-worth. In other words, self-esteem refers to feelings about the self overall. Self-efficacy, by contrast, is about agency or the ability to take action and achieve specific goals. Research shows that feelings of self-efficacy have a large bearing on our lives. High feelings of self-efficacy about a goal which is important to an individual not only means that the individual is likely to accomplish something in life which is meaningful to them but also doing so will enhance their feelings of well-being and life satisfaction. People low in self-efficacy are very vulnerable and succumb more readily to stress and depression. Self-efficacy is enhanced through experience, skills, a sense of mastery, seeing people just like you achieving something and having people in life who believe in your potential.

Teachers, parents and managers can help others boost their self-efficacy by:
• Giving them challenges
• Helping them with goal setting (e.g. challenging yet realistic goals)
• Encouraging them to see failure constructively and as part of learning
• Giving feedback that encourages good strategies for improvement
• Giving genuine encouragement (e.g. showing interest)
• Encourage self-reflection
• Getting them to think and say … 'I can'.

Additional help and resources
1. Visit the Centre's website and type self-efficacy into the search engine on the home page. This will bring up various items on the site.
2. Read the chapter outlining self-efficacy in the Centre's publication Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People.
3. If you want to measure the self-efficacy of individuals you work with you can look at the scale the Centre uses by going to http://crsdemo.opams.com/screenshots/respond/full_size/index.cfm?screen=6

One of the best approaches the Centre has encountered for developing confidence is Professor Carol Dweck's work on mindsets. The 'fixed mindset' upholds the idea that people’s ability is fairly fixed and not open to change. According to such a view, people are either intelligent, sporty, arty, good at maths etc or they aren’t. This mindset leads people to be terrified of failure as it shows their lack of potential. It often leads people to believe that if you have to work hard then it shows you aren't  'a natural' and therefore wasting your time. The 'growth mindset' by contrast believes that being good at something is primarily about hard work, motivation, effort and good strategies for learning. This mindset (correctly) believes that learning changes the brain thereby actually growing capacity.

How we can encourage a growth mindset in others:
• Stop trying to judge others' potential – just concentrate on how you can help them improve
• Praise for effort, concentration and good strategies – not for talent, ability or intelligence
• Give high quality feedback
• Present them with information on the brain and how it grows and develops as a result of learning.

Additional help and resources
1. Visit the Centre's website and go to the large section dedicated to mindset. This includes an overview of the theory and research as well as specific tools you can use such as powerpoint presentations. This can be found by going to:
2. Read the chapter outlining mindset in the Centre's publication Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People or read Carol Dweck's book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
3. If you want to assess the mindset of individuals you work with you can look at the scale the Centre uses by going to http://crsdemo.opams.com/screenshots/respond/full_size/index.cfm?screen=7

All definitions of resilience incorporate some reference to an individual’s ability to ‘overcome odds’ and to demonstrate personal strengths to cope with hardship or adversity. (Helen McGrath and Toni Noble, Bounce Back)

Research reveals that those who have most resilience often share certain characteristics such as having:
• A support network in the shape of family, friends, colleagues, teachers etc
• Confidence that they can face up to new and challenging situations
• Enjoyed previous successes on which they can fall back on to remind them that they have overcome adversity in the past.

Developing self-efficacy, and a growth mindset (which helps people cope better with failure) can help develop resilience. Optimism training can also be helpful.

It looks like young people's resilience is currently being undermined by a lack of support in their lives (e.g. family and community breakdown) as well as overprotection. For young people's resilience to develop they need to meet adversity and feel capable of overcoming it. The Centre believes that an Australian school based programme called Bounce Back is one of the best approaches schools can adopt to fostering resilience in young people.

The Centre's advice for fostering young people's resilience -
1. Remember bad feelings - don’t last, have a purpose and galvanise us to do things differently.
2. Try to normalise young people’s set-backs. Help them to see they are not abnormal in having difficulties in life.
3. Help them to see that problems can be solved.
4. Encourage young people to keep things in perspective – the problem is usually confined to only one part of their lives.
5. Remember the value of humour – laughing can be a great release (but only if it is well-intentioned).
6. Encourage young people to accept responsibility for their actions.
7. When reading stories, or discussing events, point out how people manage to overcome difficulties.
8. Remember that learning is often frustrating. Encourage young people to persist and believe they can get there.
9. Provide support. Help them to see there are people who care about them and can give them help and advice when needed.
10. Create a positive environment that emphasises the importance of relationships and a sense of purpose: there is more to life than the way they feel.

Additional help and resources
1. Visit the Centre's website and look at the following two sections:
The latter section contains a resilience powerpoint which you can use.
2. Read the chapter outlining resilience in the Centre's publication Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People.
3. If you work with youngsters (below S2) you may find it helpful to look at Toni Noble and Helen McGrath's workbooks on Bounce Back. 
4. Contact the Centre about attaining more resilience stickers.

Parent education
Parents play an enormous part in the development of young people's self-esteem, optimism, self-efficacy and resilience. This means that any alternatives to artificial self-esteem building by teachers or youth workers need to take this influence into account. Parents may require support and encouragement to become 'authoritative parents' who are able simultaneously to provide unqualified love and affection as well as clear rules and boundaries for their children. Schools may benefit from engaging parents with the type of issues covered in today's event.

Contact with the natural world
In the past few decades the importance of nature, and the contact with the natural world for human health, well-being and functioning has been amply documented by research. Being in nature, and particularly feeling in connection with it can reduce aggression, improve cognitive function, reduce anxiety and depression and even boost self-esteem. Indeed a MIND study showed that walking in a green environment had much more beneficial effects on adults' mental health than a similar type of walk in a concrete environment. The Centre has now extensive information on its website on the benefits of being in contact with the natural world for human beings, on the value of learning and playing outdoors, and tips for involving young people. Go to the Environment piece of the Flourishing Lives section on the Centre's website.

Physical activity
Since the mid 1990s it has become accepted that there is some association between physical activity and different aspects of mental health and well-being. Some academics question the rigour of the studies undertaken on the benefits of health but nonetheless there appears to be mounting evidence of the importance of physical activity to anything we would consider a flourishing life. There appears to be various physiological mechanisms (e.g. hormonal or cardiovascular) and psychological mechanisms which lead to:–
• Enhanced self-esteem and self-perception
• A sense of personal well-being
• Improved cognitive function, therefore improved performance
• Better sleep
• Reduction in stress and anxiety.

Further information is available on the Flourishing Lives section of the Centre's website. 

Encouraging a sense of meaning and purpose
He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. (Victor E. Frankl)

As we have seen at this event, the problem with pursuing an individual achievement agenda is that it may also undermine, not just our relationships with others, but a sense of meaning which, by definition, is about serving a goal bigger than yourself. One of the main problems with the values of contemporary society is that it encourages people to focus too much on themselves, their desires and their feelings.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about the need to restrict the self to find meaning, and therefore happiness and fulfilment in life. In his attempt to explain why spiritual feelings often accompany exposure to nature – particularly when we contemplate the stars or are in places which are vast or grand - Haidt writes: “Something about the vastness and beauty of nature makes the self feel small and insignificant, and anything that shrinks the self creates an opportunity for spiritual development.”

Meaning can be enhanced by feelings of spirituality and connection and by cultivating a sense of purpose. This can be about selecting or immersing ourselves in a particular type of work or activity which is not only motivating and satisfying but gives a strong sense of direction to our lives. Research shows that people in all occupations, no matter how lowly or poorly paid, can have the sense of their job as a vocation or a calling.

This sense of purpose can be directed towards the idea of the common good or the notion of social improvement. This is likely to be about human beings but it could be about animals or environmental issues. These values could lead us as individuals into charitable work and volunteering. Schemes which introduce people to the conditions in the developing world can be particularly helpful in cultivating perspective.

Much of what has been advocated here is about attempting to anti-dote the increasing materialist values of our times: values which say that the most important things in life are money, looks and fame or status.

Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme
The Centre are strong supporters of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. We believe that for those working with young people it is a great way to encourage confidence and well-being. Indeed as the award involves four different types of activities (personal skills; team working/expedition in the outdoors; physical activity/sport/dance; and a community project) it incorporates many of the alternatives we suggest here to artificial self-esteem boosting. Indeed the Centre believes that these awards are particularly important for young people since they

1. Teach goal setting – an important life skill.
2. Emphasise challenge and acquiring real skills.
3. Give the opportunity for a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.
4. Are not based on a philosophy of overprotection but challenge with support – the circumstances that foster resilience and self-efficacy.
5. Create good role models for young people.
6. Give the individual young person responsibility for their learning and their goals. This is a good example of personalised learning.
7. Emphasise team work and the skills employers are looking for.
8. Build physical activity into the award.
9. Make expeditions, (being outdoors) an inherent part of the award.
10. Give prominence to the importance of volunteering.

Media literacy
People commonly spend three or more hours a day watching television or engaging in other forms of media such as the internet, computer games or reading magazines. Substantial psychological research shows that extensive television viewing can carry substantial risks in terms of physical inactivity, passivity and demotivation. Exposure to glamorous, sexualized images can also have a detrimental effect on self-esteem for both males and females. (See, for example, Oliver James, Britain on the Couch or Karen E. Dill How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing through media influence.) These effects appear to be particularly negative for children and young people.

You can find out more at the following websites: http://www.mediafamily.org/network_guides.shtml

Centre Events Previous Centre Events External Events Carol's Talks