I Think I Can, I Think I Can: Why the Little Engine Could

I'm training for a marathon.  I started about six weeks ago, and so far my longest run was today.  I clocked a whopping 2.25 miles. That's only about a tenth of a marathon.  What makes me believe I'm capable of eventually running 26.2 miles?  Self-efficacy.

I heard about self-efficacy this week when I attended the Signature Awards Dinner, hosted by one of my clients, the Technical Community Women's Network of Corning Incorporated.  The guest speaker, Dr. Margaret Bailey, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, talked about self-efficacy as it relates to female students' success in the engineering program there.  (They have an amazing program called WE@RIT that helps women engineers succeed.  Check it out!)

Dr. Bailey told us that self-efficacy, according to Albert Bandura, the man who first defined it, is "the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations."  In other words, self-efficacy is my belief in my ability to succeed in running a marathon.  Or to paraphrase the Little Engine That Could: "I think I can, I think I can."

As I was running those miles today, I got to thinking about a client I met with this week who said, "I can't be a Visionary."  In a flash of oxygen-rich thinking, I realized that low scores in a particular FEBI pattern may be tied to low self-efficacy around those behaviors.  If we believe we aren't capable of thinking strategically, being imaginative, or discovering radical solutions, then we probably aren't going to indicate a preference for the Visionary energy pattern, and we'll score low in it.

But one of the FEBI system's tenets is that people can learn to access a pattern simply by uncovering what's keeping it hidden, blocked, or underused -- and then practicing and strengthening it. One of the first things that has to change is their sense of self-efficacy related to that pattern.  In order to access a pattern, they have to believe it's possible to do so.

In their book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander use the famous nine-dot puzzle to illustrate this point.

 

Can you join all nine dots with four straight lines, without taking your pen from the paper?

If not, the Zanders point out that it is probably because "your brain instantly classifies the nine dots as a two-dimensional square.  And there they rest, like nails in the coffin of further possibility, establishing a box with a dot in each of the four corners, even though no box in fact exists on the page."  If you want the solution, check out this wikipedia entry.

But the Zanders point out the real solution when they say, "The frames our minds create define -- and confine -- what we perceive to be possible.  Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view.  Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear."

That is my favorite moment in working with clients.  When their whole bodies light up with a new sense of "I think I can!" then I know it's all downhill from there.  And for me, as long as I think I can run a marathon, then it will be like all 26.2 miles are downhill too.

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