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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Testing, Testing 1 2 3”

This episode took a little while to get to the point that stood out to me, but it was a big moment. Rainbow Dash needs to pass a history exam in order to make it into the Wonderbolt Reserve, but after multiple attempts in a variety of fashions by her friends to help her learn the material, she still fails to retain anything. As a result, she lapses into depression and self-loathing; seeing herself as an idiot and giving up on her dreams. This results in her getting a self-defeating and depreciating attitude, which fortunately her friends are able to snap her out of on revealing her own potential and capability of learning the material.

I already touched on the importance of the teaching profession in my review, so this message is focusing on something more important: the idea of self-efficacy.

I’ve mentioned self-efficacy before but, to recap, self-efficacy is our belief in our own ability to do things. This is a very important trait to have, especially as a Christian.To be able to do anything, we first have to believe that we are capable of doing it. If someone told me to run a mile in six minutes, I’d probably not even bother trying because I don’t believe I can do one in under nine if I run myself to the point of passing out. On the other hand, since I have a background in computer programming, if someone told me to design a home application for them, I would be likely to give it a shot though I never have before, because I believe I’m competent enough to do it.

Self-efficacy is also very important even if we fail at something. If I’m presented with a new challenge to try and accomplish and don’t succeed yet have a high amount of self-efficacy, I’m more likely to try again because I still believe I can do it – I just messed up that time. Low self-efficacy, on the other hand, makes me less likely to even attempt new things and, if I do and I fail, I conclude I could never do it in the first place and don’t try again.

What Rainbow Dash experienced isn’t necessarily unique to many young people, or even adults, across the country. Educational systems, especially standardized tests, apply to a narrow range of both knowledge and methods of applying knowledge. They assess certain things while ignoring others. And in the modern school setting with the need to constantly press more knowledge into more students’ minds in smaller periods of time, it’s more than possible that even a good teacher can miss something in one of their techniques. Add to that peers who may know the answer to things readily and/or ones who would rather not slow down the lecture at all so it can be done faster, all of whom could be surrounding the struggling student and giving an impression of greater ability, and even if an individual is lost they will likely fail to conclude it’s because they need more help but rather that they’re simply “dumb”.

Of course, it’s not confined to schoolwork. I myself felt the same way about sports growing up, as I was slow and unathletic and it seemed everyone could play them better than me. Or maybe the matter in question is the people surrounding the individual. If one comes from a controlling household or one that impressed perfectionism, then an individual may be left feeling that everything they do is a failure even when to everyone else it’s a success.

The bottom line is all of these things can lead an individual to cease attributing their failures to a correctable mistake on their part and consider it a part of who they are. And when that happens, self-efficacy takes a hit and they are on a dangerous path.If a student who gets bad marks in math due to not finding a good technique for absorbing the material concludes he’s simply always going to be bad at math, he’ll likely perform a self-fulfilling prophecy by not bothering to study or commit himself to learning new material…believing he’s too “dumb” to learn it to begin with. If an individual who was always last in sports when she was younger concludes she’ll simply never be good at athletics, she might take up an unhealthy lifestyle in both eating and lack of exercise…believing she’s “naturally unathletic” and can’t get in shape anyway.

Most importantly, for the Christian, if God calls you to do something and you believe it’s something you could never succeed at or carry out, even with God’s help, the odds are that call will be completely ignored. Even if it is to be the purpose for your life. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve short-circuited myself from many opportunities to serve or minister due to simply concluding in advance I’m no good at it and I can’t do it. Even when I do try something out, if that attitude is still on me it will lead to premature (or predestined) failure.

In other words, to coin the old proverb, whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.

Gaining self-efficacy isn’t easy. It not only requires the boldness to step out and try new things and the willingness to work at them until there is a success, to say nothing of a healthy amount of self-confidence, but, in some cases, it might be a matter of stopping seeing oneself as a natural-born failure. If one has a poor self-image that has persisted a long time, it’s likely that they’re feeding into that same image. This can take the form of self-destructive behaviors such as I mentioned earlier, attaching to people who match our low esteem to make us feel better about ourselves, or even continuously beating ourselves up. In my worst bouts of depression and failure, I remember times lying around simply saying again and again to myself how bad, wicked, dumb, and incompetent I was. Some people do it every time they look in a mirror.It’s safe to say I’m not going to feel ready to “reach the world” indulging in that sort of thing.

How does one learn self-efficacy? As a lack of self-efficacy may be a long lasting mental health issue, it may require professional help or resolving some issues of failure in one’s life. However, as some general advice from my own experiences…

One way to start is by working on seeing yourself the way God sees you. To him, with all of your faults, failures, and deepest, darkest secrets…both ones that have been committed now, in the past, and in the future…you are still worth Jesus sacrificing Himself to grant you eternal life. You are fearfully and wonderfully made as a precious creation of God. And God will never ask you to do something he does not know you can handle. If you have any trouble believing that, find a healthy church (because there are indeed unhealthy ones out there that will make it worse) to help you both know and experience that better. (I suggest read Psalm 91 for encouragement of God always having your back.)

Another way is taking a realistic look at your life; one not marred or distorted by self-shame lenses. Identify parts of your life that you have succeeded in and acknowledge them. Write them down and express them verbally if need be and keep them as a reminder. Don’t dismiss them as irrelevant or immaterial or something “anyone could have done”…the important thing is that you did them. Measure yourself against yourself and your past; not against anyone else’s “present”.

Still another way is daily affirmation. While Saturday Night Live made fun of this a lot with the old Stuart Smalley skits, the fact is many people are sunk in depression and senses of failure because they’ve trained themselves to talk down to themselves all the time, whether verbally or mentally. By making a point of facing a mirror, looking yourself straight in the eye, and saying positive things about yourself several times a day, you can train your mind to give yourself positive self talk instead.

Another method is to take some small risks out of your comfort zone. Try something new. Do something you’ve never done before. Something that has little price for failure, like a new activity, a new dish, a new route home, a new volunteer opportunity, etc. Something that you choose for yourself that’s totally new and you can take a chance at. Having success at small things you do all by yourself can start building your confidence that you can do things through your own actions. And who knows? Perhaps you need to serve God in a “smaller way” before you can build up to his greater purpose.

And finally, and possibly most importantly, if you don’t have a problem with your own self-efficacy, try to be the sort of individual who builds others up. When someone does something well or succeeds in a task, congratulate them. Acknowledge their accomplishment. As an amateur writer, I can tell you it makes all the difference in the world after getting slammed by critics for my latest work when someone pauses to tell me how much they enjoyed what I wrote. In some cases, all it takes to drive away a wave of discouragement and failure is someone giving me a small word of praise or compliment. Let’s all remember that ourselves as we go about ministering to others.

It’s always a good time for a random act of praise. 🙂

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that your Word assures me that I will never be abandoned or forsaken, and that, as David said in Psalm 139, I am fearfully and wonderfully made. If I am struggling with feeling like a failure and useless, please lead me to the help I need to overcome this and reveal to me what I need to do to get better. Help me remember that your Son has already won the greatest victory for me, and help me always to be a source of encouragement and empowerment to all those around me, especially those who are feeling at their lowest. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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