The latest update to the Research Section of Smoke Less America's web page described a new self-efficacy
scale for current and former smokers by Etter, Bergman, Humair and Perneger (2000), the SEQ-12. In their article,
the authors describe their empirical study with an emphasis on the measure's psychometeric properties and a summery
of their findings is given in that section of the web page. I'd like to take some time and discuss some of the
practical implications of their article for those of you who are more interested in quitting smoking than in the
quantitative research aspects of the Etter et al. article.
The main focus of the SEQ-12 is to assess one's feelings of self-efficacy about quitting smoking. The concept of self-efficacy has been a mainstay of behavior change and behavior modification theories for many years. Basically, self-efficacy simply means the level of confidence a person has in his or her ability to perform a specific behavior or task. If you are high in self-efficacy at your job, you feel very confident that you can do it and will be successful. Conversly, if you have low self-efficacy, you don't believe that you can do you job and are likely to fail.
For many years the concept of self-efficacy was considered to belong within the domain of social psychology. Researchers and theorists investigated self-efficacy as a way to predict group behavior. Later, personality theorists such as Albert Bandura, brought the focus of self-efficacy to an individual level and emphasized the role self-efficacy can play with both predicting behavior but also in changing it. Since then, many studies have found that an individual's level of self-efficacy can predict their ability to change their behavior, and in particular, their ability to quit smoking. What that all boils down to is this: the more confident you are that you CAN quit smoking, the more likely you are to be successful.
When I taught undergraduate psychology courses at the University of Akron, students often had a strong reaction to this premise. Mainly, students were often skeptical of Bandura's model; how could simply BELIEVING that you can do something actually make it more likely that you CAN? I admit that it sounds too good and too simple to be true on the surface, but a closer examination of the model not only makes intuitive sense, the research supports its validity.
People with high self-efficacy are more likely to be successful in their endeavors and do three important things. First, when they are successful at a task, the attribute their success to themselves. For example, someone with high self-efficacy who passes a difficult test in school believes he or she was successful because of their intelligence, talent or hard work. Second, when high self-efficacy folks fail at a task (and that does happen of course), they attribute the failure to external causes. In the example above, if a high self-efficacy individual failed an exam, he or she might believe they failed because the test was unfair, their schedule was too busy to allow them to study as much as they would have liked or that the instructor doesn't like them and failed them due to personality conflicts. In both the successful situation and in the unsuccessful situations, individuals with high self-efficacy believe that they have what it takes to be a winner and if they do lose, it's only temporary and NOT due to any inherent limitations in themselves.
This leads to the third characteristic of high self-efficacy individuals, they continue to try to succeed even in the face of failure. This is a central factor in their high rate of success in life. High self-efficacy folks are not disheartened by failure and rarely let set-backs prevent them from trying to succeed. High self-efficacy folks live out that cliche of ‘pick yourself up, brush yourself off and start all over again' and with every new attempt at a challenging task, their chances of success increase. In the long term, it becomes a self-maintaining cycle: by continuing to over come obstacles, these folks are more frequently successful and consequently, believe in themselves even more.
How does this apply to quitting smoking? Well, the hard truth is that research suggests the average person who tries to quit smoking cigarettes has to make between five and seven attempts before they enjoy long-term success (some studies report even more attempts are required, between 7 to 11 on average!). Think about what that can mean in terms of self-efficacy for a moment. Imagine any important task that you really wanted achieve in your adult life, but failed five to seven times in a row. Most people would conclude that they simply cannot succeed at that goal and quit trying. That's where self-efficacy comes into play. By believing that you can quit smoking, you continue to try to quit even when you have relapses. Each relapse simply becomes a bump in the road to quitting and not a dead-end. The point of this section is not to discourage you by letting you know how many times most folks have to try to quit smoking before they have long-term success. Instead, the emphasis here is to give you some perspective and help you raise your sense of self-efficacy. If this is your first time trying to quit, or you are trying to quit after several attempts, you should put forth your best effort, have a multi-dimensional quitting plan but also be prepared for the likelihood of having a few relapses. If and/or when you have a relapse, don't become discouraged, instead, tell yourself that most people have to try several times before they have long-term success and that with each attempt at quitting your chances of success increase! Remember, believing in yourself and having the willingness to keep trying is essential.
In our next update, we'll discuss methods for increasing your self-efficacy proposed by Bandura and apply them to quitting smoking.
As discussed in the previous update, building up your sense of self-efficacy about quitting smoking actually increases the your ability to successfully stop smoking. For many people increasing your sense of self-efficacy (remember; self-efficacy refers to how adequate you feel with your ability to be successful with a specific task) is a confusing undertaking. How can you change your belief in yourself for the better? We have all known someone at one time or another in our life who suffered from poor self-esteem or self-efficacy. A friend or family member who never could see their own positive characteristics, focused on their short-comings, never gave themselves the credit they deserved and never believed in themselves despite the fact that others saw them as worthwhile individuals. You may have spent a significant period of time consoling that person and trying to change their beliefs by telling them you thought they were a good person and that they shouldn't be so hard on themselves. And although they may have felt better for a little while, you probably weren't successful at changing their minds for the long term. The problem is that self-efficacy is a complicated issue and unless you make a concentrated effort to change your own (or help someone else change his or her sense of self-efficacy) you won't make lasting changes in your belief in your capabilities. Fortunately, there is an empirically supported model for changing your self-efficacy.
In order to understand how to change your self-efficacy you need to understand how it was formed. No one was born with a great sense of self-confidence just as no one was born with a terrible sense of self-efficacy. Your beliefs in your capabilities were shaped over many years and continues to be altered a little bit everyday. Bandura's research on self-efficacy emphasizes four important processes that shape a person's sense of
In today's update we'll talk about Performance Attainment. All of us were exposed to countless experiences and processed an unimaginable amount of information while we were growing up in each of these areas. Performance Attainment refers to prior experiences of success or failure. For example, your self-confidence in your bowling ability is influenced by how well you have bowled in the past. Sounds simple and straightforward doesn't it? But Performance Attainment can be more complicated than you may realize. Not all previous experiences are weighed equally in their impact on our judgement of ourselves. For example, there is the concept of the False Average. Keeping with the bowling example, let's say you go bowling once a week and your average score is 140. For the first two weeks of this month, your score rocketed up to 200. For some unknown reason, you bowled several great games in a row and you are extremely pleased with your bowling abilities. Your sense of self-efficacy for bowling has increased dramatically. During the last two weeks, however, you've been bowling around 160 per game. Even though this is still higher than your previous average of 140 by a considerable amount, you now feel depressed and wonder "what went wrong?" You have fallen victim to the False Average syndrome, where you take your highest level of performance and think of that as your average. Anything that doesn't meet or exceed this new "average" is unacceptable and you feel disappointed with yourself. The same principle applies to quitting smoking. If you've tried to quit smoking in the past and were able to go without smoking for 6 months, you may believe that is your new average. If you try to quit smoking now and have a relapse in 3 weeks, you are likely to feel very depressed, become discouraged about quitting smoking and have greatly decreased self-efficacy (and are therefore likely to be less successful at quitting).
What to do:
As you can see, Performance Attainment and self-efficacy can become a vicious circle. The trick is using this principal to strengthen your sense of self-efficacy and not to weaken it. In order to increase your self-confidence in your abilities you need to establish a history of victories. Experiencing a series of successes increases your belief in your capabilities and your try harder and longer to win (after all you believe you can win so you simply keep at it until you do). The best way to accomplish this is to create a series of challenges that gradually increase in difficulty. Start with very easy (almost impossible to fail) challenges in the beginning and then increase the difficultly with each success. If you experience set-backs while going up the ladder of difficulty, go back to a previously successful task to rebuild your self-confidence and then continue up the ladder of difficulty again.
As an example, young children attending basketball camp rarely start off shooting at a regulation hoop that is ten feet off the ground. Instead, instructors have the children simply walk up to a hoop that is waist-high to them and drop the ball into the hoop. It's very difficult NOT to make every shot in this situation and the children quickly believe playing basketball is easy. Gradually, the hoop is raised higher and higher until it's at regulation height or the children have maxed-out at their ability level. If the child is simply too young to make shot at a hoop that is at a regulation height, the instructors stop raising the hoop so that the child doesn't get discouraged and give up the game. After all, the there is always next year to raise the hoop higher. Seeing this process in action serves as a beautiful example of using Performance Attainment to build self-efficacy. Little children who dreaded the sport and thought they would never be able to make a basket end-up believing in their abilities and enjoying the game!
The same principals apply to quitting smoking. Simply create a series quitting goals that start out minimally challenging and become more and more difficult. For example, start with trying to quit for half an hour (or less if that's too big a change to start with in your smoking pattern). Once you've completed this goal, increase the amount of time you go without smoking. The next step could be quit smoking for half an hour two times a day or go for an hour without smoking. If you experience too much difficulty with the next step in the program, go back to the previous step and work at that level until you're ready to move forward again. One thing to remember to avoid when completing this hierarchy of tasks is stretching out the quitting period for too long a time. Most research suggests that the tapering off period should not exceed three weeks and should really be between three to five days.
In our next update, we'll discuss Vicarious Experiences as another method for increasing your self-efficacy proposed by Bandura and apply the principal to quitting smoking.