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Tai Chi Chuan as a Path to Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulation

tai-chi-beachHistorically, in China, tai chi chuan was thought of as the most sophisticated and effective martial art. However, in the last fifty years, the focus both in China and throughout Asia, as well as in the West has been on the solo forms as a method to improve health.

Recently, I have begun to combine the tai chi form with other practices for which there is solid evidence for efficacy in improving wellbeing and health. Specifically, I have combined it with positive psychology.

One of the greatest sources of emotional distress is the feeling that things are out of control and that it is hard to feel in control. Well-being and health are affected positively and negatively by the degree to which you feel in control or out of control of your life. Trying to be more in control usually creates additional stress.

Ironically, the more you learn to yield and relax in stressful situation, the more you will actually be in better control over your life. A sense of being in control over your life is one of the attributes of the healthiest and happiest people. Once you begin to play with tai chi throughout your daily activities, life will begin to seem easier. Prior to adopting a practice of tai chi, most people try to control various parameters of their lives. Through tai chi, you can learn that trying to control a person or a situation results in frustration and a sense of lacking control. Tai chi is about giving up control, which paradoxically helps you to feel more in control.

Anytime you consciously practice a technique of any kind that you believe in, you develop self-efficacy. Just that sense of knowing that you have the power to catalyze a specific, desired physiological change, in and of itself, improves the odds of achieving that goal.


Yet, tai chi offers much more. What practitioners of Chinese Medicine refer to it as chi, could be viewed as pneumatics and body mechanics, which is what has allowed those who master tai chi to create remarkable, healthy bodily changes.

One of the most powerful aspects of having self-regulation practices has little to do with the specifics of what you practice, as long as it is healthy. This is because just the act of doing something, or having something that you can do, in and of itself, gives you a sense of having some control over your life.

dance-beachDoing anything is better than doing nothing. It’s not that the specifics of what you practice don’t matter at all. Obviously practicing tai chi is a lot healthier than practicing the use of recreational drugs. Practices like mindfulness and tai chi are particularly healthy, but simply taking action that is in harmony with your self-identified personal values serves to give you a sense of control over your life.

Self-efficacy is an important component of self-care. It is also an important component of success in every endeavor. If you believe you can succeed in something, and you have the required skills, you are much more likely to succeed. Without self-efficacy, you are less likely to take the necessary risks that are inherent in achieving success. If you do take the necessary risks, your lack of self-efficacy will most likely lead to a less than optimal attempt.

The challenge is, how do we develop self-efficacy? Achievement of proficiency in any endeavor helps you to cultivate self-efficacy. Because tai chi is so multi-faceted and complex, the learning and achievement of proficiencies is life-long; therefore, self-efficacy is always being developed in new aspects of the art.

Not only does self-efficacy lead to healthier behaviors, it improves health and wellbeing in and of itself; it does this by creating a positive, can-do attitude.


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Tai Chi Chuan as a Path to Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulation

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book "In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions".

See his extensive website:

In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing - College of Marin Community Education

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2015). Tai Chi Chuan as a Path to Self-Efficacy and Self-Regulation. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2018, from


Last updated: 5 Jun 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Jun 2015
Published on All rights reserved.