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“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” How Self-Efficacy Relates to Performance

Do you know the story of The Little Engine that Could?

“As it neared the top of the grade, which had so discouraged the larger engines, it went more slowly. However, it still kept saying, “I–think–I–can, I–think–I–can.” It reached the top by drawing on bravery and then went on down the grade, congratulating itself by saying, “I thought I could, I thought I could.”

This little engine knew the power of believing in ourselves and how this can push our performance.

Self-efficacy and performance

Self-efficacy essentially equals self-trust. It is our belief that we are capable of doing what needs to done for the task at hand, and is our belief that we can coordinate our skills in changing or challenging situations.

So, what’s the connection with performance? And how can we bridge the gap between emotions and motivation to become more of a peak performer?

Research has shown that, “efficacy beliefs (through cognitive, affective, and motivational regulatory mechanisms) influence how people feel, how much effort they invest in actions, how long they persevere in the face of obstacles and failures, and how resilient they are to adversity (Salanova, Llorens, & Schaufeli, 2010).”

As well, this same research in the Journal of Applied Psychology explains that efficacy beliefs indirectly impact our motivation and level of engagement in activities by influencing emotional state of mind.

Our level of enthusiasm is highly related to engagement and motivation.

With positive efficacy beliefs, we can have a more positive attitude, resulting in enthusiasm, vitality, optimism and enjoyment, all of which can enhance our level of motivation and engagement.

Furthermore, there is a spiraling effect that takes place as we achieve more, and see success based on our empowering beliefs, it actually increases our efficacy beliefs more, furthering the positive affect and motivation.

What do you believe?

Believing in our abilities is crucial for personal development and personal advancement. There are important implications for business owners and supervisors to spark enthusiasm in workers, and to provide the means for employees to utilize their talents and experience growth to increase their engagement.

In order to be fully devoted to the work we do there needs to be a sense of novelty and passion. If we are doing something where we feel comfortable and aren’t challenged, our level of motivation and engagement is likely to be lessened.

As we learn to think more optimistically and focus on our strengths we can see that there is a clear positive influence. By setting and achieving strength based goals we can develop confidence and self-efficacy, and can boost our positive affect and motivation.


Salanova, M., Llorens, S., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2010). “Yes, I Can, I Feel Good, and I Just Do It!” On Gain Cycles and Spirals of Efficacy Beliefs, Affect, and Engagement. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60 (2), 255-285.


“I Think I Can, I Think I Can” How Self-Efficacy Relates to Performance

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). “I Think I Can, I Think I Can” How Self-Efficacy Relates to Performance. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Oct 2011
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