Bandura's work in psychology is (in my opinion) the most agent-friendly and self-empowering. I'm convinced that the most effective way to beat anxiety is to identify its source in dysfunctional **self-referent thinking**. The best way to start feeling good is to ramp up your perceived self-efficacy. The salutary thing about Bandura's work, in my opinion, is that, unlike many psychologists who, if they are empirically-minded or neuroscience-minded, decompose a human being into a concert of subpersonal processes, Bandura actually acknowledges that YOU ARE THERE as a real agency-possessing person, and that the reigns of agency can be used to exercise influence on one's internal psychic environment as well as on the external social and natural environment through **metacognition**.
Eliminating, or significantly reducing, anxiety is, under Bandura's Self-Efficacy theory [SE], achieved by recognizing that anxiety is a function of the perceived mismatch between threats in the environment and one's appraisal of one's own ability to cope with that threat. A negative mismatch favoring the threat (where ability is smaller than the threat) leads to anxiety; while a negative mismatch favoring one's ability leads one to "feeling money" (in the parlance of our times). The Antidote to feeing anxiety: Locate the threat, affirm your ability is greater than it, or, if it isn't at present, locate actionable means to beefing up your coping strategies and the anxious affect will diminish. This is not arm-chair psychologizing; this is real empirical psychology. And, since my discovery of Bandura's work (2004), SE has been confirmed over and over again in my own personal experience. Bandura's work, and that of other efficacy-oriented sociocognitive theorists, represent, in my opinion, the best work in psychology. The theory is highly illuminating and has remarkable explanatory power.
(For a short description of the personal benefits of studying, and internalizing, Bandura's work, see the "Comments" section below this posting.)
It's been over a decade since Albert Bandura's book "Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control" (hereafter SE) has been published. What's annoying is how little Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory seems to have permeated popular culture, despite the fact that there is an impressive amount of empirical evidence to support the explanatory linkages between "perceived self-efficacy" and human behavior, in particular, "performance attaintments".
(This review is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of SE. Instead, what I offer the reader is a brief but detailed explication of some of the major theoretical concepts of SE, emphasizing Bandura's explanatorily powerful notion of a self-efficacy BELIEF. Let me clarify what I mean by "explanatorily powerful". First, this concept has an impressive range of application to any domain of human life which can be thought of as an activity over which we exercise some (voluntary) control. In other words, self-efficacy beliefs can regarded as determinants, not of involuntary bodily movements, but over any domain which falls into the phenomena studied by philosophers of ACTION. (Human actions can be understood as a sub-class of goal-oriented behavior -- "sub-class" because not all goal-oriented behavior is subject to human choice or control (e.g., the autonomic physiological processes of natural organisms are goal-directed). For present purposes, when there ARE features of an environment, social or natural, such that THEY ARE SUBJECT TO THE EXERCISE OF HUMAN CONTROL, then it makes sense conceptually to use the construct of perceived (self) efficacy to explain behavior in that environment or domain of activity. Sports, health, interpersonal relationships, occupational activities, business relations, and scientific pursuits--all of these are domains in which people - you and I - have to produce performances of various kinds, not as helpless spectatorial automatons, but as COGNITIVE AGENTS.
SE refers to the "self-efficacy" component of a larger theory which is called **Social Cognitive Theory**--"cognitive" because it holds that BELIEFS (i.e., cognitions) "mediate" (i.e., "determine," for simplicity's sake) affective (emotional) and somatic (i.e., physiological) states and behavior--"social" because psychological phenomena are determined by the structures (social and natural) which environ human beings. Bandura does not buy into the notion of a isolated, self-contained, private domain of "internal" phenomena which are causally out of reach from external, i.e., environmental influences. It follows from this, that to understand one's own psychological states, necessary reference to one's historical workplace, the current social structures in which one lives one's life must be taken into consideration.
In this context, it would be well to introduce probably THE most important general philosophical doctrine associated with SE. It is the doctrine which asserts a TRIAD OF RECIPROCAL CAUSALITY. People's internal reactions (personal cognitions, choices, emotions) produce behavior; since this behavior occurs IN THE ENVIRONMENT, it can alter it; So, personal (internal states) can determine behavior; behavior can determine the environment. But what about the people on the OTHER END of your behavior; the recipients, who have to adjust THEIR behavior because of those actions you introduce INTO THE ENVIRONMENT, and VICE VERSA. Other people's behavior (natural events notwithstanding) alter the environment, requiring YOU to adjust YOUR behavior; therefore, the environment determines (your) behavior; moreover, having to adjust YOUR behavior (e.g., having to exit a lane on the freeway because of incoming traffic), in relation to others can determine your personal reactions (e.g., you get angry or frustrated at certain cognitions because some motorist cut you off on the freeway.)
Performances of any kind in any given domain of human functioning, whether it be cognitive (e.g.., I Q test performance), social, occupational, recreational, or whatever are the result of two different classes of deterrminants - an abiility determinant, which most people recognize - and a "NON-ABILITY" determinant , which most people do not. According to Bandura, self-effficacy belief falls under the second class of derterminant of performance attainments. What is a self-efficacy belief? A self-efficacy belief is a belief concerning one's own capabilities, relative to a given domain of activity or human functioning. A self-efficacy belief can differ in a number of important respects, in strength and magnitude. The strength of one's self-efficacy is understood to be the degree to which one thinks that it is true; in other words, the strength of one's self-efficacy belief is the subjective certainty with which one holds that belief. (This is the phenomenon that people ordinarily call "confidence".)
The 'magnitude" of one's self-efficacy belief refers to what one thinks one is personally capable of accomplishing relative to a given domain of activity. Suppose I think I'm capable of playing chess pretty well. I do well at the public tables. But I don't think I can compete at the state, national, or international level. So, the magnitude of my performance which I can expect in the exercise of my personal "chess" capacities, in this case, is the level of performance in the game of chess. Assessments of magnitude depend on some ranking withing a continuum of performance attainments, against some implicit, or explicit standard of excellence. Self-efficacy beliefs reflects a self-assessment of (the state and current level) of my capabilities, which reflect social comparisons. However, in aspirational modeling, i.e., when you set out to be a dentist, ball player, insurance salesman or whatever goal-setting (by definition) involves aiming beyond the perimeters or horizons of one's actual accomplishments. You don't aspire to be what you ALREADY ARE; rather, you aspire to be that which you (currently) aren't. Therefore, the goal that you set for yourself is such that the evidcen you currently have on your capabilites to determine whether or not you can do this thang is going to FALL SHORT of confirming that you do. But if you only set goals to do what you've already done, you would never set an aspirational goal. So, since to set an aspirational goal means taht you set up a goal system (fior yourself) which is such that the goal is an accomplishment for which you have no DIRECT EVIDENCE that you can accomplish this goal, it's vitally important to your success, to voluntarily adopt a policy of "optimisitic" (as opposed to verdical, i.e, strictly accurate) self-appraisal. This confers all kinds of benefits, like warding of f disruptive affective and cognitive states, such as depression and anxiety (while you're on the aspirational course).
"In nonhazardous endeavors, veridical self-appraisal can be self-limiting." (Bandura, 1999)
This has been in the psychological literature for well over a decade, and is empirically well-documented. Some psychologists (e.g., Susan Harter), think that self-esteem derives from basically two sources, socially valued interpersonal relationships, and the developent of competencies invested with personal significance (sports, dating, cooking, academics or whatever). While (in Self-Efficacy), Bandura agrees that self-esteem may derive from either of these two founts, he (with an astuteness and compactness of expression I have come to expect of him) points out that self-esteem is NOT EQUIVALENT to self-efficacy: feelings of worthiness or unworthiness, how much you like yourself, are not the same thing as your belief that you are capable of performing well in a given domain. For example, say Bob is a grocery cashier, for example, but since he don't personally invest this domain of activity with much significance, that Bob is good at it doesn't really matter to him as, say, being a good cook or actor does matter. THe point is that increases in perceived self-efficacy, relative to some domain of activity, do not necessary coincide with increased self-esteem.
To put illustrate the point more directly, take the film **A History of Violence**. The lead character, played by Viggo Mortensen, had a history of violence (as a former mobster). The mobster ("Joey") had high self-efficacy beliefs (both in intensity and magnitude) in the domain of "offing" people, i.e., murderous thuggery. But, as you find out, this is not a skill that increased Joey's self-esteem; on the conrary, "Joey" abandoned his thuggish life and its deleterious social associations in order to began a new (and secret) life elsewhere as a devoted (and non-violent, almost behaviorially meek) family man. (Sorry for the spoiler.) Point is, self-efficacy can be very high in a given domain, but it mayn't lead to high self-esteem; however, if self-esteem JUST IS self-efficacy, this would (by Leibniz's Law) be impossible. Since it's an empirical fact (thus, not impossible), self-esteem CANNOT BE the same THING as self-efficacy.
By distinguishing self-efficacy from self-esteem we can illumiante the latter by positing an explanatory linkage between the two: we could say that, the degree of self-esteem is determined by how well I perform at x-ifying, where x-ifying is a domain of activity I ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT (read: "identify with). Then, self-esteem isn't some epiphenomenal property that supervenes over your psyche, but rather something you can EXERCISE SOME CONTROL OVER. In increasing competencies in areas you care about, you can exercise control over your self-esteeem, i.e; your feelings of worthiness or unworthiness. And that is SWA-EEET. Finally, as a NON-ABILITY determinant of performance, optimistic self-appraisal can elevate your performance attainments, and therefore positiively affect your self-esteem levels.
So the question, then, is, do you have any control over whether or not you can adopt a policy of optimistic self-appraisal? Answer? Yes. You have "cognitive construal agency"--the ability to voluntarily adopt interpretations of life-events which are self-enhancing as opposed to ones which are self-belittling. Understandably, when one is operating under a negative construal bias, interpretations of one's circumstances which reflect an optimistic appraisal of one's capabilities (and thus of the outcome of one's efforts) may be not be so persuasive. This is where the "agency" in "cognitive construal agency" comes in. Bandura recognizes that people can exercise some control over their thought processes. They can exercise some control over their own internal "psychic environment." They can affirm positive construals of their capabilities which makes for a more optimal internal setting for their initial efforts at success.
This may require practice. Practice at cognitive construal agency involves generating self-referent thoughts (positive thoughts about yoruself) and keeping them ready-to-hand for immedate deployoment whenever you lapse into "negative rumination". The idea is not to waste time denouncing NSRTs, i.e., negative self-referent thoughts, but rather to REPLACE THESE with PSRTs, positive self-referent thoughts. Thought control efficacy can be expressed in either of two ways, by thought-suppression or by thought-replacement. Bandura acknowledges that in thought control, considered as thought-supppression, you run into a PARADOX of thought control: the very attempt to elimiate unwanted thoughts or cognitions from consciousness, is frustrated by the fact that, in order to NEGATE a NSRT (say, some propositions P = that you are fat, or not a good grad student, or whatever), you have to produce that very thought content in consciousness first, then denounce it. So, you can see how thought control, understood as thought suppression, is a cross-purposese with the aim of thought control (to eliminate unwanted thoughts or cognitions.)
By contrast, in thought control, understood as thought REPLACEMENT, you do not attempt to denounce every unwanted thought (i.e., cognition) that come your way. Instead, when NSRTs come your way, YOU CHANGE THE CHANNEL. That is, you DIVERT YOUR MIND FROM the NSRTs (in Kant's terminlogy you "abstract from" the NSRTs) and pay attention INSTEAD to other PSRTs (which, byt he way should not be contrued as some New Agey, pollyana life-is-a-bed-of-roses cognitions, but plausible optimistic cognitions). (Obviously, much more can be said about what THIS MEANS.) Suffice to say here, however, is that the "paradox of thought control" just described does not occur in thought control, considered as thought-replacement, because the procedure is not to target negative cognitions (in your attentional cross-hairs) for elimnation and denoucement. Rather, this happens indirectly by virtue of their being replaced by positive cognitions (by your having, so to speak, changed your mental channel). As I said, for those with dysfunctional self-evaluative systems, this will take practice, but the benefits are, well, nothing short of life-altering.