The First Step To Achieving Your Goals Is Believing That You Can

You can't do anything without doing this first.

Say you can't and you won't.

When's the last time you didn't think you'd be able to do something, or told yourself you couldn't, and then you did? I've never won a game I didn't think I could, never got a job I didn't feel qualified for, and never completed a task I thought was impossible. The moment you let doubt in is the moment you lose. 

Don't believe it? Think about some of the most successful people you know of. Oprah Winfrey had a dark childhood marked by abuse that forced her to run away when she was 14. Bill Gates' first business venture was a total failure. Stephen King's novel Carrie was rejected more than 30 times by publishers. Even Benjamin Franklin dropped out of school before he was a teenager. Do you think these people all told themselves they couldn't be great?

It might sound cliché, but it turns out that it's actually true. At least, that's what the research suggests. Perhaps Henry Ford put it most succinctly when he said, "Whether you think that you can or you can't, you're usually right." Little did he know, he was actually referring to what is now known as "self-efficacy."`

Self-efficacy is the idea that believing you can do something creates a psychological phenomenon that actually increases your chances of doing it. The idea was introduced by psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977 and has been supported by several academic studies since then.

So, stop for a moment and think about what your goals are. Do you think that you can achieve them?

Before tackling these tasks, or answering that question, consider that your chances of doing what you aim to do are actually somewhat dependent on whether you believe you can. Several studies have upheld Bandura's theory both in the arenas of sports and work life.

For instance, studies in the 1980s and 1990s, which were published by the University of Akron, show that students with high levels of self-efficacy set higher goals for themselves and give up much less easily.

In 1995, the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology published a study that showed while completing tasks or activities, those with consistently high levels of self-efficacy performed better and persisted longer. Researchers in the study actually gave participants feedback during task completion and saw their outcomes change with their self-efficacy. 

Self-efficacy isn't the only kind of positive thinking that can go a long way, either. Two graduates of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania found that optimism is a key component of successful managers whose employees reach their goals. Despite previous notions that pessimism was a good way to protect someone or a company from the worst, it turns out optimism end up being the real winners while pessimists invite the worst.  

Going after your dreams isn't usually easy, but if you're getting ready to give a shot, start with this simple step: believe that you can.