Self-Efficacy Versus Confidence

One of the wonderful things about writing this blog on golf mastery is that readers participate in the quest by occasionally sending me pertinent articles.

This time it was this Reuters article in the New York Times, “I’ve Got My Belief Back, Says Els.” Els has been having a tough time over the last year, so much so that he was unable to qualify for this year’s Masters tournament. He made a good run at it coming down to the final day to get the job done, but his ticket remained just out of reach.

So in this second major of the year, the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club’s Lake Course, it was a bit of a surprise to see Els climbing up the leaderboard again. And then on Sunday to actually have a chance to win it. For a brief moment after his eagle-2 on the 7th, he was tied for second place.

It slowly came undone as it does so often in a U.S. Open, but he was left with a profound alteration in his sense of himself. As the Times reports:

“I’m contending again … and that means a lot,” Els wrote on his official website on Monday. “I feel I have a chance now and that I could win another one of these majors. I’ve got my belief back.”

Had I read this a week ago, this would have sounded like just another cookie cutter column on confidence. But I didn’t. I read it after spending my flight time to and from Florida reading Dr. Gio Valiante’s, “Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game.” It is so interesting to me that these two readings would fall in my lap at the same time; I’ve come to realize that when things like that happen, it’s just God’s way of letting me know that this is important. Like using all capital letters in an email, it’s his way of shouting.

What Valiante has done in his work is to distinguish between confidence and self-efficacy:

  • Confidence is knowing that you have the shot in your arsenal
  • Self-efficacy is knowing that you can hit the shot when you need to, just as Els rediscovered that he did

Key to the process of self-reflection are the beliefs we create and develop about out own capability, about what we can and cannot do. These are our self-efficacy beliefs, which psychologists formally define as the beliefs that people hold about their capability to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage specific situations. Put more simply, self-efficacy is belief in our ability to succeed. That’s the very essence of confidence.

So when Els says that he “believes” again, he’s not talking about his ability to hit the shot. He’s talking about his ability to do so on demand. It’s the difference between someone exhibiting quiet confidence and somebody playing with a gunslinger persona. It can still be subtle, but it’s a clearly noticeable trait. It’s like another whole level of confidence.

In any event, Valiante devotes ninety pages — a huge swath of the middle of the book — to these ideas, way too much to go into in detail. But if you are interested in exploring layers of these subtle ideas, this book is a perfect and satisfying way to do it. Plus he works with a number of Tour pros and has quotes from them to help flush out his ideas. Good book.

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