Seeing the Success of Others Makes us More Likely to Succeed

We were glad to see the interest in Paul’s article from last month’s Canary Health newsletter about designing digital interventions to highlight behavioral modeling.  Providing behavioral modeling is one of the key approaches to increasing an individual’s self-efficacy — i.e. the confidence in one’s ability to set a goal and accomplish it.

Increasing self-efficacy has been shown to: accelerate behavior change (e.g. adherence); reduce depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders; lessen pain; slow cognitive decline; diminish social isolation; increase health program participation; and improve system navigation (see prior article on self-efficacy).

One important way to increase self-efficacy is through social modeling (also called vicarious experiences). According to Albert Bandura, the father of self-efficacy theory, “Seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers’ beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed.” Or quite simply—having an actual person to observe and emulate can change one’s own sense of what can be achieved.

Let me provide an example from my own clinical practice.   My 15-year-old patient was having trouble remembering to test her blood sugar as often as she should. She didn’t know anyone else her age with diabetes and didn’t really think her doctor, who didn’t have diabetes, could be of any help.  I connected her to a 17-year-old who had overcome a similar challenge managing her diabetes.  They only spoke by phone once and I can only imagine what they said to each other.  The next time I saw my patient she was much more confident in her ability to manage her blood glucose and thanked me for making the connection.

These “modeling” events are often small, isolated interactions where we see someone achieve their goal and that gives us confidence that so can we.  They can also be long-term relationships that provide ongoing positive role models.  When we interact with people who display a healthy level of self-efficacy, we are likely to absorb some of those positive beliefs about ourselves. These vicarious experiences can come from a wide range of sources, including parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, older siblings, teachers, coaches, mentors, health care providers, counselors. They can also come from structured interventions such as Canary Health’s Better Choices, Better Health®.

Modeling provides more than a social standard against which to judge one’s own capability.  Through their behavior and expressed ways of thinking, competent models transmit knowledge and teach observers effective skills and strategies for managing a variety of challenges and most importantly they increase self-efficacy.  They also provide inspiration and motivation since they can serve as true and authentic roll-models with the ability to share their approaches broadly.

About a year ago I hosted a conversation with 2 women about how they had learned to cope and thrive with their chronic diseases. One as a 71-year-old with many of the common challenges and complications of diabetes.  The other was a 43-year-old who because of her back injury was unable to continue her all-consuming hobby — being an athlete who climbed mountains and other extreme sports with a group of friends.  One of the webinar participants, a 75-year-old woman with multiple chronic diseases, listened to the two women’s stories.  Much to my surprise, she didn’t identify with the older woman, but rather she identified with the younger one saying “When I got sick, I too lost my identity, lost my way of interacting with my friends and family. Listening to how this young woman was able to overcome her challenges helped me see how her approach might help me.  She was inspirational.”

Increasing someone’s self-efficacy can have profound impacts on the way a person thinks, acts and relates to others. It is foundational to improving health outcomes for all individuals with one or more chronic physical health conditions.   This is especially true when chronic disease is complicated by anxiety, depression, or stress-related conditions.  Fortunately, there are things which can be done to increase self-efficacy. To learn more about Canary Health’s approach, click here.

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