Guided Mastery Experiences

One way to strengthen self-efficacy is through guided mastery experiences. This involves breaking a task into small, incremental steps that can be done within a relatively short period of time (Bandura, 1986). These tasks should be directed at achieving subgoals. For example sub-tasks related to meeting employment subgoals were described previously (i.e., schedule appointment, read help-wanted ads, learn to use public transportation, etc.). Once a subtask is accomplished, another is added until the desired behavior is achieved and the overall goal has been met.

For example, if the overall goal is to find suitable housing, one first step might be to learn how to read a housing ad. A second step might be to learn how to complete a housing application. The third step might be to learn how to carry out an interview with the landlord. It may not be the most effective strategy to set the goal of finding suitable housing as the first goal because failure and disappointment may erode one's confidence, which is likely to erode self-efficacy beliefs. On the contrary, small tasks that are successfully completed contribute to one's feelings of accomplishment and promote self-efficacy beliefs. Such feelings are likely to lead to more positive emotional and affective states and more confidence that one can successfully accomplish a task.

When tasks are selected, they should be progressive in level of difficulty. Initial tasks should not be so difficult that they guarantee failure nor so easy that accomplishment is meaningless. For example, if the person has already had extensive experience completing housing applications, this subgoal may not be challenging enough. The level of difficulty set for the task should depend upon the individual's prior experiences with goal setting and with accomplishing goals. Under conditions where the individual has extensive goal-setting experience and has successfully completed desired goals, initial task difficulty should be harder than when experience is limited.

Support from others will also help in goal attainment. The beneficial nature of support and strategies for increasing support were discussed in the previous chapter and will be returned to later in this chapter. Supportive others can provide information to assist in the completion of tasks (i.e., where there is a job opening). Supportive others can provide material resources (i.e., transportation to an interview appointment or child-care assistance). Finally, supportive others can provide affirmation of one's worth and competence especially during stressful times. Such affirmation is critical to continuing goal-directive behaviors, especially following periods of failure.

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