Positivity Extends Life

positivity extends life - Davis Phinney Foundation

It’s a bold claim: positive thinking and positive social influences can improve your mental and physical health. 

But as surprising as it may seem, there’s a broad base of scientific evidence behind that claim. Albert Bandura first coined the term “social cognitive theory” (SCT) in the 1960s. This theory proposes that part of people’s knowledge base comes from what they learn by observing others. Bandura also focused on the concept of self-efficacy, the idea that a person has agency and influence over their outcomes. In recent years, these theories have been extensively researched to determine their effects on people’s health. 

“If the huge benefits of these few habits were put into a pill, it would be declared a scientific milestone in the field of medicine.” –Albert Bandura  

Self-efficacy affects practices related to health and adaptability to illness and treatment. For example, the relationships between a good sense of personal agency and both cancer prevention and adaptation to cancer diagnoses are strong. In terms of broader implications, those with a high level of self-efficacy tend to make better choices when it comes to nutrition, exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking, and safe sex practices. Also, increased self-efficacy correlates to decreased physical and psychological symptoms across a range of illnesses. In short, self-efficacy causes behavioral changes that can make a big difference when it comes to living well with Parkinson’s.

One subfield of self-efficacy is self-care self-efficacy, defined as confidence in one’s ability to perform behaviors related to self-care. Self-care is especially important for both people with Parkinson’s and their care partners to ensure that both people are living well. Self-care self-efficacy is associated with positive outcomes for mental and physical health for people with chronic illnesses. It has also been shown to positively affect anxiety, coping strategies, depression, decision-making, stress, energy expenditure, and resilience because people with better self-care self-efficacy have better outcomes. They also have a higher quality of life, better physical function, lower symptom distress, and higher goal achievement than people with lower self-care self-efficacy. A strong social support system has also been shown to be related to higher levels of self-efficacy, so for both people with Parkinson’s and care partners, a strong care team and social network is essential to better outcomes. 

Now that we know all of the ways that having a high degree of self-efficacy can improve quality of life, how can we increase our self-efficacy so we can reap all of those benefits?

5 Ways to Increase Self-Efficacy

#1 – Work in your Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

The ZPD refers to the difference between what you can do without help and what you can achieve with guidance and encouragement from a skilled partner. To improve your self-efficacy, you want to feel stretched enough in what you’re doing that you’re being challenged but not so stretched that you can’t accomplish your goal. Being in your ZPD will require you to take some chances, but they aren’t so risky that you’re likely to fail. In other words, your ZPD is your sweet spot.

#2 – Set simple goals

Self-efficacy increases when we make promises to ourselves and others that we keep. If you set unreasonable goals, you are more likely to fall short and destroy the trust you had in yourself. If you set reasonable goals (those that require you to be in your ZPD) that you can chip away at one by one, you will build up a reservoir of accomplishments that will increase your belief in yourself and your self-efficacy.

#3 – Think long term

Parkinson’s is a marathon and not a sprint. If you made a promise to yourself about a behavioral change you wanted to make, but last week you felt more tired or more OFF than usual, and you didn’t accomplish your daily/weekly goals, remember to keep the big picture in mind. Don’t let short-term losses derail your living well plan. Tomorrow is a new day. Improving self-efficacy involves the accumulation of successes, goals achieved, and promises kept over time. As Tony Robbins said, “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” 

#4 – Reframe the story

One of the most potent psychological tools people with high self-efficacy have is the ability to reframe obstacles and setbacks into something positive. Our Ambassadors are shining examples of this. They took what feels like a life-ending diagnosis to some, and they turned it into the best thing that ever happened to them. They began exercising every day, expanding their social networks, and giving back to their local and Parkinson’s communities in profound and meaningful ways. Many of them have told us they wouldn’t change a thing. That’s the power of reframing.

#5 – Find a model

If you’re struggling to make behavioral changes or reach goals you’ve set for yourself, look to others for inspiration. Watching someone like you adopt a new behavior, transform a belief, or accomplish a big goal may be just the encouragement you need to do the same. This isn’t about comparison. It’s about borrowing strength and belief from others when you get stuck. Looking for some inspiration? Reach out to any of our Ambassadors here

Further Reading

An Agentic Perspective on Positive Psychology – Albert Bandura 
Describing Self-Care Self-Efficacy: Definition, Measurement, Outcomes, and Implications
Bandura’s Theory of Self-Efficacy: Applications to Oncology
Perceived Self-Efficacy 
A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Social Cognitive Theory-Based Physical Activity and/or Nutritional Behavior Change Intervention for Cancer Survivors

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