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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 01, 2018

    On Balance
    4 Ways to Conquer Self-doubt

    Self-efficacy is highly developable. Pick an area you want to build, then map out how you want to expand it using these tips.

    Paula M. Davis-Laack

    confident lawyer

    Confidence is an important part of success. When you doubt your capabilities, it’s more likely that you will give up prematurely or settle for poorer solutions when faced with obstacles, setbacks, and failures.1 The type of confidence that helps you achieve is called self-efficacy, and it’s the general belief in your ability to solve work and life challenges and succeed. It’s also domain specific, which means that you may feel highly confident negotiating a contract but have little confidence leading a new committee.

    Paula Davis-LaackPaula Davis-Laack, Marquette 2002, MAPP, is the founder of the Stress & Resilience Institute, a training and consulting firm focused on enhancing resilience, well-being, and engagement in the legal profession. She is the author of the e-book, Addicted to Busy: Your Blueprint for Burnout Prevention.

    Self-efficacy is also highly developable. While you can build your confidence generally, it’s best to pick a targeted area to develop. First, start by deciding which area of efficacy you want to build: Your negotiating efficacy? Public speaking efficacy? Business development efficacy? Client interaction efficacy?

    Then map out how you want to expand it based on the categories below.

    Self-efficacy is developed in the following ways (in order of effectiveness):2

    1. Mastery Experiences

    Mastery experiences have been shown to be the most effective way to build your confidence. They are simply you getting a chance to learn by doing and being successful at the performance of new skills. If you want to develop your confidence at business development, you need to put yourself in situations that create small wins. Go to one networking event (just attending is a win); talk to one person about your work (that’s a win); have a follow-up call or lunch with the person you met (that’s a win). Being thrown into the deep end and told to just “figure it out” is a common theme in many law firms and organizations, but that strategy impedes self-efficacy development and quite frankly, is a bizarre way to help anyone develop confidence.

    2. Vicarious Experiences

    These are observed experiences where you learn by watching others. Attending hearings and closings will help you develop confidence in your law practice. Ask to attend client pitch meetings and take notes about what strategies the attorneys use with potential clients.

    3. Verbal Persuasion

    Confidence is also developed when you learn by being coached by a credible and respected source about your efforts. Quick praise given by someone you barely know is like confidence fast food – it will feel good in the moment but will then go straight to your hips (and will soon be forgotten). Effective self-efficacy builders express confidence in your ability to succeed and will look for opportunities for you to do so, will give you feedback and guidance, and will recognize you for a job well done.

    4. Physical and Emotional States

    People also rely on sensory or physical information when judging their self-efficacy. If you’re nervous or tense about a presentation, you may interpret that as a sign that you’re not prepared. As a result, you’ll be more likely to doubt your effectiveness.

    Benefits of Self-efficacy

    The personal and professional benefits of self-efficacy are numerous:

    • Self-efficacy has been shown to be a strong predictor of positive affect and activates adaptive coping strategies, such as planning, positive reframing, and acceptance.3

    • Those with high self-efficacy are better able to identify new business opportunities, create new products, think creatively, commercialize ideas, and persevere under stress and pressure.4

    • Innovation is a hot topic in many different industries, but innovating can tax even the most resilient person. Innovating often requires heavy investments of time and money, and the benefit may not be realized for months or years; however, effective leadership requires receptivity to innovation, and efficacy beliefs influence receptivity.5 In one study, managers’ perceived technical efficacy influenced how ready they were to adopt new electronic tech innovations.6 In addition, efficacy beliefs affect not only managers’ receptivity to tech innovations,7 but also the readiness with which employees adopt them.8

    • Professionals with high self-efficacy perceive more of their work demands as challenge demands (that is, the effortful parts of your work that you view as pathways to growth), which leads to more engagement at work and less burnout.9

    Most importantly, when you develop these beliefs about your capabilities, they stick. A strong sense of self-efficacy has been shown to predict coping behavior five years later, health functioning four years later, and maintenance of habit changes over long time intervals.10 In addition, building your self-efficacy in one area of your work or life spills over into other areas – it’s like your brain says, “bring it on” to all sorts of challenges and new opportunities to learn.

    Having a confidence mindset applies to both new attorneys and seasoned professionals alike. Please let me know how you plan to develop your confidence this year!

    Meet Our Contributors

    You travel a lot for work – where has work taken you recently?

    Paula Davis-LaackMy year is off to a busy start! Lawyer well-being is a topic law firms and organizations are really paying attention to, thanks in part to the publication of the National Task Force Report on Lawyer Well-Being. I feel honored to work with firms, organizations, and lawyers to talk about how to prevent burnout and build more resilience to stress.

    So far this year, I’ve been to New York City, Toronto twice, Orlando, Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia twice, Buffalo, Boston, and Chicago several times. It is quite the juggling act with a 2 year old, but my husband is amazing. In addition, I often get to spend time with friends and clients who have become new friends, so that helps ease the time apart from my family. It’s really an exciting time to be part of the legal profession!

    Paula Davis-Laack, Stress & Resilience Institute, Elm Grove.

    Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email Check out our writing and submission guidelines.


    1 Albert Bandura, Cultivating Self-Efficacy for Personal & Organizational Effectiveness, in Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior 179-200 (E.A. Locke, ed.) (New York, NY: Wiley, 2009).

    2 Id. at 184-85.

    3 Cecil Robinson & Karla Snipes, Hope, Optimism & Self-Efficacy: A System of Competence and Control Enhancing African American College Students Academic Well-Being, 35(2) Multiple Linear Regression Viewpoints 16-26 (Spring 2009).

    4 Bandura, supra note 1, at 182.

    5 Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control 458 (New York, NY: W.H. Freeman & Co., 1997).

    6 Paula Jorde-Bloom & Martin Ford, Factors Influencing Early Childhood Administrators’ Decisions Regarding the Adoption of Computer Technology, 4(1) J. of Educ. Computing Res. (1988).

    7 Thomas Hill, Nancy D. Smith & Millard F. Mann, Role of Efficacy Expectations in Predicting the Decision to Use Advanced Technologies: The Case of Computers, 72(2) J. of Applied Psychol. 307-13 (1987).

    8 Tracy McDonald & Marc Siegall, The Effects of Technological Self-Efficacy and Job Focus on Job Performance, Attitudes, and Withdrawal Behaviors, 126(5) The J. of Psychol. 465-75 (1992).

    9 Mercedes Ventura, Marisa Salanova & Susana Llorens, Professional Self-Efficacy as a Predictor of Burnout and Engagement: The Role of Challenge and Hindrance Demands, 149(2) The J. of Psychol. 277-302 (2015).

    10 Bandura, supra note 5, at 68.

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