An important aspect of motivation to make positive lifestyle changes is an individuals belief that they CAN be successful at changing.This aspect of motivation is called self-efficacy. Albert Bandura, the long standing guru of self-effficacy research defines it as; the conviction that one can successfully execute the behavior required to produce desired outcomes. He goes on to say that efficacy expectations determine whether coping behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long effort will be sustained in the face of obstacles.  In short, the more one expects to be able to master the behavior/task the more effort they will expend to be successful.

This relates perfectly to expectations of aging well.  Research clearly demonstrates those with positive expectations of aging take more steps to age well than those with negative expectations of aging.  It also sheds light on a dilemma many adult children face when helping a parent with diminished capacity–preventing care environments that fail to support development and maintenance of self-efficacy.  My mother is seven years post-stroke. All the well-meaning care she has received has resulted in her belief that she cannot (and should not have to) do anything for herself.  Throw in the need to control "something" (even if is the ability to say NO), some family dynamic issues and you have a potentially devastating receipe for complete dependency.  For years my siblings and I have been trying to "get her" to participate in activities to help her have a positive quality of life. Yet, physical challenges coupled with lack of self efficacy results in decisions and behaviors each day that promise an outcome of continued decline.

I’m lobbying for a total shift in focus and searching for practical activities to help mom improve self efficacy.  With improved self-efficacy (and a restructured environment that supports it) she can be a partner in her well-being rather than a reluctant customer of our ideas for wellness.  I’ll let you know how it goes!