The Gift of Self-Efficacy & Mindfulness

Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments (Bandura, 1977, 1986, 1997), and it plays a major part in determining our chances for success; in fact some psychologists rate self-efficacy above talent in the quest for successful performance outcomes.

In his brilliant book The Mindful Athlete, George Mumford describes the ‘gift of self-efficacy’ as the ability to know ones limits and develop expertise even after making a mistake during a game, setbacks or injury.

Mumford’s story is remarkable. A former heroin addict in the early 1980’s he discovered mindfulness meditation and after originally being invited to work with the Chicago Bulls by Phil Jackson found himself using mindfulness techniques with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Scotty Pippen and Shaquille O’Neill amongst many others who have spoken of the benefits on and off the court.

The practice of mindfulness as form of mental training is becoming increasingly popular with athletes. (Buhlmayer et al., 2017). Defined by John Kabat-Zinn (1994), mindfulness is a structured mindset to being aware of the present-moment experience in an accepting, non-judging, and non-avoiding way. and the first intervention of mindfulness in sport was indicated by Kabat-Zinn et al., (1985) in rowing.

A recent meta-analytical review by Buhlmayer et al., observed the following key points on mindfulness:

1) Mindfulness practice consistently and notably improves mindfulness scores among various sport disciplines.

2) Physiological and psychological performance surrogates improved to a meaningful extent following mindfulness practice.

3) Based on available evidence, mindfulness practice can be considered as a performance-enhancing complementary training approach in precision sport disciplines such as shooting and dart throwing.

4) More high-quality studies measuring the effect of mindfulness practice on performance in various sports should be conducted.

Bernier, et al., (2009) investigated mindfulness and acceptance approaches in both elite youth golfers and elite swimmers and observed that the “flow” states described by Csiksgentmihalyi (1990) were found to share similar attributes to mindfulness states, however it must be noted that the sample size was pretty small (10 swimmers, 7 golfers).

Personally I am a big fan of mindfulness practice (I try to do at least 10 minutes a day of practice) especially in the high performance world which can be incredibly pressurised at times with very high stakes, I am also a big fan of yoga for my athletes for a variety of reasons – mindfulness being just one.

In his book Mumford describes how the gift of self efficacy in the hard knocks world of sport allows us to see these occasional setbacks as blessings in disguise, an opportunity to learn where injuries and extreme circumstances are a chance to make us stronger. Having the gift of self efficacy, through practising mindfulness, helps us realise that no matter what happens on the pitch or in training we take everything as a challenge and not a curse and we will rise to the occasion of the challenge or challenges by having the ability to see ourselves as capable no matter what is thrown at us.

“If you change the way you look at things, the way you look at things change”

Mumford describes how the self-efficacy is the galvanising force behind what he’s has observed in the elite athletes he has worked with, who possess the “3C’s”:

  1. Commitment to your own growth & development.
  2. Control over how you respond to stressors.
  3. Crisis = Challenge.

These “3C’s” are mental and emotional pillars of wisdom that help us increase performance, and effectively deal with the chaos thrown at us on the field so that we can stay in a state of “flow”.

Combine these “3C’s” with self-efficacy, you not only see crises as an opportunity to grow and develop, you also create challenging goals for yourself that help support this quest for growth. This keeps us in a high state of awareness, meaning we incrementally push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

Throughout the book Mumford uses the analogy of a hurricane and sport/life, and how finding clarity in our mind during games enables us to be in a state of flow, or the ‘zone’, this in turn leads to better decision making, especially in the world of elite sport with its fine margins.

” Think of the eye of a hurricane. No matter how intense the storm or what’s swept in its gale-force winds, that calm, blue centre is always there. We all have that quiet centre within us”

Mumford’s book is a great read for any athlete or coach and there are plenty of apps available to help you with mindfulness practice if you wish to explore this area further.


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84(2), 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman

Bernier, M., Thienot, E., Codron, R. and Fournier, J. (2009) ‘Mindfulness and Acceptance Approaches in Sport Performance’. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 3(4) pp.320-333.

Bühlmayer, L., Birrer, D., Röthlin, P., Faude, O. and Donath, L. (2017) ‘Effects of Mindfulness Practice on Performance-Relevant Parameters and Performance Outcomes in Sports: A Meta-Analytical Review’. Sports Medicine.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: the psychology of optimal performance  New York: Harper and Row.

Kabat-Zinn J, Beall B, Rippe J. A systematic mental training program based on mindfulness meditation to optimise performance in collegiate and Olympic rowers. Poster presented at the World Congress in Sport Psychology, Copenhagen, Denmark;1985

Kabat-Zinn J. Wherever you go there you are. New York: Delta;1994.




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