Believing in yourself is essential to successful performance and has two components - self-esteem and self-confidence, says Adrian Moorhouse

Self-belief is essential to the make-up of the world’s top performers and many of them rank belief in their success attributes. But what is it really and how can it be developed so that it stays strong under periods of intense pressure in the NHS?

You may not always be able to get promoted but you can still perform well at the processes and get satisfaction from them

We know that modern day healthcare is complex, challenging and pressured for staff at all levels and functions. Learning to handle pressure, maintaining motivation and staying strong in your self-belief are all fundamental attributes for world class performance.

Self-esteem vs self-confidence

Self-belief has two key components: self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-esteem is a way of thinking developed over time and unlikely to change in the short term. It is largely unaffected by the external environment so is pretty much within your control.

Self-confidence, however, can be affected by the external environment and day to day challenges at work. This means that you are not always in control of it.

When people want to improve their self-belief, they often focus on improving self-confidence when they should really tackle their self-esteem first. Robust self-esteem is needed to develop mental toughness and, although it cannot develop overnight, it can be built gradually using a number of strategies.

Think of your successes

Think back to a recent success or a time when things went well for you. Why did you succeed? Also think about a recent failure or when things went against you. Why did it happen? Answering these questions will help identify which factors were within your control and which were not.

Building self-esteem involves understanding past successes and failures properly and celebrating your achievements. It is also crucial that you accept fallibility. Nobody is perfect so why should you expect to be?

Next you must focus on what is in your control and what is not. You may not always be able to get promoted but you can still perform well at the processes and get satisfaction from them.

Setting realistic goals that are achievable within a timeframe will also help develop your self-esteem.

Developing self-confidence

To develop self-confidence you must keep drawing on your own and others’ experiences. You should identify and imagine what a pressurised environment will be like and how you would respond in the most effective way. The important thing is to identify how the situation has been handled well before and how you can do the same.

Managing your thoughts and emotions, whether they are worries, criticisms or even a victim mentality, is important. The most effective way to deal with any negative “self talk” is to counter it with positive, supportive statements and recall how you have dealt with pressure in the past.

Think about when you are in a pressured situation and the nerves are showing. How does this response affect your confidence? Top performers experience stress but turn it to their own advantage, exploiting their nerves to help their performance.

Controlling the controllables during change

A group of senior cross-functional leaders from merging teams were brought together to share challenges and develop new ways of working during a period of organisational change.

A focus of the workshop series was to explore which factors of change were within their control and which were not.

Leaders discussed their challenges openly, recalling past successes and challenges that had impacted on their self-belief. Being able to identify the elements of control became a key technique employed to develop their belief and those that they lead.

Leaders reported improved ability to:

  • create and communicate visions for their team
  • develop their own self-belief and those that they lead
  • lead high performing multiprofessional teams