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You’re Better Than Your Brain Thinks, Part Two

The more power we give a belief, the more control it has over us. Likely you’ve heard something like that before, but never thought about the reverse: The less time we pay to a limiting belief, the more we break it’s hold over us.

Last week, we talked about the four main beliefs, or biases, that can ruin our dance experience if we’re not careful. Let’s review:

  1. The comparison bias: We are more aware of our own mistakes than our peers, making us feel we are doing worse than everyone else.
  2. The mistake-aversion bias: An irrational fear that mistakes are inherently bad, which makes our mistakes feel about a thousand times worse than they need to.
  3. The progress bias: We’ve grown used to shallow, quickly-acquired skills, and may mistakenly think that learning to dance is just as easy.
  4. The comfort zone bias: As we get older, we become increasingly comfortable with our job, our routine, our surroundings – and increasingly uncomfortable with anything outside of that.

So, how do we lop off the heads of this four-headed hydra? Let’s take them one at a time.

The comparison cure: Don’t. Compare yourself, that is. Wait, you want more? Okay, here we go:

I once did a thought experiment with a group of people. First the speaker had me imagine that I was afraid, absolutely scared to death of the people sitting on either side of me. She then expanded this to include everyone in the audience, then everyone in the city, and finally everyone on the planet!

At this point, some of the audience started to laugh, but before I could figure out why, the speaker gave me the answer: If each of us had that fear, it meant that everyone else in the world was also afraid of ME! I was turning into petrified shell of a human, oblivious  to the fact that everyone around me was have the exact same reaction.

Here’s what that experience taught me. We are all, without exception, insecure about ourselves, our place in the world, our worthiness in the eyes of others – some of us just fake it better than others. So the next time you start comparing yourself to that “perfect” dancer, imagine they’re petrified of what YOU think of THEM! You may be more right than you know…

The mistake-aversion cure. As we often learn this perfectionist attitude at a very young age, this one can be particularly difficult to shake off. Here’s a few things that have worked for me:

  1. Use exposure therapy: Deliberately put yourself in a position to make more mistakes (read: dance more), while reminding yourself that each mistake is part of the price of improvement.
  2. Read a mantra to yourself every morning to help change how you think about mistakes. For example: “Each failure is simply another step towards my inevitable success.”
  3. Acknowledge the role your ego plays in all this. Why are you so special, that you are the only one who can never make mistakes? If others have this fear, who are they to judge you for it?
  4. Write about, or act out your worst case scenario with a friend, and practice removing all emotion from your response. For example, if someone came up to you and said: “that was a really awful performance you gave”, instead of getting angry, you could respond, “I’m sorry you felt that way, but I worked as hard as I had time for on that routine. I hope to do better next time.”
  5. Talk to a professional. I’m a pro in dance, not psychology – Sometimes we need someone with special training in “matters of the mind”.

The progress cure. A few years out of school, most of us forget how hard it was. It takes FOUR YEARS of college just to reach a passably practical level of skill in almost anything, and a lot more than that to be an expert (remember the 10,000 hours rule).

You may not be training to be a champion, but you still have to invest a considerable amount of time and energy to be comfortable dancing. That doesn’t mean it has to be a frustrating journey though – practice checking in with yourself, feeling for smaller improvements, and you’ll start seeing your steady progress towards your goal. I’ve written more about how you can do this here.

The comfort zone cure. Most people have three basic levels of stimulus. There’s the stimulus you’re familiar with – the job you’ve mastered, or the friends you grew up around. Then there’s the stimulus you’re completely unfamiliar with, so much so that it burns you out and sends you running back to the familiar. Dancing can be like this, if you aren’t careful.

While the first one doesn’t encourage growth, and the second one may encourage TOO much growth at once, there is a middle ground which combines what you know with what you don’t. This is the sweet spot, where you can grow steadily without overwhelming yourself.

How do we find this in dance? By taking a slower space, taking time to grasp the basics, before moving on to more challenging material. Patience is key here, so make sure you’ve applied the progress cure to yourself before tackling this one.

These perspective-shifts are not easily acquired, but they will transform your dancing, and your life. So pick the hydra-head that bothers you most, and set your mind to it!

About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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