What’s Your Ideal Arousal Level?

I thought that might get your attention. (heh, heh)

Translated, that title is: What is the perfect level of energy for your best performance?

Sport and performance psychologists spend a lot of time examining this with their performers because it plays a major part in their success. Performers who have too much energy can go off the rails; inversely, performers with not enough energy can under-perform.

Energy isn’t really the right word. Sport and performance psychologists call it the “arousal” or “activation” level. Being “over-aroused” or having a high activation level can raise your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. It’s the butterflies in the stomach, dry-mouth, feeling nauseous experience that most performers are familiar with.

Over-arousal can really interfere with your performance in part because you rarely rehearse at that level of arousal. The brain and body are happiest with consistency and those symptoms are way outside the limits of how you usually dance. Consequently, they impact your dancing in negative ways.

On the other hand, being “under-aroused” or having a low activation level can have the opposite effect: a bored, lifeless performance that lacks excitement.

So what you want is to feel the way you usually do while training and rehearsing. Then, add in just the right amount of pre-performance jitters and that’s a recipe for peak performance.

If you’re feeling on board with the above, then your next question is probably, “How do I know what the right arousal level is for me?”

The bad news is, I don’t haver the answer.

The good news is, you do!

First, think back to the last performance or audition you did that went really well – where you felt excited but calm and gave a great performance. Then, start recreating those circumstances on a daily basis in class and rehearsal. Pay attention to when things go off the rails (over-arousal) and, conversely, when you feel bored or tired (under-arousal). We’re aiming for “just right.”

Finally, if you have an audition or performance coming up, follow your plan and then make careful notes about how it went.

  • Were you calm, but excited?
  • Did your body feel energized and ready?
  • Were you too nervous to learn the combinations?
  • Were you too tired to focus?

The answer is that only you can know what your optimal arousal level for peak performance is. You can find it through experimentation and mindfulness.

If you’d like help with this, or any other issues related to performing, auditioning, healthy eating or stress reduction, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.

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