In my post on using video as a feedback tool for improving, I mentioned that the hardest part of that exercise is not becoming completely negative while watching yourself on video.
I promised to come back to this topic because how we feel about our own image either in the mirror or on video gives us some useful information.
The Role of Corrections
For starters, from the earliest days in the classroom, dancers seek out corrections from their teachers in part because corrections are a form of attention.
If you look at other fields of study, being corrected is not necessarily a good thing- it means you’re doing something wrong. But in dance, we seek out that feedback. It is not unusual to hope for attention in the form of criticism, and it informs how we interact with our image.
When most of us look in the mirror, we look with a critical eye, we focus on finding problems and fixing them. This means that we don’t often see the whole picture: we miss the parts that are going well. But dancers are loathe to see the good stuff. Students have asked me, how it is possible to improve and not lower our standards if we are “wasting time” noticing what looks good, instead of “working hard to improve”? Good question.
Positive Feedback Loop
First, noticing what looks good creates a positive feedback loop. When your teacher or friends compliment you, it feels good, right? It doesn’t feel like a waste of time, does it? Of course not! We all love to hear what’s going well. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel fantastic. Those good feelings help us to approach our work in a more positive way. That’s a positive feedback loop.
You are already engaging in something similar when you use the mirror. When you correct a problem, do you notice later that it’s better? Of course you do! That’s how you know to move on and look for something else to fix.
But most of us gloss over the improvement, and move right away to the next problem. This is a missed opportunity. We should pay as much attention to what we’ve fixed as we do to what’s wrong. It builds self-esteem in part because it’s proof that you are improving.
Cultivate Your Own Loop
We all need positive feedback- it helps us grow and improve. But it is unreasonable to expect all of that feedback to come from your teachers because they have the entire class to monitor. You can start cultivating your own positive feedback loop by noticing what’s going well, and allowing yourself to feel good about it. This is an active position, one in which YOU take action, rather than waiting for external feedback.
I would guess that some of you are wondering if this exercise will give you a big ego or cause you to stop working hard. That is highly unlikely in part because dance tends to attract individuals who are driven and ambitious. It’s unlikely that paying attention to the good stuff is going to diminish your drive or suddenly eradicate your well-trained critical eye. Instead, it’s likely that you will start feeling more emotionally balanced and supported.
Give it a try and see how it goes. You may run into a few things that get in the way:
- Your body.
All dancers have some part of their body that they wish were different, from the feet to the ears. You may have a hang-up about a body part, and every time you see yourself, all you see is that part you don’t like.
This is a complex problem, but to keep it simple, try this: make peace with yourself. If you want to dance happily, you need to make peace with your body, both its good and “bad” parts. This doesn’t mean you have to ignore them, or stop working on them, but instead, they need to stop being obstacles to your positive feedback loop.
This is so important, I’m going to say it again. You must make peace with the parts of your body that aren’t the way you want them to be in order to move forward with your training and improve.
- Your self-talk.
It is common among high achievers to engage in what is called negative self-talk. Self-talk is the words or thoughts that you have in your mind when you dance or see yourself. You might see an unpointed foot and say, “Come on, point!!” or “That foot always looks so bad.”
Over time, these negative messages accumulate in your brain and affect the way that you work. Negative self-talk is a major impediment to your positive feedback loop, so it’s a good idea to start noticing if you do it.
Ask Yourself Some Questions
To wrap up, in order to create a positive feedback loop, you’ll want to look at the two issues raised here and ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I have a stumbling block in my own body? Is there something that I don’t like that I always focus on or look at?
- When I see that body part, what thoughts go through my mind?
- When I make a mistake, what goes though my mind?
- What kind of language do I use with myself when I am working in class?
It’s a good idea to write down the answers, especially the words that you use in your head. Once you do this for a few days, you will be able to see a pattern.
If it’s not positive, try to start incorporating some positive feedback into your day. Every time you spot a “negative” in the mirror/video, also find a positive and really enjoy it. If you find that you use a lot of negative language with yourself, try incorporating some positive phrases in and see how it feels.
Research in performance and sport psychology has shown that positive self-talk and feedback improves performance by a huge margin. Why not give it a try? Let me know how it goes!