Hello, lovelies! I hope you all are doing well. The semester is going well so far. I've gotten all A's on the tests/exams we've had so far. I'm currently dealing with a lot of health issues so these upcoming weeks are filled with doctors appt and lab tests. Other than that, I'm doing fan-freaking- tastic!
Since World Ballet Day (Oct 4th) is almost upon us, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to write a post about something that all dancers, especially ballerinas, struggle with. And that is perfectionism.
Have you ever had one of those times when you obsess over your mistakes or a bad practice? I've had so many of those days I've complete lost count. It was stressing me out so much that I ended up not taking dance classes at all during my first year of college. I didn't small shows here and there but no classes at all. I am working on getting back into classes now.
I never really thought of myself as a 'perfectionist' until I was writing this post. My perfectionism doesn't just begin and end with dance. I'm a perfectionist about everything in my life from, how each blog post looks like, to my handwriting, to even what I wear each day. It's definitely a burden, wanting everything to be perfect because when something doesn't happen the way I want it to, I get really frustruated with myself. For the sake of this post, I'm going to focus on perfectionism and my dancing.
When I was dancing pre-professionally, I wanted my dancing to be absolutely perfect. I worked hard and was incredibly focused. But instead of concentrating on how much I was improving, I obsessed over her mistakes. “I constantly saw my weaknesses and flaws as something wrong with me. In class, I’d be so busy thinking about the last mistake I made or the things about me that needed ‘fixing,’ that I would miss corrections from the teachers or would be slow to pick up the combination. This affected my confidence and focus. I would always be telling myself, "don't screw up the combination" and I'd end up screwing it up because I was so focused on dancing perfectly, over just letting go and just dancing, if you know what I mean.
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you may be suffering from a kind of perfectionism that is impeding your progress and making you feel bad about yourself. Today I will be talking about perfectionism and how to deal with it.
What is neurotic perfectionism—and how different is it from perfectionism?
Most dancers are perfectionists, which is a good thing. We have a strong work ethic, high standards and are often organized. “A lot of what we do is about perfecting our physique and technique. We are constantly making adjustments and improvements.”
But when this is taken to the extreme, it becomes neurotic, or maladaptive, perfectionism. “Neurotic perfectionism is the need to succeed taken to the extreme,” says Maryland-based Silby, who has worked with dancers at The Kirov Academy in Washington, DC, and American Ballet Theatre. Maladaptive perfectionism is characterized by a constant need for approval, the setting of unreasonable standards and endless anxiety about meeting those expectations. On the other hand, “People with a healthy drive to succeed understand that there are ups and downs,” Silby says. “If they fail to meet expectations, they’re able to negotiate through it in an effective way and use it to move forward. For neurotic perfectionists, it’s either success or failure, and typically, it’s failure because the standard is so high it’s almost impossible to meet.”
Why is it dangerous?
Maladaptive perfectionism can cause a host of psychological problems, like eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. It can make you lose your love for dance and make you feel depressed. It can also lead to burnout—a maladaptive perfectionist might continually over-practice or never take a day off. She might add cross-training, thinking she’s doing something good for herself when she needs to rest.
What are the signs?
If a dancer is unusually critical, is focusing on her mistakes, not seeing all the good things she has done, or is setting very high standards that no one could meet...that is perfectionism for you.
Neurotic perfectionists tend to…
1. Overemphasize PRODUCT, and underemphasize PROCESS. Dancers who fixate on the final outcome—say, not being cast in a particular role—dismiss the ways in which they have contributed to their success. "They don’t say, ‘I had a great audition today and here’s why: I visualized my variation, I took a deep breath and told myself to trust my training,'" Silby says. This makes performing even more anxiety-provoking because they don’t give themselves any credit for contributing to the outcome! (In fact, when a dancer is asked how he/she has contributed to his/her succcess, nine out of 10 perfectionists will say they don’t know).
2. Set unrealistic standards that make them feel like they’re constantly failing, which can lead to depression.
3. Procrastinate. The sheer thought of failing keeps them from trying at all, so they put it off.
4. Be indecisive, which can be problematic on or offstage. “In performance, if you can’t decide whether you’re really going to go for it or kind of going to go for it, it wreaks havoc on performance,” Silby explains.
5. Feel shame and guilt about letting others down and worry about the sacrifices their parents or teachers have made for them.
6. Say “should” a lot instead of focusing on what they can do or have already accomplished.
What are the contributing factors?
Teachers and the studio environment also play an important role. Does your teacher put emphasis on effort or only on outcome? Does she pay attention to all the students or just the most talented ones? You need to be able to dispute the negative thoughts with fact, logic and reason. Look at the bigger picture. The teacher may have ignored you today because she worked with you yesterday, or because you have a cold and you weren’t at your best.
This is hard to do on your own, believe me, I knowl. I recommend thinking of what you’d say to your best friend if she was complaining of being ignored. You wouldn’t tell her she was a complete loser! You’d probably give her a slew of factors—mostly circumstantial—that have contributed to her feeling down.
How do you treat it?
The biggest way to stop perfectionism, is part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. It's a technique called “thought-stopping”: When you feel a negative thought coming on, you stop it early. Then you reframe the situation by treating a mistake as a learning opportunity. Let’s say you fell out of a turn at a critical dress rehearsal. Instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself why. Maybe you’re exhausted. Or maybe it’s an awkward step that needs to be fixed. It doesn’t have to mean you have no talent.”
Also we, as dancers, need to become aware of our own “self-talk.” What are you (unconsciously) telling yourself? Are you berating yourself for being untalented, or do you feel proud of doing a step well?
You can learn to turn maladaptive perfectionism around so that it doesn’t negatively affect your dancing and self-esteem. After my recent foot injury forced me to take a break, I realized that I focused too much on my imperfections and on the things that went wrong. I was stressing myself out and overworking in this unrealistic attempt to be perfect.
What did I do? I started accepting myself and the things that I couldn’t change. I’m committed and disciplined, but now I try not to put unnecessary pressure on myself.
I also advise staying positive for the sake of your fellow dancers. The worst thing is working with a dancer who has a negative self-image. Now I work hard on my weaknesses, but they don’t affect my focus and stress level—and they don’t hold me back. It’s because I’m aware of my strengths, too. (If you've done competitions and won many awards, you have proof of your strengths. Every plaque, trophy and metal in my room is proof that I am an amazing dancer, even if people thing otherwise).
I hope this post helped you all deal with perfectionism. As always if you liked this post give it a +1 on Google+, follow me on all my social media sites which will be linked below and leave me a comment below what your summer faves are. I hope you all have a brilliant week.
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