Achieving the (semi) Impossible

December 15, 2010

This is the year.

You’ve come home from the Oireachtas with your mind full of possibilities. You’ve seen new steps that have blown your mind and excited you. You’ve not made that placement goal, or you have (congratulations!) and are ready to set your sights on a new tier of achievement.

You’re ready.

But don’t run for that practice room yet. Sit down. Pull out a notebook or sheet of paper. Time to think this through. Make it count. You know how New Year’s resolutions usually work, right? You tell yourself in your mind that you’re going to win your last first in prelim by the end of the year, and by the end of January, you’ve forgotten it for the most part. Mother does it too… remember that “pesky 9 kilos” she’s wanted to lose for the past 15 years? We have a hard time staying focused on our goals, and so find them unachieved at the end of the year.

But you can. You can do it now.

1. Write down what you want. This can be anything. Don’t worry how it’s worded, just get it all out. What do you really and honestly want? Feel free to ask your teacher what their top five list of things you could improve on are as well, if you’re wondering the best way to get where you want to go.

2. Once your brain is empty and your paper is full (I know there is not just one thing you want in dance), sort it out into the following categories:

Technical Progress (this is where “more turnout”, “get my toestands strong”, “do the Wang-jiggity two-and-a-half spin” should be written)
Mental Improvement (This is where “not make ‘ I messed up’ faces at the judge”, “do that visualizing stuff”, and “remember my steps” all go)
Outward Manifestation of Achievement (This is where you put those more capricious goals that rely on others for completion such as “recall at Nationals”, “Move up to the Novice class”, “get into Lord of the Dance”)

3. From there, hone or consolidate your list. If everyone everywhere tried to fix everything wrong all at once… well, you can guess what would happen. Pick the items in your Technical and Mental lists that would predictably lead to achieving your most important Outward Manifestation goal. Just pick a few.

4. Now take these honed goals and make them more specific. This can be in percentage improvement, in time frame, or in to-do list style. For instance “Get the new Champ steps” is fairly ambiguous. Perhaps reword to say “Break down and perfect each move in the new Champ steps by February, then rehearse and have ready to compete by April.”

5. Unless your list is really simple, you’ll probably have to plan out how you’re going to get there. “Get first in prelim” is a massive goal, so give yourself rungs to the top of that ladder. Observe:
” 1. Learn Prelim Steps
2. Ask teacher what technique will be the most important to win Prelim
3. I will practice from 4-5pm every day in my garage
4. Work each element of technique
5. Mentally and physically practice steps
6. Try a Yoga class
7. Book some shows at Care homes to work out stage fright bugs
8. Polish with teacher at private lesson”

Please note item 3. You have a definite physical location and time to achieve this goal. Plan where and when each of these items are happening.

6. Now that you’ve gotten each goal categorised, honed and planned out, you need to write it down again.
The best way to do this is to put it either on a large poster where you will see it every day, or in a dedicated practice log or notebook. Be sure to make a copy and give it to both your parents and your dance teacher. They are your best allies and surest defense against wimping out. Your parents will push you just like they do for homework, and your teacher will be better apprised of what you’re trying to work on so they can personalize their approach to you to help you achieve it.

7. Make some sort of chart or log. I’ve advised TCRG candidates to make checklists for study that have to be done every week, then every day leading up to the exam. The list would look something like:

Week____________________________M _____T______W_____ Th_____F_____S_____Su
Review Flash Cards (memorization)
Write one Dance out Completely
Listen to Ceili book
(prerecorded or read aloud)
Practice softshoe solos
Practice Hardshoe solos
Practice Traditional Sets
Practice Contemporary Sets
Correctly Identify 10 set dances ♫

Check-off systems are great. If the thought of going back to your nursery school days and rewarding yourself with cute stickers on a chart gets you excited, go for it. If you have a fun app that you’d love to justify downloading that allows you to log your progress on your iphone, be my guest. But remember you’re the one sticking with the recording method too.

Make sure you write down things in a practice journal. Notes about the steps you took to achieve a new move, recording instances of pain to discuss with your teacher and a physio, patting yourself on the back for a job well done when you’ve accomplished something. You’ll use and treasure this later, I guarantee it.

8. You can do this. You need to tell yourself that. It’s going to get boring, it’s going to get hard. Sometimes it will feel like it’s just not working. Be mentally connected to what you’re doing. Realize no mountain was moved in a day, no relationship was forged in an instant, and no dancer made it from novice to world champ in a year. Keep pushing. Mental affirmations are important. Vocal ones too. Say “I can do this” at the beginning of each session. Say “I can do this” before you walk onstage. Say “I can do this” when you’re out of breath and out of faith. You can do this.

Final notes:

You HAVE to schedule time for your goals. And you have to defend that scheduled time like it is a work commitment or a class you can’t miss. If it’s something you’re really dedicated to achieving, you will have the focus to give other things up. If you give yourself excuses for why you missed a practice session, you had better start getting excuses ready for why you didn’t achieve your goals this year.

Keep connected to your support system. Ask them to nag you, and appreciate it when they do.

Celebrate the small victories. Any progress is wonderful, no matter how small.

Be realistic. I can’t lay out your personal limitations. They are personal and unique. I can’t tell you that you can win when really, you need a few years for those legs to stop growing. I can’t tell you that you can get those two prelim wins when you can only afford to travel to two feis this year. Take a good hard look at what you can do, and do it. Read these stories of Perserverance!

Please send me questions and comments about how to achieve your goals. I’d love to be a sounding board as you work to be the best dancer you can be in 2011. Good luck, and I’ll be cheering for you.

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