As with almost everything in life, your mental focus and attitude have a lot to do with your success. This is especially true for any athletic competition or creative performance such as DanceSport, where the difference between great success and significant disappointment happens as a result of subtle and split second actions.
Elite athletes understand the need for mental focus very clearly. The physical difference, skill level and practice schedule among such athletes do not vary much. Often the difference between bronze and gold is mental focus. The benefit of understanding how to get a winning mental focus is not just for the elite however, anyone at any level can benefit greatly from understanding these mental building blocks of success.
Your mental focus needs to start well before the actual competition day in these 3 important areas.
- Accountability gives you control. It is very hard to create success if you do not feel in control. The best way to feel in control is to take accountability for yourself in practice, preparation and execution.
- If most of your focus is on what your coach, your partner, or your studio should do, you are giving up accountability and control to them. With this, it will be very difficult for you to improve because improvement will depend on things other than yourself.
- Having an accountable attitude, also makes you less vulnerable in a competition. You could have to deal with a floor that is too slippery, a room that is too warm, or so many things other things that are imperfect. Accountable preparation trains your mind to be focused on what you can control – yourself. This will limit the impact of people or situations around you.
2. Anticipating success
- You will always move in the direction that you look. If obstacles distract you or if you focus more on past disappointments than current and future opportunities, then you will not have the focus required for success.
- Anticipating success gives you a positive attitude, which is energizing for you and those around you.
- Truly the main strength of a positive attitude is not really about being just happy and pleasant, those things are a result. It is about facing problems with the expectation that they will be solved, and facing challenges with the expectation that you will succeed.
- It is hard to put in words how powerful this point is. Just please understand that it is essential for any success.
3. Attainable stretch goals
- It is rare that we enter a major competition without some expectation of doing a bit better than we did the last time. To change this expectation from wishful thinking to something that will actually happen, it is important to be specific about what exactly it is that you want to be different this time. Is it your speed? Musicality? Technical precision? Or something else?
- Your goal should never be just getting a better result. The better result will only come as an outcome of attaining specific stretch goals.
On the day of the competition your mental focus should allow you to be in the moment and responsive, without anxiety or distraction.
4. Focus on the big picture.
- When anxious, many people either blank out or focus on small things. Neither is good, and both will make your anxiety worse. Both will also stop you from performing at your best.
- Address any anxiety about small points in your routines by going over them in your mind slowly in freeze frame, as you would in practice. This is also a good way to use your mind to trigger the muscle memory that you have built.
- Then go through your routines in your mind again, this time picturing yourself in the final heats, feeling relaxed, happy and with perfect effortless execution. This is a great way to trigger positive emotions and calmness in association with your dancing.
- Then go through you routines a third time from the audience point of view. Picture yourself doing the routines in a way that is appealing and impressive to watch. This is a way to trigger the exact images that should be in your head as you compete.
- This three step approach will meet your need to focus on the things that create anxiety and get them out of the way, so you can move to the helpful thoughts and feelings that you need when you compete.
5. Understand that some things will likely not go perfectly well.
- When things are not perfect, it does not automatically mean you will not be successful.
- One of the biggest risks is feeling that you messed up early on, and letting that set your expectation for the rest of a routine or even the rest of the competition.
- An interesting and effective technique is to train yourself to smile a bit brighter, and breathe a bit more calmly whenever something goes wrong. This is much more than faking it front of the judges, it actually resets you mind to move forward with success, now that the stumbling block is out of the way.