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Do You Struggle With Self-Motivation?

October, 2020

Self-Motivation And Discipline

For professional dancers, dance students, or amateur dancers, discipline and self-motivation are key components of their training routine. Although dance, and in particular ballet training, attracts mainly people who usually do not find great satisfaction by being a couch potato, it is not without a struggle to be passionate about one's art or activity all the time. 

Why is that?
Whilst we are dancers, we are regular human beings too and evolutionary we are designed to conserve energy, e.g. for the next hunt...that nowadays ends by the fridge or in the supermarket queue.

Holistic Ballet Class London, Adult Dancers Practising Port De Bras

beginner ballet centre practise

Fortunately, humans are also wired to seek pleasure and movement and exercise can provide this. How? By releasing dopamine, the so-called feel-good transmitter, in the reward centre of the brain that brings us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

Moving in a group setting contributes to also experiencing community and connection, which is immensely important for our mental health and this is why practising alone in our living rooms and kitchens can become so difficult with time. 

Interestingly, synchronised movements, like dancing together as a group, further release endorphins that induce euphoria and increase pain tolerance. Adding music to the movements enhances the entire experience. How much better can it get?

I got very inspired by this
Rich Roll's podcast with Kelly McCongial, the author of 'The Joy of Movement'. McCongial is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University who specializes in understanding the mind-body connection.

Copy & paste the link into your browser to watch the interview

What If You No Longer Feel Joy?

However, if you no longer find joy in your classes, these positives can turn into negatives, like boredom, frustration, self-doubt, etc. As a dancer-species, we tend to override these feelings with sheer discipline. We may continue because we think we fail ourselves or our group if we stop or take a break. 

True, sometimes, getting over our innate laziness is the best thing we can do. By showing up, doing the barre, maybe the entire class, we triggered our dopamine release and our physical and mental well-being will have improved. Yet other times, we may serve ourselves better by listening to our body that needs to rest and to rejuvenate.
Every so often we may permit ourselves to take it easy and return when we feel more enthusiastic again and thereby maintain or even increase our love for ballet classes.
Most of us have this luxury. Professional dancers almost never have this option available to them and therefore their passion can suffer.

Although COVID-19 allows many professional dancers to get a much-needed physical rest, mentally it certainly is an extremely difficult time. During their forced break they must remain fit and slim whilst dealing with the sense of losing a year or more of an already very short and competitive career. Not to mention the lack of earnings as so many freelance artists fall through the otherwise generous government support schemes.

Holistic Ballet CWorkshop London, Adult Dancers Practising La Bayadère

synchronised dancing: La Bayadère workshop, 2017

What If You Feel Stuck?

Knowing all this may make no difference in how you feel. Humans, however introverted, need real-life connections, being with others in 3-D. But resisting what is, is going to make it even harder. So what can you do?
Find out the reasons for losing your motivation! Could they be any of the following?

You Plateaued

This is normal and everybody experiences it at some point. In the beginning, once the basics are grasped, most people simply enjoy being able to follow the class to a degree and are blissfully ignorant about the many details that ballet asks for. 
Once you realise how much more there is to the mastery of a battement tendu and that without its proficient execution pirouettes will not happen, it requires a determined mindset to keep going without getting (too) frustrated.
Persevere with patience and without attachment to a result or consider taking a private lesson to shift out of the plateau and to fasten your progress.

Unachievable Goals

Maybe you set yourself goals and timelines that you cannot achieve. Goals, long-term, or short-term, anything based on what you have seen on Instagram, may work for some but not for others.
I prefer to set an intention for the class, and think about what you want to focus on today. This could be footwork, alignment, musicality, grounding, breathing, or simply enjoying a pause from your daily tasks. Some days you want to work really hard, other days you need to be more gentle. If you have ambitious future goals, make sure you do not lose being present now. 
'The path is the goal'. (Chögyam Trungpa, Tibetan monk, 1939-1987)

Low Energy

This may be due to boredom with routines or lack of stimulation, physical or mental exhaustion, or lack of nutrients or hormonal imbalances.
You may want to do less, practise sleep hygiene, mix up your activities, e.g. go for walks (even on grey days), cycle, breathe deeply, dance freestyle, do yoga/pilates, stay away from your computers, phones, etc.  
If the situation allows treat yourself to body or energy work like a massage, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, any healing modalities that restore the flow of energy in your body.
Many find meditation or simply being still and breathing consciously for an extended time helpful, whilst for others, it increases their repetitive and thinking. Try before you decide whether it works for you.

Eating well is obviously crucial for physical and emotional well-being, something that is unfortunately not mentioned in the mainstream media's 'war against the virus'. 
Balanced eating is virtuous but being locked in at home, sugary and comfort foods appear far more tempting than usual. 
The first piece(s) of cake may pep you up but the 3rd(s) make you lethargic. Therefore, I am super excited that I found and amended a one-cup cake recipe on the healthier side that is done in about 20 minutes. I am happy to share the recipe with you if you are interested.

Nutrients and hormones play another crucial role in how our brain and body functions. When did you have had your last blood test? Talking to a sensitive doctor or a nutritionist may be something to think about.

Single Serving Cake For Dancers Who Need A Bit of Sweet Motivation

quick & easy single portion cake

with vegan ice cream (optional)

Poor Technical Quality 

I believe we improved massively since the beginning of online teaching yet there is more that we can do to make the experience as close as possible to live classes.  
I am happy to invest in better equipment and if you have any suggestions please do let me know.


You Miss People

That is a difficult one and that is why I believe the classes at Danceworks are full despite the many regulations and risks amongst others.
Adult ballet dancers are amazing in creating wonderful communities that inspire, support, encourage, and celebrate each other. 
Initially, Zoom groups helped through the tough times until just thinking of yet another Zoom meeting makes everyone cringe. 
But as the winter looms, we may feel more isolated than during the summer. Time-limited, brief chats might be a way forward? Perhaps you can exchange ballet notes or recipes, anything, just to remind everyone that we are going through this together.


Final Thoughts 

I am sure you are aware of most if not all my suggestions above but occasionally we need a reminder or hear things from a different source. 

It is also ok to feel low sometimes. There can be a lot of pressure to be upbeat because that makes others more comfortable.
Ignoring your emotions does not make them go away, indulging in them neither. Allowing them to be and trying to understand why they are there can help release them. This may sound cuckoo to you but try it! On your own, with a friend, or with a therapist.
Imagine our emotions are like toddlers. If you try to shut them up, they become more insistent. If on the other hand, you try to understand what they want or need, you have a better chance of creating a harmonious and happier relationship.

If you are interested, you can check out my Cognitive Hypnotherapy website.

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