This is the first post topic that my dance teacher has suggested that I write. It seems I am a bit of an oddity. I do not do well with compliments. As soon as I am told I am doing something well, I dance poorly. When I am told I need to work on something of that something is not good enough, then I seem to dance better. Am I an anomaly or do I just know what I need to help me dance well? That's what I will talk to you about now.
Should your teacher always be positive or should they keep telling you what's wrong?
The basic explanation
If you've read my e-books (see the link to the right), then you will know about meta-programs (which is just a fancy name for the way we operate). One of these meta-programs is called the Towards-Away From program. Basically: Do you operate best working toward a goal or do you perform better when trying to avoid a problem?
Weight control is a good example. Some people gain weight and feel motivated to lose it. As they lose the weight, the motivation drops off. Others, like to focus on being trim and possibly feel more motivated as they get closer to their goal. The first group is the away and the second is Away From.
I certainly seem to be an away from person. I like to move away from bad dancing and I tend to slack off on my diet when I lose a bit of weight. But is this common?
In dance, it's probably not. I think most people who take up social dance like the idea of dancing, and came to dance with the goal of learning to dance. This would make most people in dance Towards people. And I would then seem odd to my teacher.
It took a while, but my teacher did learn to stop being so damned positive. I then was able to improve my dance faster.
However, is this really the single best way for me? Regardless if it is or not: would it actually help others?
The Need for Positive Motivation
Remember when I said that most people in dance would be Towards people because they wanted to become good at dance? Why then would you get people like me in there then? I actually got into dance because I was in a period of boredom - I had left study some years ago, and was feeling an itch to learn. I was trying to move Away From an uncomfortable state of being intellectually inactive. Turns out social dance was just what I needed too; there was a huge amount to learn
So even though I was not looking for a goal, if I did not feel that dance was going to be something that I could learn, then it would not have helped me remove the problem that I had. I had a different teacher at that time and she had been trained to be suitably motivation, and tell me how well I could dance. Which I assume she told all her students: dancers are just Towards people on the whole. And, despite my natural tendancies, this is probably just what I needed at that time.
One of the best books about what motivates us to learn and not choke under pressure is a book by Sian Beilock called Choke.
This book covers a lot science about what makes us fail under pressure (all the way to how the letters in our names can affect us). However, there is one section that explicitly shows that criticism at the early stages of learning something can kill motivation forever. How many people hate mathematics because of a bad experience in school?
So at the start of a student's dancing career, it's good to encourage and use positive motivation. But does it work all the time; even for people who are goal oriented?
The Black Hat
Not many people say this, but: Edward de Bono is a dude!
Don't know who Edward de Bono is? He is the man who invented the term Lateral Thinking. There's only a handful of people who spend a lot of time thinking about thinking (a topic I enjoy reading about) and he's one of them. I think the best book he wrote was Six Thinking Hats.
In this book Edward de Bono argues that we need to put our minds in a collection of different states (each represented by a coloured hat) when we think about an issue. This helps us see a problem from all perspectives. We can then make an informed decision.
One of these hats is the black hat. It's the hat that represents negative thought. Not negative as in bad, but negative as in what it wrong or what could go wrong. Edward de Bono actually suggests that this is one of the more important hats. If you can find all the problems and then fix them, then things have to be great.
This is probably a good summary of how I approach dance. Look for all the problems and then fix them. A strong focus like this might not be ideal for all students, but you do need to spend at least some time looking at what needs to be fixed.
But does it really need to be negative?
A Caveat on focusing on problems
You have probably also heard me talk about the inner game by Andy Gallwey. This is a concept introduced by Andy Gallwey when he was teaching tennis. Although he did not have the words used by neurologists to explain it, he found that the most powerful part of your mind could be used to focus on performing better when your conscious mind is distracted so that you cannot be negative about what you're doing.
This is best explained by using imaging in dance. When you imagine something being done to you, like your hips being pulled to improve hip action or your back being made rigid to help with posture, you are no longer being negative. You are too focused to be negative, and like magic, you move as you should. This shows the power of the unconscious and the power of uncontrolled negative thought. So as good as it is to focus on problems to solve them, you need to stay in a positive state of mind if you want to use all your ability to dance well.
So Should we be Negative of Positive?
From the above it would seem that you need to be strategic. In fact, this post might be better for teachers. However, you can, as a student, use this to think about what you need from you teacher at a certain time. The basic rules of be positive at the start, focus on problems as a chance to improve and keep your mind positive while you fix problems will likely always hold though. You just need to work out the balance that is needed for each situation.