We've all struggled with them.
We've all cried ourselves to sleep at night over them.
We've all feared their malicious voices and cutting whispers.
We've all felt their sting of shame.
We've all reluctantly carried them on our backs for as long as we can remember.
We're all exhausted from just barely keeping them under the surface and out of sight.
These demons that torment us...torment all of us at some point or another.
Yet, we waste so much energy hiding them, pretending like they're not there so no one else knows we are in pain. But, we are all in pain. We are all dealing with our demons' criticizing voices telling us we are "not good enough." It's like the big purple elephant in the room you are told to ignore - no one acknowledges it, but we all know it's there. Upholding this deceitful reality creates awkward tension that steals even more passion and power from your dancing. I'm not saying to walk around with a victim mentality where your whole identity is consumed by a "woe is me" attitude. But, I am saying that if you want to beat these demons, you have to confront them head on.
Almost every time I enter performance week, I run into a predictable pattern. During the rehearsal process, everything will be going along fine with my normal ebb and flow of good and bad days with an overall trend towards improvement. But, once theatre week hits, all of a sudden I start to fall apart because my mental demons become amplified by nine thousand percent. The image I see in the mirror appears 5 times fatter than usual. I blank out on choreography I've had no trouble with all along. My lines appear inadequate and dull. I fall out of pirouettes I normally nail. I stumble over my own feet and lose my flow. My demons no longer whisper but scream their bloody heads off...relentlessly:
"Who do you think you are? You're not good enough to be a professional. The audience will be bored. You'll disappoint the choreographer. You'll let the rest of the company down. You'll be a disgrace. THEY'LL LAUGH AT YOU!"
That's right; after all the positive self-talk and mindset coaching I preach about, I still allow myself to get thrown off course by these demons. At this point, my options are to let myself continue to crumble as my demons grow increasingly more obnoxious the closer I get to performance time, or address the situation with the time I have left before I have to step on the stage.
Sure, there are tons of physical components involved in prepping for performance week, but we'll save that for another post. I want to talk about the very real but often esoteric mental processes that often need to be addressed before you can perform at your best. And of course, journaling is involved here. I thought it might be helpful to share with you the 3 main components to my journaling, my process for talking myself down off the ledge during performance week:
- You are only sabotaging yourself by letting these demons take over. You are the one giving them power. And, you are the one with the power to shut them up. What good are you doing by focusing on all your flaws? Put that energy into finding one thing you can improve on...and then tackle the next thing...and then the next. By the time the performance comes around, you'll be that much better off than you are today.
- You will NEVER be the best dancer ever...and you will NEVER be perfect. (Sounds negative, I know...but bear with me.) There it is. I said it. The pressure is off. Now, instead of desperately trying to live up to this unrealistic vision I have for myself, I can let myself flow and focus on bringing out my unique artistry. With such a burden lifted, I find myself able to open up with my dancing again, and many of the silly mistakes I was falling into start to disappear.
- It's just ballet. Yes, art has the power to touch, move, and make a difference in people's lives. But, at the end of the day, it's still just art - something meant to add pleasure to this world...not steal from it. So don't take things too seriously. Remember what you are trying to do with your art in the first place - connect and share yourSELF with the world.
Sometimes there are more specifics to write about and uncover depending on the situation. Other times, I find myself repeating these three themes over and over again. Just because you learn something once doesn't mean you will never struggle with it again. You just get stronger tools for dealing with it (if you put the work in to address it, that it).
The goal is to completely eradicate the demons so that I can fully express myself through my dancing without holding back for fear of being judged. It doesn't always work to that extent, but at least this process prevents me from freezing up entirely or running as far away from the stage as possible!
Now that you have an insight into the crazy workings of my mind and the journaling process I use to overcome my mental demons, you better believe I'm sitting at my desk on this Monday night of performance week, soaking my feet in ice, with my journal by my side and a candle lit for comfort. Yep, I still struggle. I'm just finally at a point where I can admit that freely.
Start shining a light on the demons of your own. Put in the work to expose them for what they are. It's time to set yourself free of their control over you. The dance world is craving that. You are craving that.
Do you ever experience these ramped up demons during performance week? What are your methods for dealing with them? Leave your comments below.