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Building Confidence #2—Positive Self-Talk


Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

In the first Building Confidence post, we talked about why the way you think matters. Your body physically responds to whatever you’re thinking, so if you’re thinking negatively about yourself and your dancing, it’s going to be harder for you to perfect your steps. If you are talking to yourself in a positive way, on the other hand, you will build your self-confidence and achieve your goals faster.

Here are some tips on how to start thinking more positively:

1. Notice when you’re having negative thoughts

The first step to thinking positively is to notice when you start getting down on yourself. Some examples of negative statements are I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to, I hate this, I’m not good enough, and I’ll never be able to.

Sometimes, thoughts that seem positive are actually negative because they contain negative words: I won’t mess up this time, I’m not going to get off the music, I won’t forget my steps.

Dwelling on a drawback affects you negatively, too: I’m tired, I’m stressed out, my feet hurt.

The worst part about negative thinking is that you might not even notice that you’re doing it. It’s easy—and natural—for these thoughts to creep up when you’re working on difficult material or having a bad day.

So next time you’re at class or practicing at home, pay attention to how you’re thinking (and talking) about yourself and your dancing.


2. Stop any negative thoughts in their tracks

If you notice yourself thinking negatively, you need to consciously put a stop to those thoughts.

You can do this with a physical reminder: wear a rubber band around your wrist, and if you catch yourself being negative, gently snap the rubber band against your skin. The feeling of the rubber band will both help to stop the current thought and remind you that negative thoughts are bad for you.

You can also use a mental visualization to do the same thing. When you start getting down on yourself, imagine a big stop sign popping up in your mind. Other examples of visualizations you can use include a whistle blowing, a stop light, a police officer with a hand up, or a railroad crossing sign coming down—anything that reminds you to stop going down the bad mental road you’re on.


3. Turn your thoughts around to be positive

Now that you’ve noticed that you’re thinking negatively, you need to turn your thoughts around to be positive. Here are some ways you can do that:

Add “yet.” If you’re thinking something like, “I can’t do this step,” add “yet” to the end. That way, you’re telling yourself that you will get it in the future.

Add “so I need to.” If you’re thinking something like, “I’m bad at leaps,” make a plan for how to get better by saying, “I’m bad at leaps, so I need to practice them every day at home for 15 minutes.” The more specific your plan for improving, the better.

Find a way to state your thought without any negative words. Instead of saying, “I won’t mess up this time,” say, “I will get the step right.” Instead of “I’m not going to get off the music,” say, “I will dance on the music.”

If you can’t think of anything else, say “Yes, I can!” It’s a powerfully positive message to yourself.


4. Always talk to yourself in a positive way

We all talk to ourselves, and it’s important to talk to yourself in as positive a way as possible: I can, I will, I love this, I’m good enough.

If you’re not sure whether you’re being positive or not, imagine saying whatever it is you’re thinking about yourself to a friend. If whatever you’re thinking would sound mean and hurtful if you said it to a friend, then it is also mean and hurtful when you’re saying it to yourself.

So be a good friend to yourself! The more you talk positively in your own mind, the more you will start to believe, and the better you will dance.

Now, while you’re learning to think positively, you still need to keep pushing yourself to improve your form and all the physical parts of your dancing at home; positive self-talk does not take the place of practice. But if you say, “I love this dance!” every day when you practice instead of “I hate this dance,” you will definitely find yourself improving faster, and you will dance with more confidence on stage.


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