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Building Confidence #6—Know Which Factors You Can Control

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

Most competitors get nervous before a feis. That’s normal, and it’s not necessarily bad; getting nervous prompts your body to give you a shot of adrenaline, for example, and that can give you the extra boost of energy you need to get through the end of your dance. However, if you’re getting so nervous that you can’t eat the day you compete, sleep the night before, or dance your best on stage, your nerves are starting to detract from your performance.
As you work on building your confidence in competition, it’s important to analyze the different factors that make you nervous so that you can deal with them. Some of the things you’re worried about are factors that you can control, and in that case you can make a plan of action for them. Other factors are outside of your control, and in that case you can train yourself to put those worries aside.
The first step is to know the difference between what you can control and what you can’t. Here’s an exercise to do to help:
1. Write down a list of all the things you’re worried about for your next competition.

2. Now go down the list, and for each worry, ask yourself, “Is this something I can control?”

3. Some examples of factors that you can control are when you go to bed the night before, what you eat for breakfast, when you start your hair/makeup/getting dressed, what time you leave to get to the competition, what kind of warmup you do, and how you handle yourself if something goes wrong.

4. Some examples of factors that are out of your control are what tune the musician plays, which other dancers are in your competition, what the judge thinks of you, what the stage surface will be like, and the temperature inside the building.

5. Next to each item on your list, write “I can control this” or “I can’t control this.”

6. Now go back through your list, and for the items you can control, make a plan of action for how to deal with them. For instance, maybe you’re worried that you won’t have enough time to do your full warmup before you do your first dance. You can plan to get up a little earlier and leave a little earlier so that you get to the competition earlier and have time for your warmup. Write down your plan of action. Having your plan in writing will make it concrete and reassure you.

7. Now look at the items you can’t control. For some of them, you can also make a plan of action. For instance, if you are worried that the musician might play a strange tune and you won’t be able to hear the beat, you can practice with a number of different tunes from different musicians at home so you get used to a wide variety of music. You still can’t control what the musician will actually play for you, but you can prepare yourself as well as possible to handle whatever tune you get. Again, be sure to write down your plan of action, as specifically as you can.

8. There will be some items left on your list that you can’t control in any way. For instance, you might be worried that a certain dancer will be in your competition and will beat you. That is completely out of your control. So write down something like “Instead of worrying about the other dancers, I will focus on dancing my best, keeping my feet turned out the whole time.” Mentioning a specific form point will help you focus on something that you can control.

9. Whenever you catch yourself worrying about one of the things on your list, remind yourself whether you can or cannot control it, and then remind yourself of your plan of action to deal with it. For factors outside your control, remind yourself to focus on YOU and the things that YOU can do to dance your best.

You can’t help worries popping up in your mind. It’s normal. However, when the worries pop up, tell yourself (in your mind, out loud, or in writing) that you can deal with them, and that you have a plan. The more you can talk to yourself about how you are going to handle anything negative that comes up, the more you will start to feel confident in your ability to dance your best no matter what happens.

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