[Motivational Intro Music]
Chelsea: So many dancers today are afraid to fail. They're scared to try something in front of other people. They're scared of looking silly or stupid in class. And they hold themselves back. As a passionate dance teacher, you've probably seen it in at least some of your dancers. I've certainly seen it with nearly every group of dancers I've worked with lately. Dancers today are seemingly terrified of failure. Even if their coach has never been mean, their teachers are all encouraging. Do you see it too? They're getting in their own way.
Hi, I'm Dr. Chelsea. Welcome to Passion for Dance, the show for passionate dance teachers and coaches. I'm on a mission to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training. But our dancers can't be happy if they are always living in fear and afraid of making a mistake. They can't reach their full potential if they're not willing to try. So, today, I want to pull back the curtain on a fear of failure, explain what it is, where it's coming from, and how we can help our dancers get past it.
Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
Unmotivated Dancers Are Scared to Fail – 1:38
When I talk to coaches who are preparing for big competitions, they're often struggling with dancers who are not as motivated as the coach was hoping for. Dancers start to act lazy. They don't seem as invested in the competition. You know those rehearsals where you are drilling the same thing over and over, looking for that perfect click where everything starts to come together, and dancers just aren't willing to put in the work anymore. But I believe dancers aren't acting very motivated because they don't want to be disappointed.
One way to think about this is, in my experience, the lazy ones are afraid to put it all out there and not get what they're hoping for. So it's not that they don't care. They actually care a lot, but they're so worried about really going for it, putting everything on the floor, and falling short. So instead they kind of protect themselves by not putting in full effort.
What's actually happening in this situation is probably a fear of failure. It looks like dancers aren't putting in the effort, but really they are all consumed by the fear that if they put in the work and don't get the reward they want, they will feel devastated. I hear dancers say, “But what if I do all this work and we still don't make finals?” or “What if I put in all this extra training and effort, and I'm still an alternate?” When that's what a dancer's focused on, they often pull back on the effort. They are afraid of failure, and it's a natural self-protective mechanism to prevent failing from happening. It's easier to just not fully try instead of going for it and falling short. It feels safer and more protective to just don't try and never know, than it would feel to give it everything and potentially get hurt.
But to the teachers out there (I'm sure many of you agree with me), we would certainly rather our dancers go for it, give it everything and have that experience. It's not about that outcome. But to many dancers, they're so afraid of that failure on a big stage that they hold back.
What Exactly is a Fear of Failure? – 3:44
So what is a fear of failure? It happens when there are competing motives in dancers, where they want to have a sense of achievement, but they also know they're going to be evaluated. So dancers want to do well and succeed, but they also want coaches and teachers and judges to notice them and think they're talented. Those two competing desires can feel conflicting. If they want to be seen as talented, then they're afraid to show something that isn't polished, so they stick with things they're already good at and continue to get praise for those things, avoiding effort and new hard skills.
Most dancers want both. They want to achieve but they want to be seen as talented, and if a dancer's desire to avoid failure or avoid looking less than polished is stronger than their motive for achievement and growth, the dancer's not going to work very hard. They're trying to avoid that potential for a poor evaluation.
And as a teacher, I hope you hear kind of how I feel about this, too, that we know that it's better to just go for it. There is not going to be a poor evaluation if you try and fall short. But what I found is that's what dancers are thinking about. Again, even if they're in a positive environment, even if they know they have a coach who's encouraging, they're still so worried about the possibility of a poor evaluation from a teacher or a judge that they'd rather just avoid that icky, yucky emotion and not put themselves out there – stick to the stuff they're already good at.
I've talked to dancers all over the country, and so many of them will tell me stories about, like, “Well, I know I'm, I'm a leggy dancer,” right? “I like all the flexibility stuff. I'm good at that. But then when we go to work on hip-hop choreography, I feel awkward, and so I just don't give it as much effort because I know it doesn't look good.” And this Conflict constantly happens where if they are doing something they feel good about, they'll go for it. If it's something they're not as confident in, they hold back.
And again, as teachers, like we know, just go for it, just do everything and give it all you have. You're not at risk for getting in trouble or having this bad evaluation, right? Feedback is good. But what I'm hearing is this constant conflict internally for dancers. They want to do well, but they're worried about that evaluation.
So, if a dancer is avoiding failure (they don't want anybody to see them not do well), they will spend a lot of time on those easier tasks, so they always show that they're capable. So again, lots of dancers who will admit to me they work really hard on the things they're already good at.
You probably notice it too. If you have that leggy, flexible dancer, she might have a lot more energy in an extension drill or progression, but less effort on a turn progression. And then other dancers are going to put more effort maybe in their pom technique because that's where they feel strong and comfortable, but when you move into jazz, and they are not as confident or they know they're not as good as their peers, they put in seemingly less effort. They don't work as hard. And then we get frustrated as the teacher like, “That's where you should be fighting.”
When you see dancers choosing to put more effort into some parts of practice and not others, or some skills and not others, see that as a red flag. They might be experiencing that fear of failure.
When There’s a Fear of Failure, Evaluations are a Threat – 7:24
When there is a fear of failure, evaluations are a threat, not an opportunity. Again, we want our dancers to receive our feedback as positive. We know we're helping them. But if a dancer is stuck in a fear of failure, any feedback could be seen as a threat. They don't want people to see anything less than perfect. So, again, the only thing they are going to do are the things they're already confident in and already good at and then put little effort elsewhere, kind of try to shrink and hide.
What I see with this, too, is that a fear of failure is most common when they're working on tasks that are moderately difficult. See, if the skill is easy, then they're really not too scared. And if it's hard and something everyone thinks is hard, then that's not a problem either. Fear of failure is at its worst when a dancer's trying something they feel they should be able to do, like, “Other people can do it, but it's hard and scary for me. So what if I can't do it? It's easy for everyone else. I don't want to look dumb.” It's those middle-range skills where I really see this come out stronger.
And, finally, the big picture is that failure just doesn't feel good. As humans, we don't like the feeling. Of course not. We avoid negative emotions. We don't want to feel sad or scared or hurt. Therefore, we avoid failure, so we don't have to have that negative emotion. It hurts, so we protect ourselves. Failure is uncomfortable, so we have to do something easy instead, which usually offers quick relief. So if that's what's really going on, how do we help them?
Hi, dance coaches! I want to tell you about something special coming up on Sunday, December 17th, 2023. When I do mental skills workshops, I typically work with teams and dance studios independently providing a custom experience to each one. But I know that isn't in the budget for everyone, and I also know many of us are looking for that boost of motivation during this busy competition season. So, I want to ask you, have you met all your goals this season, or is there still something you want to accomplish, and you know your dancers need to step it up if it's going to happen?
If you still have something unfinished, you know it's time to dig deep and find a way to keep everyone motivated through the end of our long seasons. But don't let the rest of the season drag on. I want to help you solve some of the stress around competition season by improving your dance team's motivation.
So I created a new virtual masterclass. It's open to everyone. It will be live on December 17th. It's called Finish Strong, and I'll tell you all about the three key ways to increase your dancer's motivation, of course, with clear action steps that you can implement right away. Don't sit back and let the rest of the season pass you by. Take the reins and finish the season strong. You can show your team what it means to push through a challenge, put your heart into your goals, and be proud of your effort.
I truly love working with coaches. I'd love to see you there! So if you'd like to find out more about this special workshop opportunity, visit www.chelseapierotti.com/finishstrong. You'll see the link in the show notes, wherever you're listening now. That's www.chelseapierotti.com/finishstrong to find out more!
Avoiding The Feeling of Shame – 11:02
See, a fear of failure is really about avoiding negative emotions. We don't want to feel sad or upset or hurt, so we just don't do it. If that's what's going on, then I want you to consider what negative emotion we're avoiding.
For many dancers, fear of failure is actually a fear of shame. They want to be a good dancer, but they're avoiding the negative feelings and specifically avoiding shame. In psychological terms, there's a big difference between shame, guilt, or regret. They're all negative emotions, but I think understanding the difference is important.
See, guilt comes if we feel bad about our actions. We did something and now we feel bad about it. Regret comes from feeling bad about a lack of effort. We tend to regret when we didn't do enough and could have done more. Shame, on the other hand, triggers us to feel bad about ourselves. We feel bad about who we are as a person or a dancer. And that distinction is really important.
For many dancers, the fear of making a mistake, of looking bad in front of others, or getting negative feedback causes them to feel like they aren't a good dancer. It's that shame or feeling bad about who they are as a person. You can sit with that for a minute. It's not guilt or regret. Fear of failure is rooted in feeling ashamed if we can't do something, and again, this happens even in positive and encouraging environments. So if you're seeing this, it may not be anything you're doing. It's something that's pervasive throughout our dance industry. But for those dancers who really hold back and aren't willing to try and be uncomfortable and get out of the box, there is likely a root of shame.
I've even talked about this with dancers and directly asked them, “What's really holding you back? Do you fear regret or feel guilty?” Sometimes that's enough. For many dancers who aren't motivated to try harder, they actually fear regret. Like, “What if I get to the end and I wish I was more confident and ready?” Well, if you fear regret, then effort is the answer. Coming off the floor with no regrets is an amazing accomplishment, regardless of you're standing at the end of competition. The only way to have no regrets is to put in full effort. Sometimes if that's really the root of it for some dancers, that's all the conversation takes is helping them realize what they're actually afraid of is regret.
But if they're holding back because of that fear of failure, it's really that fear of shame. So, what do we do about that? How do we help our dancers who are experiencing this fear of failure and feel ashamed if they can't do it?
Push Back on Your Dancers’ Fear – 13:52
If you see this in your dancers, I encourage you to push back on that fear a little bit. See if they admit that that's what's going on, and then normalize that emotion. You can affirm for them that it's normal to have that shameful reaction. There's nothing to be ashamed of, though. They may regret not putting in the effort or feel guilty about a bad decision, but there's never anything to be ashamed of.
Consistently reiterating that competing for a championship and putting a routine on the floor that was just “eh,” knowing you could have done better evokes guilt. But that guilt is way worse than giving it everything and falling short. There's no shame in that and there's no guilt in that. We want our dancers to remember that putting in full effort is the goal. There's nothing to be ashamed of if judges opinions or someone else has a different evaluation. It's about knowing you put everything you could into it.
Changing The Relationship with Failure – 14:52
Of course, if you're a longtime listener, you know, I like to be concrete about this. I want to make sure you walk away from this episode with something you can clearly try. So here's one way. Think about changing your relationship with failure. You constantly remind dancers, failure is a part of life. Have dancers share stories of people who persisted. Share quotes, create team mantras and values around the importance of failure.
See, when you're thinking mean thoughts about your ability, you have to give yourself permission to make a mistake. Remember, it's part of the process. The first draft of anything isn't going to be perfect, and having lots of these kinds of conversations, especially from dancers on your team or your studio who may be more mature or older and have experienced this, get everyone to talk about it and share their experiences.
One of my favorite quotes about this that you can use is by Thomas Watson, former president of IBM. And people were asking him, like, “How are you so successful? What's the formula for success?” And he said, “What's the formula for success? That's easy. Double your rate of failure.”
Failure is how we learn and grow. We have to embrace it to see the true progress. So if you're talking about this with your dancers, encourage them to think of failure as nothing more than honest feedback. Every mistake or misstep gives you info about how to improve. You're not failing, you're gathering information. Change the definition of success. It's not about perfect execution. It's about living in your values, and if one of your values is giving it full effort and learning from it, that's the focus.
So if your dancers are experiencing a fear of failure and holding back, they're not giving full effort and need some motivation, talk to them about their fear. Remind them that fear of failure is usually an attempt to avoid shame, but there's nothing to be ashamed of here, and the self-pride that comes with performing under their lights, nailing it with your team, is worth every bit of fight and commitment it takes.
Fear of failure is, unfortunately, really common, but you don't have to settle for it and let it be. Share your passion. Help dancers learn this valuable life lesson. Because of you, because of your dance classes, we have so much wonderful, positive influence. Let's help them get past this shame.
Thank you for listening. Keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
[Motional Outro Music]