[Motivational Intro Music]
Chelsea: Hi, I'm Dr. Chelsea. My mission is to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers through positive mental skills training. One way we can do that is through dealing with setbacks. You're going to have challenges, so let's talk about why setbacks are good and how to handle them.
Do you look at a dance team you admire and think, “They must be so locked in. Every single practice they're making progress and getting better every day,” but does progress mean you only get stronger and better, or can progress come from days when you're moving backwards?
I've heard dancers set a goal to be better every day, which is great, but then they say, you know, “If my score doesn't go up at each event, I'm not making progress towards my goal,” or “If I could hit the turns yesterday, but I miss it today, I'm not making progress.” But I want to share a little secret about how goals work.
Setbacks are good. I'm recording this shortly after UDA College Nationals, and I am just as inspired and in awe, as many of you, of all of the talent there that weekend. But I guarantee whatever team you admired at that event, they didn't just get better every day. There were setbacks. There were days when it felt like progress wasn't happening. But that's why they did so well. These excellent teams understand that setbacks are good.
I'll explain it all, and I'll tell you what to do when you've had a setback coming up in today's episode of Passion for Dance!
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!
We Want to See Progress – 2:05
When we set a goal to be a stronger dancer, have higher jumps, better turns, place higher at competition, we want to see the progress. You want to feel like you could always jump a little higher than yesterday or know that each competition is only moving you closer to your goal.
But the reality is progress isn't linear. There will be times that you feel like you're moving backwards. It can feel like a setback is a bad thing and you've been working on your goal only to feel like, “Well, now I'm two steps back. My scores dropped,” or “I could get that turn sequence yesterday, but today I can't even hit it once.” I get how upsetting those setbacks can be, but setbacks are good. Think about this.
When you set a goal, do you get that initial rush of excitement? That thrill of, “Oh, my gosh, this is going to be good. I'm determined. I believe. I'm ready.” It is such a fun feeling, but how long does that feeling last? We have long seasons. I think if you only make forward progress towards our goal, that excited, inspired feeling would last until you got to the end of the season. If every goal-setting process was simple, we'd all do it. You set the goal. You work for it. You get better every day. Then you make it. You would never lose motivation. But that's not what happens.
We lose motivation at some points. It's hard to work on a goal once you stop feeling progress, or it feels like you're going backwards. If you only make forward progress, you'd constantly have that thrill of progress and growth, and it'd be pretty easy to get up and do it again tomorrow. But that's not how goal setting works, that's not how progress works, and that's not how the most successful dancers work either. So, if you're hoping for that. Let's shift your mindset about setbacks.
Shifting Our Mindset Around Setbacks – 3:58
Say you set a goal to learn choreography faster during class. As a dancer, you want to challenge yourself, improve your focus and concentration, get better at picking up choreography. When you first reflected and chose that goal, I bet there was that sense of excitement and thrill. “How amazing it will feel when I can confidently walk into class with any new teacher and know I'm going to pick up the choreo and be able to work on my skills without stressing about the teacher going too fast. That's going to feel good. I'm excited.”
You go to your first class. You are more focused. You stay clear-headed the whole time and leave feeling like, “Okay, that was better. I got a little lost once, but I picked it up well. That was good.” Maybe that happens again the next day, even a third or fourth class. But, inevitably, you'll have a bad class. Maybe you don't sleep well. Maybe you got three classes in a row and your brain is mush by that last one, so you find yourself behind you. Can't pick up the choreo, you get frustrated, and you walk out feeling like you failed.
At that point, many dancers would get so frustrated, they carry the feeling forward to tomorrow's class and end up distracted and upset the next day too. Many dancers start down a path of negativity and quickly quit the goal. “I screwed up. I can't do this. Forget it.” Then weeks go by, and the intention to improve focus while learning choreo is gone, and nothing has improved, all because of one bad class.
This happens all the time in January. When people set new goals and do really well for a week or two, and then have an off day and quit. So please hear me: progress towards your goals is never straight. That's not how it works, and if you get upset and quit after one failed attempt, you will never see the improvement you could.
I actually started thinking about this today because I set a personal goal about a month ago to journal more. I want to walk the walk, so to speak. I have felt the benefits of journaling for years, but I've gotten away from it lately, and I talk about it a lot, so I wanted to prioritize it again. I did really well for a few weeks, and then schedules picked up as we entered the new year. After-school activities kicked in, weekend sports, dirty dishes. All the little things in life added up, and I realized I hadn't journaled in three days.
At first I was mad. I mean, I am literally an expert in mental skills. I'm good at this skill. I've done it for years. But even I can't get it together. I had a small pity party and then I had to regroup. Why haven't I done it? What's getting in the way? I know it aligns with my values. I know it’s important to me. So it's time to reset and get moving, otherwise I'll quit the third week of January and then feel terrible about it when I go to reflect on the year 11 months from now, and nothing happened. If I quit after one failure, I'd miss an opportunity to grow and improve all year.
Download My Starter List of Journal Prompts – 6:52
Now, side note: this episode isn't about journaling. That was just my point of inspiration today. But if you'd like to journal or work on it with your dancers, I encourage you to do so. There are so many great benefits. You can download my starter list of journal prompts and get started anytime. It's at www.chelseapierotti.com/starterjournal. You'll see the link in the show notes here as well. Just do it if and when you can. Don't get upset if you miss a day or three, like I did, but journaling can be really powerful for you and your dancers.
But back to my point today: progress isn't linear. You will never set a goal that is truly challenging you and only make positive progress. Not if you're working on something that really pushes you and takes dedication. You will see some growth, and then you will slip backwards or feel like you've plateaued, and that's when you will want to quit because successful people know better. “Something's wrong with me because I can't keep it together every day.” No one can. That's when you use your positive mental skills and reset and get back at it.
Three Things To Do When You Have Goal Setbacks – 7:57
As always, I want to be concrete for you and make sure you have a tangible way to work on this. So here are three things you can do when you have setbacks in your goals.
First, don't just compare to yesterday. Look back to when the goal started. For the dancer trying to get better at picking up choreography, if today was a hard class and you felt distracted and behind, that's okay. It wasn't better than yesterday, but was it better than a month ago? If we only look back one day or one run-through or one attempt, it can feel like nothing is getting better. Zoom out. Look at the progress that has been made over a longer period of time. Likely, you actually really are making progress if you look back a little further. It's not just about this last run through or yesterday. Zoom out. Look at the bigger picture.
Number two: reflect on the time you've committed to the goal. You need to have an honest self-check. Sometimes we feel like we've plateaued, and maybe your skills really have, but how much time have you really given it? Have you actually been dedicated to it lately, or has it been a goal written on a sticky note that you think about a lot but haven't taken the action?
For me and my journaling example, that's what happened. I said I wanted to do it every day, but I know I'm also a fan of time blocking my to-do list, which means everything I have is in a specific time in my calendar, and I didn't add journaling to the day. I just said, you know, “I'll do that at the end.” If I’ve really prioritized it, it needs to be in my calendar where something else couldn't take over. So I had to get real with myself and say, “Sure, I set the goal, but I haven't actually taken the actions. I haven't done what I need to, to set myself up for success in this.”
So, if you're not feeling like there's any progress, take a minute to honestly reflect on the effort you've put in lately or the actions you've truly taken. Have you done what you can?
Number three is if you had one off day that feels like a setback, notice what was in your control and what wasn't. Were you not able to focus today but you also didn't sleep well, or you were rushing to get to class, so you didn't have time to mentally prepare for a few minutes before it started? Notice what's in your control and the actions you take when you have a good class, and then notice the actions you take when you have a bad class. Whatever is in your control, remember that for next time. Take actions to set you up for success.
Rather than running into class flustered and hoping it goes well, or worse, running in late and actively thinking, “Well, this class is going to be rough.” Pause and reset. Allow yourself a few deep breaths before warm-up. Set your intention to focus on learning choreo today, if we keep that example, or remind yourself that you're capable, and it'll be a good day.
When you have that setback, notice what was off about today when you didn't reach your goal. What was in your control? What wasn't? And start again tomorrow taking control of your progress again.
Pause and Reset – 11:07
This may all sound a little trite or simple, but it's actually really challenging to do. That's why so many people quit on a goal after one bad day or a few weeks into January. When you don't place where you wanted at a competition, or you can't hit the turns you could hit yesterday, pause and reset. Zoom out. Look further back than yesterday. Notice all the progress you've made. Reflect on the commitment and focus you've truly given your goal, and if it slipped, remember why you started and recommit. Then, notice what's in your control that led to a good day. What's in your control that led to the bad day? Take actions to ensure a good learning day and get back to it.
When I watch these dance teams at nationals that I so admire, and their routines are beautiful, I'm reminded that they didn't just have forward progress the entire season. I know they had setbacks. I know they had days as individual dancers, as coaches, as teams where it didn't feel as good. And for many of those teams, if you watch prelims, it actually wasn't as good as finals. Which means they came off the floor at prelims probably knowing that wasn't a personal best. So, what do you do with that? If you've trained this way where you know one bad run-through, one setback, one off day doesn't define you, you can pick it back up and head into finals with your head held high, right?
Tracking Progress – 12:35
So my last tip is anything you can do to track progress actually helps dancers notice the growth as well and keep going even after a setback. So this works really well with younger dancers, but honestly all the way through college, and I use it as an adult. Tracking helps, so I still use this to help me with goals.
So, for that journaling I was talking about, I added a page to the front of my journal with the calendar, and I'm adding a little, simple sticker: “Every day I journal. Again, it's silly, but just looking at the page fill up gives me that drive to keep going, and it's not full. There are days I missed, but it's a lot easier to keep going after I missed a sticker if I can look back and see all of the stickers before it.
You aren't giving up after one bad day, you're giving up after 14 good ones and then 1 bad one. Zoom out. Notice the larger picture. Track your growth, recommit, and take action. Because here's my bottom line today: a setback in your goals is actually a good thing. When you learn that you have an off-day, an off-class, an off-turn and still keep fighting, your progress is unstoppable. It's actually an incredibly valuable lesson to have a setback in your goals and keep going. It builds confidence in yourself. You learn, “I'm the type of person who doesn't quit. I'm the person who stays on track.” That builds self-respect, confidence, and self-esteem, so that you see that setback as an opportunity for growth.
This moment is how you get better. If it was all straight up the mountain towards your goal, it would be easy, and everyone would do it. But it's not easy, and it's the people who handle the setback, learn, and keep going that reach their goals and get those championships.
I hope that inspires you to keep going for your goals after a setback. Setbacks are good if you view them as an opportunity for personal growth. Don't let a setback stop you. That's the moment you're about to see that burst and progress.
If this inspired you and gave you an idea of what to do next time you have a setback, will you do me a favor and please share it with someone in your dance community. Text it to a dance friend. Share it on social media. Anything helps. I love this community of passionate dance teachers who are here to make a positive difference, and you make such a difference in my life by sharing the episode with the dance friend you care about. So thank you for sharing and listening and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
[Motivational Outro Music]