Ep 90 Transcript - Dr. Chelsea Pierotti

Ep 90 Transcript

Chelsea: You’ve probably heard the saying “get out of your head” when talking about athletes who are anxious for a competition or a performance. Dance teachers will often say, “You’re overthinking! Just get out of your head,” to encourage dancers to be more present and just dance. I get it, and while that’s generally good advice, it might not actually be helping your dancers the way you think it does.

Hi, I’m Dr. Chelsea. This is the Passion for Dance podcast where we talk about the mental skills of being a dancer and how dance educators can best support our athletes, and, along the lines of those mental skills, I often talk about training mental toughness for dancers. So, when you ask a dancer to get out of their head, is that mental toughness or is that mindfulness or is that neither? Well, and just trying to get out of your head is actually not really a mental toughness skill.

So, in this episode, I’m gonna clarify the difference between mental training and mindfulness and explain why getting out of your head isn’t actually the best strategy. 

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[Motivational Intro Music]

Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and a dance team coach turned sports 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!

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So, first, let’s define these two key ideas and talk about why they’re different.

Mental Training – 1:41

Mental training is about building up resiliency so that you can recover better from stress. That’s the whole goal. I think of it like physical training. You're practicing skills repeatedly to strengthen your overall skillset. In this case, your skillset includes things like your ability to focus, staying disciplined and motivated, and your confidence. Training these mental skills is going to help you be more resilient and help you recover from stress.

In the world of sports psychology, that’s called Psychological Skills Training. It’s what I focus on in my work with dancers and all of the individual work and workshops and live speaking events that I do, it’s all about Psychological Skills Training, and the goal of this training is to work towards building a more mentally-tough dancer (dancers who have the ability to rebound from failure, to cope with pressure and face adversity). We achieve that through Psychological Skills Training.

Mindfulness – 2:38

Now, let’s look at mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to hold your attention on one very specific thing like a bodily sensation or something you hear or see. Sometimes you're paying special attention to a thought or an emotion, and, often, training mindfulness is about learning how to notice and observe thoughts or emotions without judgment. So, unlike Psychological Skills Training, mindfulness helps us accept our thoughts and emotions and let them go.

Simply put, mindfulness is acceptance of the present moment. You can be a more mindful person. Being able to be more mindful and accept the present moment is actually a personality trait just like creativity and the desire for organization are personality traits. This just comes easier to some people because it’s a part of who they are, but also, like those other traits, we can train in mindfulness and build our skill set.

So, I wanted to talk about this today because I often hear the term mindfulness used incorrectly, specifically used when people are thinking about how to just stop overthinking and get out of your head and that mindfulness would help them do that. While I don't think that’s maliciously spreading bad information, it’s often wrong, and I do think it’s helpful to understand what mindfulness really is. It’s actually the opposite of getting out of your head or thinking less. Mindfulness teaches us to be fully present and aware in the moment. It’s more minds on than it is turning it off.

The Fine Line Between Mindfulness and Psychological Skills Training – 4:15

So, this is where the line between mindfulness and Psychological Skills Training gets a little blurry. One aspect of mental skills training is to focus on self-talk, and you've probably heard me talk about it a lot on this show, and many dancers struggle with negative self-talk. When we say mean things to ourselves, it hurts our confidence, among other things, and what is really challenging is dancers often struggle to turn it off.

They might look in the mirror in class and think, “Ugh, I’m terrible at this. Look how bad my turnout is,” or, “I’m so awkward in this style.” But Psychological Skills Training and mindfulness would approach that problem differently, and to be clear, I think they're both effective at dealing with negative self-talk and dealing with lots of other skills, but they are a different approach.

I think of mindfulness as, maybe, one type of mental skill that Psychological Skills Training can teach you, but it’s not about letting your mind go blank. Instead, you're trying to be present and be consistent and deliberate in what you’re thinking. You’re not trying to stop thinking; you're trying to be deliberate about what you're thinking about. You want to be more aware of where you are, like, are you in a competition or a practice setting, and be more aware of why you're doing whatever it is you're doing and being crystal clear and present and noticing what you're thinking. So, let’s pause the sciencey talk for a minute and look at a real example.

A Real-Life Example of This – 5:40

So, I had a workshop recently with some incredibly talented dancers who are at the top of their game, but some of them were having a hard time stepping into their new leadership roles. The first time they had to choreograph for their teammates or clean a routine, they told me how they would get kind of stuck in over-analyzing everything at practice. Maybe you’ve been there, right? The first time you're teaching in front of a new group or you're trying to take on a new skill. These leaders were saying, “Okay, I’m teaching for the first time, and I just kept thinking, ‘They’re quiet. Oh, no, they hate it. Oh, this move is so dumb. Oh, I’m terrible at this. Oh, wait, I’m teaching too fast. No, they're bored. I’m going too slow,’” right? There’s this onslaught of negative self-talk, and these leaders were struggling to kind of get past that and step into their role and be the most successful leaders they could be.

Now, as a mental performance consultant, there are a few ways I can approach this, and all of them would fall under Psychological Skills Training. We could focus on cognitive skills like trying to stop the negative talk or reflection to increase awareness or goal setting to track progress and notice those leadership skills, and no matter what, the approach would stem from the assumption that athletes can learn to control and change their inner states (like their thoughts and emotions). The focus is on learning how to notice and change those negative thoughts in order to improve performance, and it works. I’ve done it with thousands of dancers for years, but mindfulness training, however, would take a very different approach.

With mindfulness, the assumption isn't about learning to change our inner state. Instead, it teaches us to relate to our inner state and our circumstances differently. Rather than trying to change our thoughts and emotions, we notice and accept them without judgment, allowing us to move forward. The goal is to accept and diffuse the negative thought, not change it. So, if you’ve ever really struggled to change that negative thought or you're having a hard time shifting it, maybe mindfulness will resonate for you and be a better approach.

So, do you feel how this is different?

One approach would help the dancer who is choreographing in front of teammates and struggling with it and having all this negative self-talk to learn to notice, stop and replace the negative thought with a practiced mantra or affirmation in order to redirect their negative thought to something more helpful in the moment. So, it might look something like this:

The leader is thinking, “Oh, they're quiet. Oh, no, they hate it. Wait… that thought isn’t helping me right now. I’m a good choreographer. I’ve got this.”

A mindfulness approach would look different. It might be something like:

“Oh, they're quiet. Oh, no, they hate it. Okay, that’s making my heart race. I feel more anxious, but it’s okay. This is practice. They're my friends. I’m here to show them how to be a good leader. That doesn't mean I have to be perfect. It’s okay that my heart is racing. I care. Let’s keep going.”

In the first one, it’s noticing the negative self-talk and trying to stop it and intentionally replace it and refocus the dancer before that negative thought spiral goes too far. The second approach is more about noticing the who, what, where, why of the situation without judgment. It’s okay that you got anxious in this moment. Just notice what happened, accept it, and keep moving forward.

Both Approaches Work- 8:59

To be clear, I personally don't think there’s a better or more effective approach. Both Psychological Skills Training and mindfulness interventions come from what’s called CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), and both have lots of empirical or research support.

Mindfulness interventions have been found to enhance attention and improve acceptance of unpleasant events. That’s where I think mindfulness is so powerful. It means we’re less likely to avoid a negative experience. Instead, we can lean into the hard experience without trying to control it. I don't know about you, but I think a lot of dancers could benefit from that kind of training and understanding, “Yes, this might be scary and unpleasant, but I don't have to be afraid. I can lean into it. I don't have to avoid this negative experience. I can just accept it without trying to control it.”

Psychological skills training, similarly, has been shown to improve motivation, confidence, focus, and a lot more, and, most importantly, Psychological Skills Training and mindfulness both improve physical performance.

So, while most of my training and my past work has focused on Psychological Skills Training, I find myself more and more intrigued by mindfulness lately. So, I’d love to hear from you. Is that something you would like to learn more about? Do you think it would be helpful for you and your dancers? You can send me an email, hit me up on Instagram, and let me know what you think.

Flow States vs. “Get Out of Your Head” – 10:21

I hope hearing the difference between mindfulness and Psychological Skills Training is helpful, and remember, neither one of these approaches really encourage you to let your mind go blank. That’s not the goal. It’s about noticing and changing or noticing and accepting your thoughts and emotions as they are. Going completely blank and getting out of your own way is called a flow state, and that’s a topic for another time. It’s actually another big passion of mine. I’m excited to dive into that, but it is a different approach, and as educators and dance coaches, telling someone to just “get out of your head” is usually actually more like telling someone “stop thinking about a pink elephant.” Well, now that I’ve said it, you can't stop picturing a pink elephant, right?

We can’t force someone into a flow state. We can’t force them to let their mind go blank and just dance. We can talk about how powerful that is to just be in the moment and be in that flow state, but we can’t tell someone, “Just get out of your head.” We can train how to get to a flow state more often, but, for most dancers out there, telling them to get out of their head is just gonna make them think, “Oh, no. I’m overthinking. She told me to stop thinking. Stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about it,” and it just spirals. So, instead, we want to train psychological skills and mindfulness to either change or notice those negative thoughts without judgment.

Flow states are incredible, and some people are more likely to experience them than others, but that truly not-present-in-the-moment-and-just-dancing kind of feeling is powerful and wonderful and something I promise I’ll dive into on the show in the future. When we tell our dancers, “Just stop thinking about it,” I know what we’re trying to do, and we want to help them get there, but, for most of them, that’s actually just gonna make it worse because then, their thoughts are stuck in, “Stop thinking about it. I’m overthinking. Oh, no, now what do I do?” And so, instead, we want to turn to either a Psychological Skills Training or a mindfulness approach.

I hope this episode was helpful, and remember, if you like this show, please leave a rating on your favorite podcast player. The link to do so is in the notes and it really, truly makes a difference for me and helps me keep making these episodes! Word of mouth is still the best way the show can grow. So, if you have a dance friend out there who you think would benefit, please share it with them.

Thanks for being here and listening in today. I appreciate you, and I hope you continue to share your passion for dance with the world!

[Motivational Outro Music]

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