Managing your self-esteem

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What is self-esteem and how can it help your dancing? Dr Gene Moyle explains.


Sign up to our e-news here. It's free!AS A dance student, professional, teacher, or just a “normal” human being, self-esteem is something that can influence your level of confidence in undertaking tasks or how you feel about yourself generally — all of which can have a significant impact upon the results that you achieve.

What is self-esteem? Self-esteem is made up of two key components — self-confidence and self-worth. Selfconfidence is related to how confident you are in your ability to undertake and complete tasks effectively, that is, to “do things well”. Self-worth is related to how you feel about yourself as a person, regardless of what it is that you are “doing”. Both components have the ability to influence each other in helpful or hindering ways. For example, imagine that “Emily” has just performed an exercise or enchainment well in class. She receives positive feedback from her teacher, and starts to feel a sense of achievement, which flows onto how she starts to approach the next exercise. The rest of class goes well as Emily’s confidence in her ability grows with each exercise, and afterwards, she is feeling pretty happy, lively, and good within herself. As she goes about the rest of her “non-dance” day, she is filled with a sense of wellbeing and of being valuable in some way. The next morning, Emily wakes with a sense of anticipation of what she wants to achieve in class that day — and the cycle begins again.

This is an example of how positive self-confidence has brought about positive self-worth, which in turn generates another opportunity to build upon a positive level of self-confidence . . . and so it goes on. However, this process can cycle positively then negatively and back again within a split second. So how do we manage it?

It is important to remember that we control our own levels of self-esteem. We can certainly be influenced by things external to us (e.g. teachers, friends,family, the media) however it is we who choose whether these influences actually affect us or not. Often this “choice” happens at a subconscious level — that is, we are not consciously aware of it. As a result, we may often place the control of our self-esteem in the hands of other people or things — this is called having externally-locused self-esteem. We are relying upon the feedback of other people or things outside of us to dictate how confident we are or how “good” or “bad” we are as people. The danger in this situation is that what you end up thinking and feeling about yourself — the “frame of meaning” you place around yourself as a dancer, teacher, person, friend, sister, brother — is totally dependent upon what someone else thinks or feels is correct. Their opinion, however, may not be entirely accurate.

Having said that, it is also essential to our development as dancers and people to accept the “brutal facts” of the situations we are faced with — the corrections we receive, the marks we are awarded, the sometimes negative results we may experience (not being accepted into a school or company, not getting the part you auditioned for, not making it through to the final round in a competition). However, the meaning we give to these situations and outcomes is what ultimately impacts upon our self-esteem in the long-term.

A way to ensure we still gain the important learnings from these situations, without the negative influence on our levels of self-esteem, is to adopt the “learning” versus “failure” frame. If we adopt the “learning” frame, there is never failure, only feedback. If we get sent to the back row in the performance piece orreceive a poor mark in our dance exam, this is not failure or failing at something — it is only feedback to assist us in our learning and development. Yes, at times this feedback is brutal and not at all fun to acknowledge, however it all contributes to learning what we might need to improve on, what we might need to invest more time into, or what we would choose to do differently next time. If we only see it as a “failure”, we lose the potential learning opportunity and add yet another negative frame to our stack of self-esteem frames stored in our brain.

When you next receive some feedback, take a few seconds to stop and be consciously aware of the meaning that you are giving to that piece of information about yourself in that exact moment. Are you using it as an opportunity to learn and grow? It’s your choice.

Professor Gene Moyle (Queensland University of Technology) is an ex-Ballet Dancer and a Performance Psychologist.

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