Think Well, Perform Well

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News, Think Well Perform Well

When I was a child, I loved ballet so much I could dance 24 hours a day.  It came naturally to me, like my body and spirit already knew exactly what to do.  When I danced ballet the world around me disappeared, and I got lost in the moment.  I didn’t think about anything else, I just went with the flow.  It was like second nature.

I practiced hour after hour, month after month, year after year.  But my motivation didn’t come just from a desire for success.  My motivation came from a natural love of the activity itself.  I felt great joy whenever I danced, and for me, practicing over and over to exhaustion wasn’t labor, it was play.

At one point, there was a major competition here in Istanbul.  Officials from the British Corps de Ballet came to select three top young ballerinas for a scholarship to study in London.  I was too young to understand what it might mean to win the competition.  I just distinctly remember paying close attention to the preparation of my shoes, and making sure my ballet dress fit just right.  I didn’t do it because I wanted to impress the judges, I just loved how it made me feel to look good and dance well.

While performing onstage in front of the judges, I glanced at them and saw awe in their faces, and I could hear their excited chatter.  I didn’t understand their foreign words, but their tone of voice and their body language made me think, “I must be doing great!”  Their approval spurred me on to do even better.

When you are performing any sort of activity, whether you are dancing ballet, running a marathon, or managing a tough and complex project at work, your mental state has an incredible impact on your performance.  Athletes understand this well.  They know top performance isn’t just about having the best physical conditioning, it’s about having the best mental state, too.

The ideal mental state is one of utter, joyful absorption in the activity itself, a state sometimes known as “flow”.  When you can’t be in a state of flow, however, the next best thing is outside approval, like having a panel of judges, or a group of coworkers, cheering you on and giving you positive feedback.

In any big project, though, there are moments when neither is forthcoming.  You don’t feel like you are in a state of flow, and the outside approval is not coming, either.  At times like these, often the only way you can get yourself through the tough spots is with self-affirmation.

Sometimes positive self-talk feels awkward at first, but actually we are all hard-wired for it, so you’ll quickly grow comfortable and see how much it helps.  It works best when you write out the affirmations beforehand, and then find a nice, comfortable chair in a quiet room.  Sit upright, close your eyes, and take deep breaths.  The deep breaths will relax you, releasing the tightness in your body and improving your focus.  At this point, start speaking out loud to yourself, repeating about 20 times each the affirmations you wrote earlier.  Make sure, by the way, that you always use affirmations in the present tense.

You can use this method in any area of your life that isn’t meeting with your satisfaction.  Identify the negative thoughts occupying your mind, and overturn them by simply saying to yourself “stop” when you realize you are heading down a negative road.  Then follow that immediately with positive affirmations to retrain your brain.

This is a proven, effective way to upgrade your performance.  The subconscious mind actually receives often-repeated thoughts as commands, and so you will find your behavior changing accordingly.

Intrinsic love of what you are doing is the best way to propel yourself to success.  When I was that young ballerina, I was so much in love with what I was doing that I didn’t need positive self-talk to keep me going.  But there have been plenty of other times in my life when I needed the extra motivation self-affirmation brings.  You can benefit from the technique too, especially if you practice it beforehand, so it’s there for you when you really need it.

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