Mind Over Matter: Staying focused

This is the third in a series of blog posts called “Mind Over Matter” that explore the importance and relevance of the psychological aspects of dancing.

The previous post in this series looked at the danger of focusing on what not to do. Another common problem with the way we’re taught is that we’re often given too many things to focus on.

Focus is a critical skill needed for advancing our dancing. It’s how we train our bodies to develop new habits that replace the old ones. By focusing on continually and consistently doing something new, we learn to retrain our bodies, building muscle memory and a higher skill level that makes the new behavior become a habit – something we don’t need to focus on any longer. However, without focusing on new behaviors, we’re bound to continue repeating our old ones.

At the same time, the human brain can only focus on one thing at a time, and multitasking has negative effects on our ability to pay attention, control memories, and switch between tasks. So how can we make progress on any one thing when we’re trying to work on several at once? How do we focus when there are half a dozen priorities?

It’s hard enough to focus at all, given all the distractions while we’re dancing. It’s too easy to just revert to our usual dancing and not focus on anything. So imagine the challenge when we’re given a laundry list of things to work on.

Learning to focus is important for progress, as is knowing what to focus on. Getting to the root cause of our problems and finding the right solution is sometimes difficult but makes learning and improving so much easier. And a good solution is something that addresses root causes while being easy for the mind to focus on. After all, if we can’t focus on it, then we can’t do it consistently enough to make it into a habit.

How do you stay focused on building new skills? How does staying focused affect your dancing? How do you prioritize what you work on? And teachers, how much do you consider your students’ ability to focus when giving feedback or things for them to work on?

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