Excellence > Perfection

(Photo courtesy Wavebreakermedia LTD/Thinkstock)

Excellence > Perfection

The annual post-holiday self-help craze is upon us—cue the gym memberships, health books, relationship advice columns and extra pointe classes. While committing to a New Year’s resolution can be a positive choice for many, it starts being harmful when taken too far. Perfectionism “becomes destructive striving when the goal, or resolution, is unattainable,” says Dr. Sharon A. Chirban, a sports psychologist and consultant to Boston Ballet company members.

Perfectionists come in all shapes and sizes, but certain dancers are more susceptible than others. Perfectionism is most common among what Chirban calls “precision dancers”—dancers involved in styles that require strict adherence to a set of standards, like ballerinas or dance-team dancers. “Forms that prioritize spontaneity and expression are less likely to breed perfectionist dancers,” Chirban says.

Try ringing in the New Year with an excellentist mentality, instead. Whereas a perfectionist seeks absolute perfection, an excellentist strives to be her most excellent self, which is an ever-changing target. (Are double pirouettes tricky for you? Be proud of yourself when you nail ’em, and don’t obsess over triples until doubles are no longer challenging.) An excellentist works toward self-improvement, understanding that the process—including mistakes and setbacks along the way—is more important than any end result. Instead of fearing criticism, an excellentist seeks it out, knowing that the only way to improve is to understand her weaknesses. “Excellentist dancers are usually more successful in the long run,” Chirban says. “They’re less likely to burn out or succumb to self-hate.”

Are you a perfectionist? Take this quiz to find out.

True or false:

1. You’re very worried about what others think of you.

2. You don’t enjoy the process of reaching your goals.

3. You criticize yourself when assessing your progress.

4. Even after you achieve a goal, you’re still afraid of failing.

5. When it comes down to it, you feel like you’re just not good enough.

If you answered “true” to most of these questions, it’s time to get your perfectionism in check.

Did You Know?

Crying can be good for your health. Beyond the obvious cathartic release of emotions, crying also flushes out built-up chemicals—such as manganese, a mood-altering mineral—leading to reduced stress and improved mood.

It can also boost your friendships. According to a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, tears are an evolutionary response, designed to draw others to you for compassion and support. So while you probably don’t want to become that girl who always cries in class, when the feelings hit, don’t be afraid to have a good sob.

Massage Tips

Soreness in the ischial tuberosity, or sitz bone, is (literally) a pain in the butt. In dancers, it’s often caused by a hamstring strain, and it can make it difficult to lift your leg to the front or side.

Try this self-massage trick: Sit on the floor with a tennis ball centered on one of your sitz bones. Use your feet and hands on the floor to balance as you swivel your hips in a circular motion, releasing any knots in the muscles and ligaments that attach to that area (including those oh-so-important adductor and  abductor hamstring muscles).

Eat This, Not That: The Common Cold Edition

When you’re dealing with a stuffy nose, sore throat and cough, you probably don’t feel much like eating. But your body needs fuel to fight off that pesky bug. Here are five foods to reach for—and five to avoid—when battling the common cold.

(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)

The Nice List

These foods will soothe your cold symptoms and get you back on your feet:

Chicken soup has a whole lot to offer. An electrolyte-dense fluid, it’ll keep your body hydrated. It also contains the amino acid cysteine, which relieves mucus buildup in your lungs. Most important, it’s easy to digest.

Garlic has antibiotic properties, and it’s been shown to lessen the severity of cold symptoms.

Green tea contains infection-fighting antioxidants, and its warmth can relieve a sore throat and ease congestion.

Honey has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and can serve as a cough suppressant.

All-natural fruit popsicles can help you stay hydrated, and the coldness can help numb a sore throat. They’re also a great way to get some extra vitamins when fibrous whole fruits are too tricky to digest.

(Photos courtesy Thinkstock)

The Naughty List

These foods may irritate your cold symptoms or hinder your recovery:

Spicy or acidic foods may temporarily clear your sinuses, but they can also irritate your mucous membranes, leading to increased pain and discomfort in your nasal passages, throat and lungs.

Juice and other beverages with lots of added sugar can cause inflammation and weaken your immune system.

Fatty meats and deep-fried foods are difficult to digest, and your body can’t spare the extra energy. Plus, they can lead to increased inflammation.

Caffeine is a diuretic and a stimulant. What you need is hydration and rest, so steer

clear of soda.

Dairy may thicken the mucus in your throat, adding to your discomfort.

The jury’s still out on whether dairy is a true member of the naughty list. Some doctors say its protein and vitamin D can help boost the immune system.

Can't Sleep? Take a Breather.

After a day jam-packed with school, dance and homework, you probably feel exhausted by bedtime. But that doesn’t always mean sleep comes easily. Insomnia—persistent difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep—can be incredibly frustrating and stressful, especially for busy dancers.

While the age-old trick of counting sheep may be effective for some, others can get to sheep 1,000 and still be wide awake. The key is to quiet your thoughts so you can begin to drift into dreamland. Different tricks work for different people, but for many, breathing patterns are important. Next time you find yourself burning the midnight oil, try this simple breathing exercise:

• Exhale completely through your mouth.

• Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts.

• Hold your breath at the top for seven counts.

• Exhale through your mouth for eight counts.

• Repeat the entire sequence three times.

Why Focus on breath?

When you’re stressed or anxious, deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms you down. Plus, focusing on counting the length of your breaths can distract you from whatever’s on your mind.

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