Trading in Good for Great

You have to give up good for great.

– Jim Collins

Recently, while driving to my Monday night Nia class, I asked myself:

“What could I do in class tonight that I’m afraid of that would boost my self-confidence?”

A few things came to mind: teach to music I don't know, wear something outside my comfort zone, or teach class facing an entirely different side of the room. I laughed, as I realized all of this inspires me more than it scares me. What could I do that would push my own comfort zone and improve my teaching?

Then it hit me:I could ask my students for feedback.”

Now here's the thing: Whenever I ask my students for verbal feedback, 95% of the time all I get is praise. Praise is lovely and I appreciate it, but it does not actually help me address areas that need improvement! There was a specific kind of feedback I wanted – raw, honest, and constructive feedback.

I got to the club, cut up a bunch of pieces of paper, grabbed a handful of pens, then walked upstairs to my class and said the following:

"I have a favor to ask. Before you leave tonight, you'll find small white cards and pens by the door. I would deeply appreciate it if you would take two minutes to write down ONE THING I can do to improve my classes and/or be a better teacher. My only rule is that you can't say "nothing", nor can you offer praise. And, I want you to keep the feedback anonymous so you can say whatever you really think and feel. Bring it on – whatever you have to say, I can handle it and it will help me."

I always know something is my next level of growth because it scares me as much as it excites me. That's why I chose to ask for this. That's also why I took time beforehand to work on my mind and think through how to use this “ask” to best serve me…

My biggest fear and what made me most nervous was that someone might say something that hurt my feelings and I’d take it personally. Again, it’s one thing to receive positive feedback. Constructive criticism, on the other hand, requires a conscious openness and sincere ability to listen. So I examined the fear, dissected it, and decided to replace the thought "This might hurt my feelings” with "This will make me an even better teacher", which was one of my desired outcomes. I repeated this thought in my brain from that moment in the car all the way up to the actual reading of the feedback later that night.

I also reminded myself of what life coach Brooke Castillo says about self-confidence. “Self-confidence is something you create with your mind. If you’re willing to experience any emotion, you’ll increase your self-confidence.” Rather than pretend I was fearlessness, I allowed myself to feel my nervousness and fear, recognizing it as a part of the process of pushing my own edge.

After all, why can’t self-confidence and fear co-exist?

When I got home that night, I held the feedback cards in my hand, reminded myself of my new intentional thought, and flipped the cards over one by one.

Here is what they said – every single one, unedited!

  • Occasional more somatic moves

  • Would love to have a little more review/guidance of proper form to be nice to knees. Maybe once through slower before going fast. You did that a little tonight and it was nice.

  • This only happens infrequently, but sometimes while we're dancing a repetitive move you talk more than necessary to give instruction. It can be distracting.

  • I have no idea how to deal with this and never have, but I'm dyslexic and can't tell right from left. So I always get the foot/leg wrong on just listening.

  • Provide some hands-on, personal pointers/corrections during yoga poses. Also, you're awesome and never stop teaching!

  • I used to feel uncomfortable with so much opportunity for freedancing (feeling self-conscious, not pushing myself mentally/physically during this time) but I have grown to appreciate it :) Maybe good to include more "themes" or "instruction" during free dance?

  • You are a very nearly perfect Nia teacher in my opinion but since you asked maybe some silent meditation at the end?

  • I really appreciate you and your class! One thing that comes to mind is to stick with one movement for longer time and dig into it feels great! So maybe some more of dig in and free movements.

  • More dancing as opposed to martial arts

  • I thought of something a few weeks ago but can't recall what it is now :( When I remember I will tell you (promise). Meantime I love you.

  • But you do rock! Ok one thing – it would have helped me to name the foot technique - grapevine - although not everyone knows what that is.

  • There was a class once when you were recovering from illness and it was a "silent class". It was very refreshing. Maybe you can have more of those!

  • I love your classes. The best dance teacher I've had in 20 years. I'd love if you taught here 3x week. I would also love to know more about the floor exercises "We do this because..."

  • Keep reminding us what our breathing should be.

  • I think you're great. What if you tried a routine where you used the same kata for every song?

  • I wonder if a missing link in your teaching of Nia is no specific inclusion of H.I.I.T. The way this aspect of fitness is delivered conventionally does not appeal to me so I avoid it – yet it is a valid feature of functional fitness for all ages. I sense you would have the skills to both educate about its efficacy (science, art, craft) and bring it in with an approach of effortless fun plus disciplined mindfulness.

  • Spirituality

Ok, so some of them broke the rule and offered praise, but these were amazing gems of feedback!

I could see myself clearly in each suggestion. Yes – I’ve been really heavy on the martial arts this year and more dance moves would balance out my classes. Yes – I have a habit of over-speaking when we sustain movements for a while. Yes, I could bring more spirituality. Yes, yes, yes!

My heart also felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for the areas my students struggle with that I may not always be as attuned to – dyslexia, confusion on how to breathe, or discomfort during freedance. All of these were great reminders of things I could pay closer attention to.

Every card I read increased my self-confidence because I was willing to experience any emotion around it, and that made me feel brave. I also felt more self-confident knowing what my students wanted more and less of. Knowledge is power, my friends!

It was such a valuable practice, I will be doing this more regularly to help me grow and stay at the top of my teaching game.

In her book The Last Word on Power, Tracy Goss writes, "The power that brought you to your current position of prominence and responsibility as a leader – the power that is the source of your success in the past – is now preventing you from making the impossible happen in your life and work."

Asking for constructive feedback ripped me out of my comfort zone of “goodness” by introducing 17 powerful tools that could evoke greatness in my teaching and take me to my next level.

To grow and evolve, I must be willing to bust through my comfort zone again and again, reinvent myself, and seek new challenges. Because let’s face it: If I keep doing the same things I've done before, I will keep generating the same results.

Am I willing to trade in good for great?

Sign me up.

P.s. If you want a surefire way to increase your self-confidence, check out The LifeCoach School’s mini training.