How to Practice When You Only Have 5 Minutes

Friday, December 17, 2010

I was having a really bad day. I got stuck at work, missed my bus, and when I got home, I discovered that I forgot to defrost the ingredients for dinner. By the time I was home and fed, I was too tired and cranky to put on my practice clothes, much less actually dance.

Now, there's nothing wrong with skipping a practice session once in a while, but when I miss a practice session, it often turns into two, and then a week. Before I know it, I've missed out on hours and hours of practice time.

5 Minutes Would Have Kept Me On Track

If you want to make consistent progress in the dance, you'll have to practice. This is true whether your goal is to become a professional dancer, or just to prepare for your next hafli. But life gets in the way, and things happen.

That's why you need a practice plan for those days when you can't squeeze in a full session. And, surprisingly, 5 minutes of practice can make a big difference.

Why Practice for Five Minutes? Why Not Just Skip It?

When you're tired, stressed, and short on time, it's tempting to skip your practice session entirely. But frequent practice - even in trivially short sessions - tells your brain that what you're practicing is important. And your brain obliges by optimizing the path to that information.

So while you won't make a ton of progress in those 5 minutes, you'll actually accomplish more in your next full-length practice session.

Plus, you'll maintain the momentum of your practice habit. So practicing will feel like a normal and natural part of your day, rather than a guilt-inducing "to-do" on your list.

So How Do I Plan a 5-Minute Practice Session?

When you only have 5 minutes to practice, you can't waste a second, so it's important to plan your session carefully.

Minute 1: Quickie warm-up
- shoulder rolls with plies (knee bends)
- hip circles
- side stretch
- hamstring stretch
- roll up the spine

It's tempting to skip the warm-up when you're pressed for time, but don't do it! You won't dance as well without it, and it prepares your brain to learn.

Minutes 2 & 3: Nit-Picky Practice
Review the material you're working on. Do this very slowly, focusing on the details: alignment, position, which muscles are working, etc. Be sure to work both sides equally.

Minute 4: Tempo Practice
Practice the material at a speed that is challenging but doable. At first, this will be a moderate tempo. Over time, work up to a faster tempo.

Minute 5: Practice in Context
Practice using this material while dancing. You can improvise, or use it in a pre-planned combination.


Here's an example that I did the same day I wrote this article. I've been learning a new choreography, and wanted to polish up the "compass" hip drops it uses. But I was home for Thanksgiving, and couldn't block out much time for practice. Here's what I did:

1st min: warm-up
2nd min: practicing compass drops in slow motion. I started by just sliding my hip to each of the positions, then added in the drops. I did this slowly and deliberately, making the move as perfect as I could manage.
3rd min: same thing on the other side
4th min: practicing compass drops at medium tempo. I also tried it at a fast tempo, but I wasn't able to do it cleanly, so I dropped back down to the moderate pace. I split the time between the two sides.
5th min: practicing the original combination

But You Can't Make Real Progress in 5 Minutes!

It's true: you won't make a lot of progress in 5 minutes. But remember: we're not concerned with what you can accomplish during your mini-session. Our goal is to "grease" the pathways to that information in your brain, and maintain the practice habit.

Besides, even in the worst-case scenario, even if you never do a full-length practice again, 5 minutes a day adds up to 30 hours and 25 minutes of practice per year. Not too shabby, huh?


While you'll need to get consistent practice if you want to make progress, there are some days when you just can't squeeze in a full session. In that situation, it's actually better to practice for 5 minutes than to skip it entirely. That tells your brain that the material is still important, which makes your later, full practice sessions more effective.

To get the most benefit, be sure to do a quick warm-up, practice one topic slowly and deliberately, practicing the same thing at tempo, and then practice it in a dancing context.

What You Can Do Right Now

When you only have 5 minutes to practice, you can't waste a second collecting your stuff. Prepare your 5-minute practice plan now, before you need it.

Write down what you want to work on, pick out a 5-minute song with a suitable tempo, and place your notes, music, and hip scarf next to your stereo.

Totally Turkish DVD Review

Monday, August 02, 2010

Totally Turkish - Belly Dance

(Disclaimer: I received a free advance copy of this DVD as part of a give-away by the producer)

I'm a big fan of improvisational dance: I'd rather do it, and I'd rather watch it. But even though I rarely perform choreography, learning it is great way to fill the creative well. A good choreography can help you learn new moves, ideas or aesthetics, or help you wrap your brain around a new style or skill. Totally Turkish does it all.


- A technique break-down of some of the moves, steps, and spins used in this program.

- A three and a half-minute choreography to the song "Benefese"

- Finger cymbal patterns for the entire choreography

- A short tutorial on dancing to slow, Romani-style 9/8 music


1) The choreography is attractive and fun, and fits the Turkish aesthetic well.

2) The song used is in 4/4 time: virtually all the Turkish-style DVDs out there focus on dancing to music in 9/8 time, so this fills a major gap in the DVD market.

3) The choreography is full of fun and novel moves, steps, and combinations. These are very adaptable, so you're not just learning one set choreography; you're adding a lot of new material to your repertoire.

4) Ruby is friendly and confident on camera, a lovely dancer, and she knows what she's talking about.

5) She includes detailed instruction on which muscles should be working, using their anatomical names and pointing to them.

6) The production values are strong. The video is filmed behind the instructor, facing into the mirror, which usually isn't my favorite perspective, but it's framed and angled carefully, so you can see everything you need to.


1) Not everyone will be able to do all of these movements safely

As the DVD disclaimer warns: this program is for fit individuals, and experienced dancers. If you have injuries or limited strength/mobility in your knees, back, feet, or neck, you will have to adapt or omit some of this material.

Ruby does include important safety tips for many of these movements, mostly by reminding you to engage your abdominal muscles for support. (The pilates workout on her Flawless Floorwork DVD can help you connect with and strengthen these muscles.)

However, these safetly tips often came after she demonstrates the move (sometimes several times). This is a perfectly appropriate place to give these tips, but since some of the moves are particularly demanding on your neck, back, or knees, you should be careful not to follow along with her demonstrations. Wait, watch, and listen before you try it. Better yet, watch the entire DVD first.

I would also have liked to hear some safety tips for:

- protecting your neck during hair tosses and sways.
Those can be dangerous without the proper technique, especially without warming up your neck. (There was no warm-up on this DVD.)

- protecting your ankles and knees
Turns and pivots can put a lot of stress on your ankles and knees, especially if you are practicing on carpet. This is something dancers always need to be aware of, but it's especially important to remember during this program: this choreography uses a LOT of turns and has you perform them VERY quickly.

If you are not healthy and strong, you should take the turns, hair tosses, sways, and backbends VERY carefully, and at your own pace. You may need to get input from a live teacher.

2) The pace of instruction is brisk.

The choreography is taught in fairly long "chunks". Since the combos move quickly, and most are fairly complex, I would have found it easier to learn in shorter chunks. Viewers who don't have strong choreography "uptake" will need to rewind and repeat the instructional sections.

3) Some of the step patterns weren't described

Ruby demonstrated some of the step patterns without describing what she was doing in words. She did demonstrate them slowly, but said "step, step" or "1,2". I would have preferred to hear more description, such as: "step front, pivot to the right", etc. I'm pretty comfortable with the "follow the bouncing butt" method, but since these combos involved a lot of quick directional changes, more verbal description would have been helpful.

4) The zils section felt rushed

I was very pleased that Ruby included zils on the DVD, and the visual format was innovative and effective. You watch Ruby's hands playing the patterns, while she simultaneously performs the choreography in split-screen in the lower-left. The pattern is written at the top in number format. (i.e.., 1-3-3-3-7)

However, the demonstration was done at full speed, and Ruby played the whole choreography straight-through, instead of breaking it down by section. Plus, she didn't describe the zil patterns in words, so if you're not familiar with the number notation she used, you'd have to pick up the patterns entirely by ear. The audio of the zils wasn't great, which made that difficult. (It's *extremely* hard to get good audio of zils, so this is perfectly understandable, but it added some frustration.)

It's doable, but you're definitely swimming in the deep end of the pool.

5) The Romani section didn't really fit

I felt that the Romani section didn't really belong on this DVD. It was authentic and fun, but the rhythm instruction was weak, and it didn't have much bearing on the rest of the program. (As Ruby pointed out, Turkish Romani dance is the root of Turkish orientale, but the demo didn't illuminate or add to this.) I would have preferred that Ruby spend that time on breaking down the zils, and save the Romani material for its own DVD.


This DVD is a must-have for strong intermediate through professional dancers in good physical shape (feet, back, neck, knees), with good choreography "uptake" (or just some patience). You will learn a ton of great material, and get a good feel for the Turkish orientale aesthetic.

While this program is a fantastic resource for those who are ready for it, it may not be a good choice for you if you:

- are a beginner or advanced beginner

Your body is probably not ready to do some of these movements safely. And unless you have a lot of experience in another dance form, your probably haven't yet developed the body awareness to know which movements are safe to try.

That said, you can pick up some great new material. Just stick to the traveling patterns and turns, and ask your teacher for help before you try any of the head tosses, torso flips, or back-bending.

- have injuries or physical limitations

As I mentioned earlier, if you don't have strong and healthy feet, lower back, neck, and knees, some of these moves will not be safe for you. You will still learn a lot of useful material, but be careful as you follow along, and expect to adapt the choreography.

- are easily frustrated

This choreography includes complex combinations with lots of directional changes. If you have slow choreography "uptake", or if you have weak spatial awareness, this program may move too quickly for you.

That said, if you can summon the patience to keep pausing, rewinding, and practicing, you'll be very glad you did.

You can pre-order from Amazon

What Questions Do You Have About Transitions? (Plus a Give-Away)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Volume 2 just shipped last week, but I'm already starting work on the next part of the series.

Volume 3 will cover transitions, with an emphasis on using them in improvised dance. My goal is to get it out by the end of October of this year.

I have a pretty detailed outline for what I plan to cover, but before I get too deep into my own plan, I'd like to make sure that I address YOUR questions about transitions.

Tell me about your transitions questions in this survey

The Giveaway

And because I can't resist a give-away, one survey respondent will win a free copy of the Improv Toolkit video of their choice. (Or a coupon for a free copy of volume 3, if you've already got 1 & 2.)

The Fine Print:

I'll choose one winner at random from among the eligible survey respondents at 5pm EST next Tuesday, March 16th, 2010.

No purchase is necessary in order to be eligible to win, but you must answer all the questions and include your name and email address, so I can notify you.

The winner will be notified by email. If the winner does not respond to the notification within 14 days, they forfeit their prize, and I'll choose another winner.

This is NOT limited to the US, and I can give you your prize in either NTSC or PAL format.

How to Learn Choreography More Easily and Efficiently - By Doing it Backwards!

Friday, March 05, 2010

When you fly in an airplane, you hope for a smooth flight. But sometimes take-offs are shaky and flights are bumpy. In the end, all that really matters is a safe landing.

Flying instructors know this, and so their earliest lesson is not how to fly the plane, but how to land it. Flying students practice landings over and over again, because not only do they need to be able to land the plane safely, but they need to feel completely confident doing it. Worrying about the landing could cause them to make a mistake.

Give Your Show a Safe Landing

This is equally true for belly dance. No matter how good or bad your show was, what the audience remembers best is a strong finish. And even if your show is going well, worrying about what comes later can sabotage your performance.

Even so, most of us start from the beginning of the piece when we learn choreography. But you'll learn more quickly and remember it more reliably if you start from the end and work your way backwards towards the beginning.

Why Shouldn't I Start From the Beginning?

When we learn choreography from the beginning, we practice the first combination, then the second combination, and then we practice both of them. Then we learn the third combination, and practice combos 1, 2, and 3. And so on.

Combo 1

Combo 2

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2

Combo 3

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3

Combo 4

Combo 1 ----- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3 ----- Combo 4

Can you see what’s happening here? The early combinations get much more practice than the later ones:

Combo 1

Combo 2

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2

Combo 3

Combo 1 ---- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3

Combo 4

Combo 1 ----- Combo 2 ----- Combo 3 ----- Combo 4

By this point, you've practiced Combo #1 four times, but #4 has only been practiced twice!

And it only gets worse as you continue; if your choreography has 12 combos, #1 will get 600% more practice than #12.

This Directly Impacts Your Performance

This means that when you go to perform your choreography, you’re going to get less and less confident as you approach the end. The sections you're most familiar with are in the past. That sets you up for a stressful show, and that stress can ruin your performance.

However, if you start from the end, you know the later combinations inside and out. This means that when you perform it, you get more confident as the piece progresses. This confidence boost brightens your stage presence and helps you be your best. And even if you fall on your face early in the show, you can still count on a strong finish.

How Do I Learn a Piece Backwards?

In order to learn a piece backwards, we use the standard procedure; we just start at the end. Here’s how:

1) break the choreography up into a logical “chunks” or combinations. For this example, let's assume that your choreography yields 12 combinations.

2) learn the very last combination (combo #12)

3) learn the previous combination (#11)

4) practice combos 11 & 12 together

5) learn combination 10

6) practice combos 10-12 together

Continue in this fashion until you have added in all the combinations. Then practice the whole choreography until you're confident about the early combinations. By this time, you should be extraordinarily confident about the later ones.

But If I Learn It Backwards, How Will I Understand How the Dance Unfolds?

The downside of this method is that it doesn’t let you observe the structure of the dance as you learn it. So before you begin to learn a choreography backwards, watch the whole piece once or twice to get the lay of the land. If you’re learning it from written notes rather than video, walk through the choreography once without music to mark it out.

Make a note of any repeated elements and other patterns. This helps you understand the choreography, and gives context to the combinations as you learn them individually.


  • If the choreography repeats a particular section several times, learning that segment first may give you a sense of accomplishment and some anchor points. Then proceed to the final combination, and work your way backwards as usual.

  • When you learn a new combination, practice the transitions into and out of it as well.
  • So when you learn Combo #10, the “chunk” you’d practice would include the transition from Combo #9, Combo #10 itself, and the transition into Combo #11. This will help you integrate each new section into the whole piece.


When you learn a choreography from the beginning, the early parts get more practice than the later ones. As you perform it, you’ll always be less confident about what’s to come.

If you start from the end and work your way forwards, the later parts get the most practice. So even if you have some trouble at first, you can count on a good ending.

The process of learning a choreography backwards is the same as learning it forwards. Start with the final combination, add on the previous combo, practice them together. Then add on another combination, practice the whole thing together, and so on.

Before you begin, you may want to watch the choreography a few times to get familiar with its structure.

With this method, you can expect many happy landings.

Improvisation Toolkit Volume 2 is Here!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Volume 2 of the Improvisation Toolkit has arrived! It's 7.5 inches long,
weighs 3.2 ounces, and has brown eyes. (In the cover photo, that is.)

Okay, that's a corny metaphor, but I sure feel like I've had a baby!

I'll be picking it up at the manufacturer's in 89 minutes, and heading
straight to the post office after that. So those of you who pre-ordered should
have your copies soon!

Just a few more things:

1) The deadline for the give-away is 5pm EST today. If you're already on my
mailing list, you're already entered. If not, you can join at:
(details in the original post below)

2) I *still* haven't gotten around to taking the private sale link down, so I'll
leave that up until I leave for the post office at 5. (vol. 2) (vol. 1)

How to Improve Your Musicality with Selective Listening

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I made this video late, late at night, and in my PJs. I filmed it back in December, as an assignment for my article class, and always planned reshoot it in the studio, with natural light, makeup, etc.

But the topic of musicality has come up over and over again this month, so I'm taking that as a sign.

So I'm squelching my vanity and sharing this with you now, PJs and all.


Why You Need to Make Mistakes In Order to Improvise Well

Friday, February 05, 2010

When you raise tomatoes, you have to constantly prune away the “suckers”, the new shoots the plant tries to grow. If they remain, they’ll suck the plant’s resources into growing new stems and leaves. But when you find them and get rid of them, the plant can focus on its job: making tasty tomatoes for you.

Mistakes are like Suckers

It’s human nature to fear mistakes, but they’re especially terrifying for dancers. After all, the audience’s eyes are always on us. So we become perfectionists, and fret about tiny mistakes that our audience would never notice.

Fear of mistakes sucks away our attention and our creative energy. And since those tools are critical to improv, it can be devastating. So we get even more afraid.

But what most dancers don’t realize is that making mistakes will actually improve your improvisation skills. We need to welcome mistakes, and deal with them appropriately, if we want to improvise successfully.

Why Are Mistakes So Important to Improv?

Mistakes are important in improv because they teach you what does and doesn’t work for you.

When you dance, you have a huge pool of movements and combinations to choose from. However, not all of them fit the music and flatter your body.

If you choreograph your performance, you can take days or weeks to sift through these options, and decide which you like best.

When you improvise, you have to make those decisions in a split-second. But that split second is all you need if you have already sifted out many of the bad ideas. And you do that by making mistakes.

The trick is to make them in a safe place.

How Do I Make Mistakes in a Safe Place?

The safest place to make mistakes is in the privacy of the studio, so get in there and practice some improvisational dancing. Your goal for this practice session is to make mistakes. Be sure to do it mindfully: acknowledge the bad ideas, welcome them, and then let them go.

You’ll resist making mistakes at first, but remember that our goal is to prune away the bad ideas during practice, when nobody is looking. That way, you’ll have mostly good ideas left to choose from when you improvise.

So go make some mistakes. Welcome each snafu. Greet each bad idea with open arms. After all, this may be the last time you ever see it!

But Won’t I Make Faster Progress if I Focus on Usable Material?

Nope. Focusing on good ideas will help you generate a list of usable material more quickly, but that list doesn’t help you improvise.

The ideas that are inside you – good and bad – are going to come out sometime. You can’t stop them. If they don’t get their moment of freedom in the studio, they will break out on stage.

So give the bad ones their time to shine in the studio, where they can’t embarrass you.


Fear of making mistakes is natural, but it is a liability when it comes to improvisation.

Improvisational dance requires that we make decisions in a split second. We can inform that decision by making as many mistakes as possible before we step on stage.

The best way to do this is by mindfully making mistakes when we practice, so we can learn what does and doesn’t work with our bodies.

It may be tempting to focus on good ideas, but this won’t help you prevent mistakes when you improvise. The bad ideas are going to come out sometime. By welcoming mistakes when we practice, we can improve the odds for when we perform.

Next Steps

Go to your practice space, and make some mistakes. When an idea isn’t working for you, acknowledge it, and then say goodbye to it. Because now that you’ve pruned it from your mind, it can’t suck away any more of your attention.

Haiti Giveaway Winner

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The winner of the giveaway for Haiti is Tondo of Windsor, Ontario.

Tondo made her donation to the Red Cross of Canada, and her prize is a personal video critique worth $125.

Congrats Tondo!

Authentic Facial Expression: It's About Doing, Not Being

Friday, January 15, 2010

Authentic Facial Expression: It's About Doing, Not Being!

I was a child actor. Not the kind of child actor who robs a 7-11 in their 20s. Just the kind that does a lot of plays and makes a little money, but never gets even locally famous.

One of my most valuable lessons came not from my professional work, but from my high school acting teacher. While we were rehearsing for Steel Magnolias, she told the cast to try to "be sleepy". We stretched, we yawned, and, frankly, we overdid it.

But when she told us to try to stay awake, it was a very different story. As I watched my cast-mates shifting in their seats and fighting to keep keep their eyelids from drooping, I didn't doubt their sleepiness for a second, even though it was mid-morning on a Saturday.

So where did that authenticity come from?

Expressive Is As Expressive Does

What we are is, very simply, the result of what we do. A friendly person is someone who does friendly things: says hi, asks if your cold is getting better, etc.

Similarly, when we discuss stage presence, we tend to talk about states of being, rather than actions. We say that we want to "be expressive" or "look intense", and so we focus on the concept of an emotion, like happiness, sadness, etc., rather than on the actions a happy or sad person might take.

But just like we can't authentically make ourselves "be sleepy", we can't make ourselves "be heartbroken" or "be entranced by the clarinet". When we try, it comes out looking awkward and cartoonish. (You've seen quite a few "Dina faces" and "sultry faces", haven't you?)

It's obvious to the audience that we are intentionally putting on a facial expression, rather than letting our faces reflect our authentic feelings. And that is a violation of their trust.

Why Is the Face So Important?

When you dance, your facial expression is what the audience relates to first. Most don't have any belly dance experience, so the movements themselves don't give you any common ground.

Facial expressions, on the other hand, are nearly universal in the human family. So your face is what draws the audience in and convinces them to follow you on the emotional roller coaster of your performance.

But that connection is based on trust. Before they put themselves in your hands, they have to believe that what's on your face is really in your heart.

How Do I Make My Expressions Authentic?

There is a remarkably easy and straight-forward way to maintain an authentic expression: silently "talk" to the audience in your head.

This sounds silly and almost trivial. But carrying on a silent conversation with your audience is a powerful tool for creating believable expression.

When you motivate your dance with that internal conversation, your face follows along automatically. It will authentically reflect what's going on in your body and in your heart, rather than what you think you should display to the audience. And the audience will believe you.

But I Don't Know What to Say!

Almost any statement will create an authentic expression, as long as you direct it to a member of your audience. However, you'll get the most authentic results from statements that are related to your performance, and that you make in your own words.

Here are a few ideas to get you started.

You can talk about the audience:
- Hey, it's you! (this works even if you've never met them before)
- I'm so glad you came!
- You two make a lovely couple!

You can talk about yourself:
- I am the best dancer you've ever seen
- I am an elegant princess
- I am a nice girl from the village

You can about what you're doing:
- Look at that shimmy go!
- My hands are just fascinating
- Wasn't that last move cool?

You can talk about the music:
- The rhythm is so yummy
- I love the sound of the clarinet!
- This song is about lost love


In order to be authentically expressive, we need to focus on "doing", rather than "being". Focusing on states of being encourages us to paste on a false expression, which alienates our audience.

"Speaking" to the audience silently is the most effective way to create an authentic expression that will foster a genuine connection. So take some time to compose your own list of statements in your own voice. Then put on some music, and give it a try!

With a little practice, you'll master it so thoroughly that even my acting coach would believe that you're a nice girl from the village.

Need more hand-holding?

A guided version of this exercise is featured on the bonus DVD "Nerves and Expression", which comes with the premium version of my DVD Improvisation Toolkit Volume 1: Movement Recall. Click here to order.

Already have Volume 1? You can also get "Nerves and Expression" with a premium pre-order of Improvisation Toolkit Vol. 2: Structure, which will be released on February 24th. Click here to pre-order.

Donate to Relief Efforts in Haiti, and Be Entered to Win a Free Video Critique

Make a donation to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, or Heifer International by Tuesday, and be entered in a drawing for a free video critique worth $125.

Here's how to enter:

1) Make a donation of at least $20 to the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), or Heifer International by next Tuesday, January 20th.

2) Email me confirmation by 5pm EST next Wednesday, January 21st.

After you have made your donation, you should see a confirmation page with the details of your donation. You can print that to PDF or send me a screen shot of that page. (Here are some instructions.)

Alternatively, you can forward me your confirmation email. (My confirmation from the Red Cross took a few hours to arrive, so don't worry if you don't get it right away.)

Send your confirmation to me at

3) I'll use a random number generator to choose the winner on Wednesday, and contact that person by email.


  • Sooner is better, folks! The more aid we can get to Haiti now, the less suffering there will be later on. I'd make the deadline much sooner, but I know some of you won't see this in time.

  • If you're outside the US, you can donate an equivalent amount in your own currency.

  • If you've already given to one of these causes, that's great too. I'll count any donation dated between January 15th and January 20th.

  • If you donate $50 or more, you get TWO entries. If you donate $100 or more, you get THREE entries.

  • (If you donate $1000 or more, well, you rock! I'll just give you a free critique outside of the giveaway.)

  • The winner will be notified by email, and must redeem their critique by January 21st, 2011. The prize is transferrable to another dancer.

  • Yes, this does exclude those of you who give by phone or give to another organization. I'm sorry about that, but I have no way to get confirmation without an email receipt, and I know what the receipts for the Red Cross, MSF, and Heifer Intl look like.

  • If I receive any fraudulent donation confirmations, the senders will be ineligible for the giveaway, and should feel very ashamed of themselves.

  • I'm running this giveaway in good faith, but things happen. If there are any misunderstandings or loopholes, their resolution will be at my sole discretion.


I've heard that there are quite a few scams that are trying to profit from this disaster. When you make your donation, be sure to go directly to the web site of the organization to make your donation.

This idea was inspired by one of my students, Ellen. She's a nurse, and emailed me within a few hours of earthquake to let me know that she'd be missing class so she could go serve in Haiti. I'm so proud!

What Can I Do to Help You in 2010?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My friend Dave Charest posed this question today, and it's a good one. So now I'm asking you:

What are your goals for 2010?

What can I do to help you get there?

Leave a comment below!

How NOT Winning the Lottery Helps You Get What You Want


How NOT Winning the Lottery Helps You Get What You Want

One of my family's Christmas traditions is that everyone receives a lottery ticket in their Christmas stocking. When I was little it was fun: you'd play the game, scratch off the ticket, and maybe win two dollars to blow on candy. But as I got older, I realized that there was a much more subtle present there: the permission to dream about what I really want.

Small Dreams

When we dream, we tend to dream small. We limit ourselves to what we think is realistic and achievable.

Must of us don't acknowledge the full scope of our hopes & dreams at all.

And when we do, we immediately dismiss them as impossible. And set our sights lower.

So Why Do We Do That?

I think it's a matter of fear. Fear of success is a cliche, but I think there's some truth to it. If we set our expectations low, we think we'll be less likely to disappoint ourselves.

But that hobbles us.

So How Do You Break Out Of That Pattern?

Give yourself permission to dream big. You don't have to buy a lottery ticket, but it doesn't hurt.

But just imagine that you won the lottery. Imagine that you had all the money you could want, and 24 hours of free time per day.

And ask yourself:
- how would you spend your time?
- if you didn't have to earn a living, what would you make your life's work?

Now, most people say that they would quit their job, buy a nice house, and a fancy car. And go ahead and indulge those fantasies.

But as you keep imagining, you'll find that your lottery fantasies change. They get more detailed, and more personal. These are the ones that matter.

But What Good Are a Bunch of Daydreams?

Your lottery fantasies may be over the top, but if you look to their roots, they'll reveal what's really important to you.

Not what you think you SHOULD do like get a good job, settle down, etc. They'll tell you what you really value.

And once you know that, you can start acting on them now, with whatever time and means you have today.

My Own Lottery Fantasies

In my lottery fantasy, I would:

- Support my mom, who's disabled

- Found a scholarship at my high school

- Travel, especially to countries whose languages I've studied

- Dance full-time

Once I realized what values underlie those fantasies, I started working towards them in small ways:

- I send my mom a grocery card every month

- I give to my school's scholarship fund

- I joined a language conversation exchange

- I got serious about making dance a business

Tiny Steps Add Up

I haven't made the sweeping changes I would if I actually won the lottery, but these tiny steps are adding up, especially in my dance career.

For a long time, I assumed that you just can't make a good living as a dancer, that the best I could aspire to was be a professional-level hobbyist with a day job.

And while that was my assumption, that was my reality.

But since I got serious about my business, and started treating it like a job, the changes in the way I treat it have made a big difference. I get more successful every year.

I haven't quit my day job, but I'll be in a position to go to part time in the next year or two.


We tend to limit our dreams to what we think is possible, but when we do that, we limit what we can achieve.

Give yourself permission to dream big. Think about what you'd do if you won the lottery.

Look closely at your answers, and see what values and goals lie at the heart of your lottery fantasies.

Then find some small steps that you can take today to move them forward.

Take one of those steps today. Do the same thing tomorrow. Over time, you'll be amazed at what you can achieve.

When I was a little girl, the New York State Lottery motto was "All you need is a dollar and a dream."

But really, all you need is the dream.

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