Riding the Wave

~ Maria Ford

Where are you in your emotional West Coast Swing dance journey? HINT: You’re either on a high, on a low, in a plateau, or traveling somewhere between two of those. The secret to fully enjoying the journey is to learn to ride the wave.

By “riding the wave” I mean loving the process and letting go of the results.

Wait, what? That’s confusing. How do you both set goals and “let go” of them? Aren’t you supposed to keep goals in mind, shoot for them, and measure your progress against them?

I’ve been struggling with this myself lately, so in this article, I dig deeper into what it really means to love the process, to uncover HOW to do it.

What “Riding the Wave” Looks Like

I recently witnessed what riding the wave looks like when one of my students achieved a goal they thought they should have achieved long ago. They’d spent many, many months, often in frustration, trying to understand what to do to reach the goal and wanting to know how long it would take. In our conversations about it, my message was always some form of, “you’re doing the right things, just keep doing them—trust the process.”

Many give up during these periods of struggle or plateau. Others double-down on input, chasing as many opinions and “fixes” as possible. This student kept focusing on my guidance and stuck it out long enough that they eventually stopped obsessing over the goal. They kept practicing and attending class and social dancing but surrendered control over the result. They just rode the wave, wherever it was taking them.

Then guess what happened? About a month after surrendering, they suddenly and unexpectedly attained the goal. They told me it was one of the most tangible indications of progress in their WCS dancing so far—and it wasn’t a competition result or award.

As it often does, the result came when they stopped trying to steer the process, stopped trying to control it and out-think it

What it Does NOT Look Like

“Riding the wave” does NOT look like me, right now. I’m working on a new choreography with my Rising Star competition partner. We haven’t yet achieved what I call momentum. Every practice feels like steps backward, or only one tiny step forward. I look at the path ahead, I think about the goal (a performance-ready routine), and it seems really, really far away. I wonder if I have what it takes, I wonder why I’m doing it.

I’m definitely NOT loving the process.

But my partner’s super happy. He leaves every practice smiling and often says, “I just love this process!” It’s been a reminder to take my own advice. I KNOW I need to let go and ride the wave just like he is. But HOW?!

3 Steps to Letting Go

I’m going to coach myself through a 3-step process in “real-time” to work through my stuck-ness and hopefully help others do the same, or at least feel better about where they’re at. Here’s the process:

1| Observe thoughts and feelings.

Sit quietly and observe the thoughts and feelings you’re having around the issue. This requires separating yourself from the thoughts and feelings. For example, rather than walking around being angry, sit and observe how anger is behaving in your mind and body.

This level of awareness is critical because you can’t fix what you can’t see.

My example: After practice today, I feel annoyed and frustrated. It’s put me in an overall bad mood. I’ve got a scowl on my face and I’m thinking negative thoughts about most aspects of life. My brain feels hot and anxious. For a few minutes, I simply observe all of this and soon enough it lightens up. Next I ask myself, so WHY do I feel this way? Because I like to be in a constant state of improvement/progress and I don’t feel that way about the choreography right now.

Okay, so I feel like I’m not moving forward. What are my thoughts about that? Two main thoughts keep running around in my head:

  • “This routine will never be ready!” (fatalistic)
  • “This routine is the hardest one I’ve ever done, nothing is coming easily, we have so much work left to do, and I don’t know if I can do it.” (self doubt)

2| Reframe.

Reframing” means, roughly, to restate a negative thought in a positive way. As a “word person”, I do this in full sentences. Someone more visual may need to create new pictures. Whatever your method, the intention is to make your brain think differently.

My example: How can I reframe fatalism and self-doubt? Hmmm. I tend to become over-dramatic under stress. Just reminding myself of that makes me chuckle at those thoughts I’m having. A new thought, “Oh Maria, don’t be so dramatic!”, lightens their power over me. But it doesn’t give me a reason to keep going with the process.

After a bit more time, I come up with this: “Maria, you wanted a harder routine, you wanted to push yourself. Already you have new skills and abilities from doing it, and your dancing is going to keep progressing if you see it through.” (Wow, I sound just like…myself, when I’m coaching a student, haha!)

3| Take it step by step.

When my students and clients are frustrated in their dance or businesses, there is ALWAYS an element of time pressure, and it’s ALWAYS arbitrary. By getting caught up in a timeline they lose track of what needs to happen to get there. When you’re looking at the clock instead of taking steps forward, frustration builds and no progress is made.

My example: My partner and I never set a deadline for this choreography; we were simply riding the wave. At some point I started to get ideas about how long it “should” take, or by when it “had to” happen.

I stopped focusing on getting there and got stuck in not being there.

So, I’m going to pay attention to the moments when I feel frustrated and I will ask myself, what can I do in this moment right now to get me one step further?

Well, that’s my plan, anyway. Telling someone about it (or publicizing it, haha) can help keep me on track.

Goal Setting Without Expectation

Yes, we need goals. Having a picture of where we’re headed is the first step to getting there. Ironically, the second step is letting go of the goal. Surrendering to the process is an act of trust—to trust the goal will wait for us as we focus on taking the steps we can.

In my other business, one of my clients is a three-time Olympic coach. I keep thinking about his words—he has a similar perspective in a much higher-stakes environment: “If you want me to coach you or your kid to become an Olympian, you’ve got the wrong goal. What I will do is teach you to set a goal and accomplish it, to have clarity about yourself, and to take those skills and apply them to life forevermore. You’ll learn to get yourself past any barrier. It’s about loving the process!”

Try it! Coach yourself past a barrier with the process above. Or, talk to me! I love working in a coaching capacity with dancers and business leaders.