Misty Copeland Shares Her Surprising Secret to Success

Courtesy of Shape Magazine

She didn’t just crush her goals, she broke ballerina boundaries. And now she’s sharing how you can achieve your dreams, too.

In her new book, Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You, Misty Copeland lays out the foods, moves, and mental tools you might need to achieve the svelte, lean physique of many professional dancers. But make no mistake, this is far from your typical “get skinny quick” book. Instead, Misty provides guidance not just on getting a stronger, more toned body, but on staying inspired and driven to achieve your biggest, scariest, life-changing goals. After all, as the first ever black female principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater, she knows a thing or two about breaking boundaries and reaching beyond what’s been done before.

Her book includes healthy recipes and step-by-step exercises, but Copeland also shares some secrets about what it took to get her to where she is today (a happy, healthy, successful dancer). She wants you to learn from her mistakes and achievements to help you crush your own goals—however big they might be. Here, we found five of her most inspiring, must-read tips:

1. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else.

Instead of falling down the dangerous slope of comparing yourself to other people (and then consequently setting unrealistic goals), focus on your own successes. Even someone as fit as Misty was told during her career that she should slim down in order to be a successful ballerina. “Many of the messages echoing through our culture make some women feel that we are all supposed to fit into the same waifish, cookie-cutter mold,” she writes. So put your blinders on when it comes to feeling sorry for yourself if you don’t look like that girl on Instagram. Remember that even the strongest, fittest women (even trainer Jen Widerstrom) have belly rolls and bad angles. Copeland says that letting go of these comparisons can help you zero in on what you want to achieve and what you need to do to get there.

2. Set small, successive goals.

For some people, the mere thought of setting a goal feels overwhelming and discouraging—lose 20 pounds, change careers! The key when setting lofty goals is to break it down into smaller, more attainable goals that will ultimately lead to your larger, ultimate goal. Misty, who is arguably the most recognizable ballerina in the country, didn’t become a household name overnight. To achieve this level of success, she says that she kept the big picture in mind while also thinking about the steps she needed to take to get one step closer every day. “Our confidence grows every time we reach a new milestone,” says Misty, “reminding us that we really do have the power to achieve whatever we desire.”

3. Envision the bigger picture.

Wanting something for yourself makes sacrificing time and energy to train and commit worth it, but finding a purpose beyond yourself can give you even more drive to make it happen. “The belief that I wasn’t dancing just for myself, but for all the black ballerinas who had come before me and not gotten the opportunities their artistry deserved, convinced me to stay at ABT [American Ballet Theater] and continue striving,” says Misty in the new book. Setting intentions that will impact others will make it easier to stay on course and not lose sight of your ultimate goal.

4. Visualization is everything.

Visualization is a tool praised by sports and life coaches for helping to turn a dream into reality. (Read more on how to use visualization to achieve all of your goals this year.) The key is to imagine yourself as already having achieved your goal. Misty suggests taking a few minutes to paint a mental picture each morning or create a vision board (which are proven be more effective than written goals). The idea is pretty simple: Arrange photos that represent what you want on a bulletin board, then hang it where it can serve as a daily reminder.

5. Reach out to a mentor.

Having someone who’s been there (and learned from their mistakes) in your corner to lend advice can not only help you become a better leader but also help guide you to success. Misty writes about multiple mentors who were instrumental in her success as a ballerina. Fostering a mentor relationship can be intimidating, and in Ballerina Body, Misty provides her tips. “Be mindful of your mentors’ time,” she suggests. “To be able to call on your mentors when you most need them, try not to overwhelm them.”