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Paralysis by Analysis

Fear is a large part of our lives, and sports are no different. Every time you try something new, you are going to feel fear to some degree. There is no reason to feel ashamed by this. It is just a part of being a human being.


Fear plays a large role in sports. Any time there is a chance of injury, a pesky voice in the back of your head will be telling you to stop. Listening to this part of your brain is the only reason you are alive right now. If you didn’t, you would do things like walk out into traffic without thinking about it.

But there is a balance that you need to strike. Listening to your fear too much can stop you from achieving your goals. In Parkour, fear can paralyze you from improving your abilities. With an unhealthy level of fear you will never grow.

In sports, we use the term "paralysis by analysis" to describe this phenomenon. This is what it means to over-analyze a situation you are afraid of. Because you are thinking about it so much, you fail to act.

Paralysis by analysis is one of the most common mental blocks traceurs face. This article will show you how to move past it.

Why Do You Freeze?

When we become paralyzed by analysis, we cannot make a decision no matter how hard we try. You might convince yourself you need more information. You might convince yourself you need more time. You might tell yourself that you will do it later.

Don’t want to try a kong vault because you might catch your feet? Don’t want to attempt a cat grab because you might fall? These are common thoughts held by rookie traceurs. However, many skilled practitioners suffer from this as well. The difference between the pros and the amateurs is that they have trained themselves how to move past it, and you probably haven't.

Psychologists call this problem “processing efficiency theory (PET).” According to PET, a brain that worries can’t pay attention as well. If you can’t focus on the task at hand you cannot make decisions. If you can’t make a decision you cannot act.

Negative anxiety is the leading cause of worry among athletes. When something is on the line, they focus too much on what will happen if they fail. The irony is that thinking this way causes them to fail.

Thinking about what you stand to lose will cost you everything you want. You will lose it before you even try.

How Do You Move Past the Fear?

There is some debate on how to get over paralysis by analysis. We will lay out some tips to get you started. But remember: these tips will only get you going, but you will eventually need to find you own way. This will happen over time, but if you never try to move past your fear, you never will.

It is important to look at the fear in your own mind. Think about what you would do if you had no fear at all. Why aren’t you doing those things now? Most of the time it is not because you are in danger, rather it is because you do not want to feel difficult emotions. Failure can make us feel disappointed in ourselves. We do not want to feel disappointment, so we never try to do the things we want.

You need to look at your life and think about how fear is stopping you. Are you in danger, or are you afraid of feeling bad? Becoming aware of these things can help us move past them.

Set a Deadline

The best way to prevent yourself from overthinking a situation is to force yourself to act. Setting some kind of deadline helps with this. The next time you are staring at an object, thinking about what to do, give yourself 20 seconds and then do it.

Don’t think, just do. If you have studied your movements, you already know everything you need to know. Look at your watch, and commit to action after 20 seconds.

This works even better with a friend around. Get them to set the timer, and make sure they razz you if you don’t do anything (in a healthy, encouraging way of course).

Realize Failure is OK

You need to understand that it is better to fail at something than never try. Failure is still a learning opportunity, while pondering what you already know without action won't teach you anything.

If you are going to get better, you are going to fail along the way. Think about a baby learning to walk. It is not afraid of failure or embarrassment. It falls down repeatedly, but never stops trying.  Failure is part of the learning process.  

All of you learned to walk like this. The only difference is that now you are afraid of failing. Once you drop your fear of failure, you will be able to act.

Small Steps

Embrace incremental changes instead of large gains. Realize that greatness does not happen overnight. Break down techniques into smaller steps. Master the smaller pieces and eventually you will master the entire movement.

John, from TappBrothers, explains this idea here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwuZbJ4rKrA

What is the Worst Possible Outcome?

Think about what will happen if you fail. If the answer is death or serious injury, think twice about what you are doing. But if the answer is “I’ll feel stupid” or “I’ll look like I don’t know what I’m doing,” then disregard it.

Often, thinking about the worst case scenario allows us to understand how silly our fears are. Do you want to look back 10 years to realize that the fear of looking dumb was the reason you were not a great traceur?

Just Do It

When all else fails, just take action. Don’t think, just go. Trying what you are afraid of is the best way to get over it. It is better than all the tips mentioned above.

The more you try, the less scary something seems. You will look back and wonder why you were afraid to try that kong vault in the first place.

Taking action on a regular basis will help you in the future. Years from now, when you are a better traceur, you will have the skills to overcome your fear. But you will only have those skills if you start now.

A Word of Caution

Don’t be stupid. Fear is a healthy thing. If you are thinking about jumping off the roof of a building, listen to your fear. The advice in this article is for moments when fear is preventing you from doing something you should be able to do.

Like any skill, this takes time. It takes time to get over your fear. Practice makes perfect, and if you commit to building this skill, you will become a better traceur much faster.

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