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Overcome the Yips in Sports and Life

Think of the thing that you are most skilled at. Now imagine that even though you know you usually got this down, you can’t perform it. Your mind goes blank. Your muscles have forgotten all of your history with this action. You are blank, a novice, completely unskilled. A few years ago I was seeing 20-25 people a week for hypnosis. I was good at it and it came naturally. Then one Monday I went to work and I couldn’t do it. I would ask my clients to close their eyes and nothing came to me. Nothing. It felt like my first week as a hypnotist and I panicked. I had the Yips.

The yips is a term originally associated with golf but by now has transcended the boundaries of sports and entered the realm of life's challenges. The yips are often considered a mysterious and perplexing phenomenon, as they can manifest in various forms across different activities. Athletes, musicians, and individuals in high-pressure situations may all grapple with the yips, experiencing a sudden and unexplained loss of motor skills or control. The yips can strike anyone, regardless of skill level or expertise, and can lead to frustration, performance anxiety, and a decline in overall confidence.

Even if you are not into sports, these quick examples will resonate. Perhaps one of the most iconic examples of overcoming the yips is Tiger Woods' journey in golf. In the early 2000s, Woods experienced a dip in performance attributed to the yips, particularly in his putting. Struggling with the short game, he sought guidance from mental coaches and sports psychologists to regain control over his putting stroke. Through a combination of mental conditioning, technical adjustments, and perseverance, Woods successfully conquered the yips and went on to achieve remarkable success in his career. 

Chuck Knoblauch, a former Major League Baseball player, faced a well-documented battle with the yips, particularly in his throwing accuracy. The once-reliable second baseman found himself unable to make routine throws to first base, a challenge that significantly impacted his performance. Knoblauch's journey to overcome the yips involved a combination of physical adjustments, mental conditioning, and seeking support from sports psychologists. By addressing the root causes of his struggles and implementing targeted strategies, he eventually managed to regain control over his throws and salvage his career.

Since we aren’t all professional athletes, here are some ways that the yips can show up in your life. 

Public Speaking Anxiety:

Most of us have heard that public speaking is far scarier for people than death. Many of us would rather die than stand on a stage and speak. Heightened anxiety, nervousness, and their associated physical symptoms when faced with speaking in public are commonplace and can make us feel like we do not know what we are saying or doing. Overcoming this form of the yips involves a similar approach of combining mental strategies, practice, and gradual exposure.

Renowned public speakers, including TED Talk presenters, often share stories of initially grappling with public speaking anxiety. Through consistent practice, exposure, and adopting effective coping mechanisms, individuals can transform their relationship with public speaking and thrive in diverse communicative settings.

The workplace is another arena where the yips can manifest, taking the form of performance anxiety, fear of failure, or difficulty adapting to high-pressure situations. Professionals facing these challenges can experience difficulty advancing their careers and speaking up in important circumstances.  Seeking support from mentors, engaging in professional development, and cultivating a resilient mindset thorugh meditation or hypnosis are key components of overcoming workplace-related yips. By identifying specific challenges, creating a targeted action plan, and persistently working towards improvement, we can navigate professional hurdles and achieve sustained success.

Strategies for Overcoming the Yips

1. Mental Conditioning and Visualization:

Athletes and individuals alike can benefit from mental conditioning techniques that involve visualization and positive imagery. By mentally rehearsing successful performances and focusing on desired outcomes, individuals can rewire their brain's response to pressure and stress, mitigating the impact of the yips. Visualization played a crucial role in golfer Tiger Woods' recovery from the yips, as he mentally rehearsed successful putting strokes and built confidence in his abilities.

2. Skill Refinement and Technical Adjustments:

For anyone facing the yips, a combination of skill refinement and technical adjustments can be instrumental in overcoming the challenges. Seeking guidance from coaches, mentors and relevant experts can help identify specific issues and implement targeted strategies for improvement. Chuck Knoblauch's battle with the yips involved not only mental conditioning but also technical adjustments to his throwing mechanics.

3. Gradual Exposure and Desensitization:

In both sports and life, overcoming the yips often involves a process of gradual exposure and desensitization. By gradually exposing oneself to challenging situations and incrementally increasing the level of difficulty, individuals can build resilience and rebuild confidence over time. This approach is evident in the experiences of individuals overcoming public speaking anxiety, as they progressively expose themselves to speaking engagements of varying sizes and complexities.

Sometimes when we encounter something like the yips, it can be an opportunity to relearn our skills. When we are very good at something that comes naturally we may become relaxed about improving and fine-tuning our skills. When I experienced the yips, what got me out was retraining and learning from other hypnotists. It helped me to expand my tools and to become a better practitioner.  The key for all of us is to embrace it as a challenge instead of an obstacle.


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