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This is when a mentor tries to teach the hero not by doing but by feeling. This makes sense if the art that is taught here is something like Supernatural Martial Arts. Counter-intuitively, letting your emotions run and feeling your instincts guide you are not one and the same. Maybe these mentors simply suspect that their students are already driven by serenity rather than negative feelings and that their role is to guide that along. The problem is that taking a real approach to it can easily end up as Info Dump unless you do something creative with it.
There have been times in Real Life when people have embraced this notion wholeheartedly; the so-called Romantic movement, for instance, was highly characterized by artists and philosophers critical of the Enlightenment's philosophies that (among other things) often shoehorned nature in a mechanical automaton and people as beings perfectly capable of using the power of rational thought to solve any problem. The writers of this movement, like Henry David Thoreau, needed passion to write their books and to publish them. note Obviously they needed to think and reason too but it was charged with emotion.
This has some Truth in Television. When our brains learn a new skill, we learn it step by step. With practice, the process becomes implicit, meaning it can be done without really thinking about it i.e. "second nature" and "muscle memory". In high stress situations, the part of the brain that first learned the skill comes back to the fore, and tries to perform the skill explicitly, as if you were learning it all over again. This is why some athletes have a tendency to "choke" under pressure. Once you start thinking about doing something, it suddenly becomes very difficult and awkward to perform. Again this only applies with practice. The reason it becomes so effortless is because we repeat it so often. This approach does not work when trying something for the first time.
This is noted in books about police training, in that a person, in a high-stress situation such as a firefight, will revert to training because when seconds count, you often have to do things without consciously thinking about them. Anyone who has driven an automobile and avoided a collision will recognize this, in which they instinctively turn to avoid the oncoming vehicle, but if they had to consciously recognize the threat the accident would have happened because an instinctive reaction happens much faster than a consciously thought-out one.
See Ice-Cream Koan for pseudo-profound riddles and koan for genuinely profound riddles. Blindfolded Vision may rely on this. For Aesops lashing out against "thinking" in general, see Straw Vulcan and Logical Fallacies. See I Don't Pay You to Think, for when employees in companies are told that it's not part of their jobs to think. See the Centipede's Dilemma for when thinking does enter the picture.
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Anime and Manga
In Dragon Ball Z it was like this when Gohan taught Videl to fly . It was so natural for him at that point (and the bulk of his family) that it was hard for him to explain it in concrete terms.
The Latin American dub for the show's opening theme (CHA-LA HEAD CHA-LA) contains a line that references this trope.
No pienses nada, solo escucha, sueños hay en tu corazón.Translation Don't think about anything, just listen, dreams reside within your heart.
Subverted in Samurai Champloo. An old hermit tries to teach Jin a lesson by using fishing as an example. The lesson: Go with the flow. If you do, the fish will come to you. He then attempts to catch a fish this way and... fails. "Well... Some fish are going to slip by anyway." May be a Double Subversion, as the advice was still useful.
Cowboy Bebop: Naturally for someone who sees Bruce Lee as his spiritual instructor, Spike offers this sort of instruction to a a very persistent kid that chased him down after an incident on a stellar flight. It included the famous "be like water" Mantra that Bruce espoused when it comes to Martial Arts.
Love Hina: On Keitaro and Naru's first date , they go to see an action movie. The only scene we see is the caption "Don't think - feel."
In Fullmetal Alchemist, Alphonse tries to learn Xingese Purification Arts (the equivalent of Alchemy) from May. Her lessons are frustrantingly vague to him, because it's all about "Feeling the Dragon's Pulse" and "opening your mind" and Al has a lot of trouble thinking in those terms. Telling May to "explain it more academically" doesn't help him. Apparently, you have to be "like woooosh!"
A hilarious subversion in the Ghost Sweeper Mikami manga, where Mikami and Yokoshima had to defuse an alien bomb. Yokoshima has an epiphany that he must feel the presence of the bomb... only for Mikami to slap him upside the head.
Mikami: Don't use powers you don't have, you idiot!
There's implication that this trope was used in MÄR after Ginta and Jack are trained for the second time, which is during the War Games. Their master is asked what they were taught and in response launches a pebble at each of them. They both dodge despite being shot at from behind. The humor is explored with Jack catching the stone.. and then rolling around on the ground because the pebble was moving at such speed that being stupid enough to catch the thing hurt.
Excel Saga: These exact words are left by Nabeshin to Excel at the end of their "intensive training" in episode 9. Ultimately it's parodied: She defeats the bowling villain by exploding the bomb hidden within the bowling ball Nabeshin left her. Also, this being Excel, the "don't think" part goes without saying.
In Rosario + Vampire, this trope may have been used when Moka taught Tsukune how to sense youki energy.
This trope is the reason Guemon in Toriko is powerful enough to singlehandedly fight off beasts with Immeasurable Capture Level. His vast battle experience gives him the ability to instinctively strike at his enemies' weak points while avoiding all attacks without wasting time or energy thinking about his moves. He personally trains Sunny — whose primary weakness is that his style of fighting takes an incredible amount of brainpower to use — to do this as well. Sunny is shocked when Toriko manages to pull this off immediately after seeing Sunny do it. Sunny reasons that Toriko's greater battle experience made it easier for him to develop his instinct.
In Shakugan no Shana, when Shana tries to train Yuji to fight, Yuji keeps getting his ass kicked and doesn't make much progress. Shana explains that he keeps thinking and questioning everything instead of letting go and relying on his instincts. Completely confused, Yuji asks her what she means by instincts, but she says such a thing can't be explained in words. He eventually Took a Level in Badass.
In The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer, this is how Hangetsu considers his martial prowess - yes his training was important, but little compares to his native genius. He fights heavily on instinct. It gets him killed when he jumps in the way of a blow meant for Yuuhi. Yuuhi, meanwhile, has to come to grips with the fact that he can't fight on instinct like Hangetsu does, and has to think around his opponents for every victory.
Stick from Daredevil taught Matt how to utilize his radar sense in a similar manner.
Spider-Man does not have a mentor but his Spider-Sense can be tuned to the point in which he reacts based on this sixth sense, letting go of any thoughts. He'll even close his eyes during this time, allowing himself to act on instinct. This usually comes during very emotional or dangerous situations. One example would be when he defeated Wolverine's son, Daken, who has empath powers.
Films — Animated
Different variants in Disney Animated Canon film Pocahontas and Disney Animated Non-canon film Pocahontas 2. The point of Grandmother Tree's teachings in Pocahontas (put quite succintly in "Colors of the Wind") was for Pocahontas to get and stay in touch with nature; this is done to Anvilicious extent. Its direct-to-video sequel has, shortly before Pocahontas goes to Europe, Grandmother Tree asking her to get into and stay in touch with her heart—that is, her human nature—and then disappears.
"Listening to her heart" somehow manages to cross the difficult language barrier for everyone, something which The Nostalgia Chick is incredibly confused by.
How to Train Your Dragon: When Hiccup befriends Toothless, he's not thinking about his village's 'kill the dragon' philosophy; he's focused entirely on empathy. By realizing that Toothless was just as afarid as he was, he learns to understand Toothless on an emotional level. It's such an emotional process he doesn't realize how it works until Astrid prods him with an Armor-Piercing Question. Then, by reasoning through his emotional process, he invents dragon training.
When Hiccup is first trying to learn how to ride Toothless (guiding him by using the foot pedal), he loses his cheat sheet which shows how the pedal positions affect the dragon's tail position. Both he and Toothless almost fall to their deaths trying to recover the cheat sheet. When Hiccup finally gets back on Toothless' back, they are headed right for a maze of rocks. Hiccup just throws away the cheat sheet and guides Toothless through the maze using pure instinct.
Mumble in Happy Feet tries to learn to sing this way, but with no luck.
Rafael: Flying is not what you think up here (taps Blu's head), it's what you feel in here (touches Blu's chest).
Monsters University. When Mike STILL can't scare people, despite knowing every theory and formula related to fear. Sully decided to help him by teaching him how to do this.
Films — Live-Action
The Trope Namer is Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. In the quote, Bruce's character, Lee, is attempting to teach a student not how to kick the right way, but to kick the right way. Bruce Lee was well-versed in philosophy (it was his field of study), and always made attempts to apply it to life and martial arts, as well as espouse it in his films.
A little speech deleted from the original Game of Death has Bruce's character lecturing an opponent to the effect that over-reliance on rote-memorized moves and routines kills one's ability to adapt and improvise — a point he proceeds to ruthlessly demonstrate.
Obi-Wan: Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him. Luke: You mean it controls your actions? Obi-Wan: Partially. But it also obeys your commands. ... Obi-Wan: This time, let go your conscious self and act on instinct. Luke: With the blast shield down I can't even see. How am I supposed to fight? Obi-Wan:Your Eyes Can Deceive You. Don't trust them. ... Luke: You know, I did feel something. I could almost see the remote. Obi-Wan: That's good. You have taken your first step into a larger world.
...and by Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace (using the trope name itself) to Anakin before the podrace.
Loke: I'm going to trust my feelings and use the power of the thumb!
Voice of Oobedoob: Use the instrument panel Loke.
Voice of Oobedoob: The instrument panel. That's what it's there for. Advanced weaponry designed to hit tiny targets.
The Emperor also encourages Luke to "let the hate flow through you!", a path that leads to the Dark Side.
Justified, since Jedi training is all about learning to use a sense you never knew you had.
Caddyshack had a scene where Chevy Chase goes new-agey about golf, and then successfully hits the ball onto the green while blindfolded. His protege isn't nearly as successful.
In Batman Begins, Ducard lectures Bruce about overcoming his fear and not blaming himself for his parents' death. It comes across as an inversion, given that he's telling him to approach the situation rationally instead of dwelling on his emotions. Bruce's whole training montage seems to be about taking control of his anger, guilt and fear instead of being driven by them.
A slight variation in Bull Durham when Crash tells Nuke, "Don't think, it can only hurt the ball club"
In Ghost, this is the Subway Ghost's explanation on how he, and later Sam, can moves objects without the use of a physical body.
Subway Ghost: You've gotta take all yer emotion, all yer love, all yer pain and push it way down deep in ta the pit of yer stomach and let it explode like a reactor! Pow!
A variation in X-Men: First Class. Erik initially could only use his abilities by channeling his anger, until Xavier taught him how to control and vastly amplify them by reaching a state of Tranquil Fury, rather than let his rage consume him.
A variation in Momentum, when Adrian Geiger is trying to teach the other telekinetics how to do something they previously-thought impossible (like move a car half a mile away or grab a sniper on the roof). Notable is that it fails with his Number Two (who is too hot-headed to get it right) but succeeds with the protagonist, who has always considered his powers a curse.
Adrian Geiger: Don't think you can. Know you can.
Played in The Subtle Knife (part 2 of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials). How to open a door between worlds with the Subtle Knife: transfer your mind to the blade's tip, move the blade around feeling the air around you, and as soon as you perceive a notch, cut.
Miss Tick: "Now...if you trust in yourself...and believe in your dreams...and follow your star...you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy."
Atlas Shrugged. It's the philosophy espoused by the looters. They hold emotion to be more important than rational thought, and as a result of their ideals being adopted by much of society, the world's falling apart.
Lord of the Rings: After he hears that Frodo is still alive, Sam gives this admonition to himself:
You fool, he isn't dead, and your heart knew it. Don't trust your head, Samwise, it is not the best part of you. The trouble with you is that you never really had any hope.
The novel Youth in Sexual Ecstasy gives this advice regarding sex (the actual act, not if you must have it or not).
Inverted by G. K. Chesterton in the book Platitudes Undone. The original author (Holbrook Jackson) had written "Don't think, do." Chesterton wrote in the margin: "Do think! Do!"
In The Kane Chronicles, divine magic only works if it's involuntary. Think about it too much and nothing happens.
The X-Files. Mulder while giving Scully a Hands-On Approach lesson to baseball. Very suitable as he was delivering an Aesop about how you play baseball to forget about all your troubles.
Mulder: Right. We're going to wait on the pitch. We're going to keep our eye on the ball. Then, we're just going to make contact. We're not going to think. We're just going to let it fly, Scully, okay?
A contestant who made it into the top 24 on the tenth season of American Idol was given the advice that her performances were not emotional enough and was told not to think so much. Feel. Certain other contestants in past seasons have been told a similar spin on this.
Firefly When the crew invades a skyplex to rescue The Captain, secondary defence of the ship relies on a shepherd, a doctor, a mechanic and a mentally traumatised young girl. At the time, Book is the only one with known combat training. Although Simon does try hard to help, Book ends up having to advise him that he's thinking too much and should just go with the shot. In the end, it doesn't help. Simon still can't hit the broad side of a barn. His sister, on the other hand... does feel it.
Choujuu Sentai Liveman has Dr Ashura, who turns out to have been calculating the moves of his opponents to such an extent that he doesn't ''need' to 'feel' (he's more than smart enough to brute-force the calculations necessary), but is defeated when he can't respond to a simple face-on attack.
The Colbert Report uses this as its central theme, lampooning the way some conservative pundits and politicians take positions based on what they feel is true rather than what the facts say. This is the meaning of the neologism "truthiness." Colbert frequently says that he thinks with his gut because there are more nerve endings in the gut than in the brain. He doesn't know if that's true, but it feels true.
In the Planescape campaign, the entire faction of the Transcendent Order, also know as the Ciphers, follow this principle in everything. They're consequently called the 'Ciphers' because it's impossible to figure out their rationale — they don't have one since they act on impulse. In-game, this means the player of a Cipher character doesn't get to go "no, wait..." after they've announced what they're going to do, no matter how stupid, silly and/or suicidal the declared action is. As with all things, it's up to the DM if they want to enforce it.
Red and Green magic is this trope, gameplay wise. Red's is known for being passionate and emotional so it's primary strategy is to finish the game as quickly as possible, but have trouble surviving midgame. Green is about being one with nature so uses cards that revere nature and/or are gargantuan beasts of nature. A sharp contrast is Blue and White magic, who "thinks" (takes its time) about how to dominate the game. Black magic users can go either way since that branch of magic encourages people to be selfish, and do whatever they want to. The ironic thing being that playing Red in top level tournaments requires an obscene attention to probability and efficiency, even while using cards that represent thoughtless destruction, frequently in concert with mass quantities of collateral damage.
For an individual example the Vedalken Heretic is from a world that's disdainful of instinct and anything associated with organic life, yet she has this epiphany when encountering a world that's filled with natural life.
The Goblin Catapult. Tap, sacrifice a creature (killing it), deal that creature's damage to target player (which a more thoughtful player could do many times over several rounds by using the normal attack phase. For reference, the card itself is an artifact (no color). It is goblins themselves, which also bring the original haste mechanic to the game, that are red, and themed around suicide runs and dealing damage that also lashes-back on their controller.
In Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, Gig uses a speech of this type to get Revya to tap into his power — he's not trying to train the protagonist but to goad Revya to accept his Deal with the Devil, in which case it's doubly important for him that you don't think too much over it.
Night hag Ravel Puzzlewell bites back on this sentiment when she chastises the Fiery Redhead Annah with, "The tiefling. The fiery one. No choice. At. All. When you feel instead of think, there is little room for choice." Ravel's whole worldview revolves around riddles and magic, two disciplines you can't "feel" your way through in the Planescape universe. She then "thought" her way into a dimensional prison when her endless quest for riddles and answers lead her to chase after the secrets of the Lady of Pain, who doesn't appreciate such things.
Trias is an angel who hates the reasoning and rationales of his fellows who goad the demons and devils along in the Blood War, letting the forces of evil destroy themselves, because it offends how he feels how things should be. Trias the Betrayer feels himself into falling from Heaven.
The devil Fhjull's downfall mostly came from doing neither thinking nor feeling.
The best ending could be argued for or against the trope, though, since it involves the Nameless One both reasoning and intuiting his way through Talking the Monster to Death.
Inverted by Emily when she was learning how to drive a stick shift.
Emily: I couldn't do it the way you do, by sound and feel and all that. It's just not me. I went online and looked up the specs and what RPMs to shift at and it just kind of "clicked".
Ash: Numbers and research. Typical Emily.
Spacetrawler inverts this, in that the teacher insists on thinking, while the student insists on operating by instinct. Martina is preparing to open fire on a Bollyk ship that is docked with her own ship:
Nogg: Now, before you do it, relax and think- Martina: If I think, I'll end up over-thinking and fuck it up. I'm just gonna do it. Nogg: What? Wait! [Poom!] Martina: Got it! Nogg: You... Wha'...
Spencer: All right, this one is about centering your qi. Now, we're gonna do it like this! Ready? [stands balanced on one leg] Jonas: I got it. I got it. It's like The Karate Kid. [adopts a one-legged karate pose] Spencer: No, no! No, no, no, no, no! Not The Karate Kid!
For Aang, learning each bending discipline requires a certain amount of letting go of what the previous one taught. Airbending? Go with the flow, let loose. Waterbending? Go with the flow, but never let it control you. Earthbending? Stay in control. Keep aware of everything around you. Firebending? Stay aware of the life and danger of fire - and know when to let loose. They're all more intuitive than not, but each one intuiting a different instinct and acting on that. Firebending still requires control that airbending lacks, hence the undisciplined response Aang has when he tries to learn firebending early. Also provides a Fridge Brilliance justification for the "Avatar cycle" in which Fire comes after Earth, since Aang does much better at it after he has internalized Earth's emphasis on control and obstinance.
During Season 4 of Legend Of Korra, Toph tries to help Korra get her Avatar fighting spirit back by training with her. After Toph easily knocks her down in the mud, this exchange happens:
Toph: "Tell me what you did wrong?"
Korra: "I was thinking-"
Toph: "That's right! You were thinking! Go again!"
Fosters Home For Imaginary Friends parodied it in "The Big Leblooski", when Mac acquired a mentor in bowling who talks like this about feeling the ball instead of knowing it. Turns out "Bowling Paul" only thinks he knows how to bowl, and was feeding Mac a line the whole time. It Doesn't stop him from scoring a strike though.
The Simpsons Zigzagged. Lisa is teaching Bart how to play miniature golf using Zen Archery-like methods but when the school asks her how she 'feels' about math, she gets frustrated with it.
In Beast Machines, Optimus Primal does (and teaches the others) to do this after he has a close encounter with the Matrix. It helps if The Lifestream is tangible..
In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Equestria Games, Spike becomes unable to light the Equestria Games torch because he's too focused on the pressure of the event. When he saves the crowd from the giant ice-cloud, he admits to the others he basically acted on instinct.
Spoofed in South Park when Chef tries to give Stan's dance group, the South Park Diggities, a pep talk with this lesson as the Aesop.
Don't you see, children? You have the heart, but you don't have the soul. No no, wait. You have the soul, but you don't have the heart. No no, scratch that. You have the heart and the soul, but you don't have the talent.
Trying to aim an attack directed at your opponent's foot while fencing epee almost ensures a miss. The most effective method might be to stare at the other person's nose and just drop your point down to where you think the toe is.
The US Army teaches soldiers to squeeze the trigger and not jerk like in the movies. In fact if the shot surprises the soldier, he or she is doing it right.
There is an aiming technique in paintball where you point your index finger along the barrel of your marker, following the theory that your finger knows what it's pointing at.
Some actors and musicians explain this as the best way to improvise.
A large part of sports or martial arts is to become so familiar with the moves required that you can perform them through muscle memory only, without having to consciously think of the individual motions required to do them. High level martial artists will react (dodge, punch, grab an assailant's gun etc.) in the space of time it takes an average human brain to detect a threat, before it even decides to do anything about it. Highly trained Israeli commandos have been clocked disarming an opponent in .12 seconds. Try to start and stop a stopwatch as fast as possible and most people will do it in about .19 seconds.
Expanding on that - by the time you have consciously come up with a move to attack, defend, or counter-attack, you are most likely already on the ground.
Moreover, movements tend to be very fast especially in close quarters, to the point where you don't see them coming. Hence why close-quarters fighting styles teach you to get into physical contact with your enemy. Because you can feel an opponent's tension necessary to make a move faster than you can see the move. In other words, don't look - feel.
Playing a musical instrument is a particularly refined version of the muscle memory idea. Only once you reach the point where you can play the given notes or chords without having to think about them first can you perform something that (may) resemble music. Then you've got to work on not just playing it, but expressing emotion while you do it.
Playing both the instrument and the audience at the same time is easier when the two aren't completely separate processes.
Talk yourself through every step of tying a tie. If you've ever worn one to go to school, chances are you just do that on instinct by now.
Learning a foreign language. Once you get past the basic grammar, the advancement occurs by going by the flow.
Acting used to be about the rote memorisation of gestures - there are books from the Victorian era demonstrating the correct way to hold your hand to your head to express grief, melancholy, and so on. Constantin Stanislavski was the man responsible for tearing down the melodramatic traditions of the theater of his time, encouraging his actors to empathise with the characters they were playing by recalling similar emotions from their own lives and feeling them on stage, rather than just imitating them; Lee Strasberg, the father of Method Acting, drew inspiration from the Stanislavski System. In a slight reversal, Stanislavski backed off from the "Don't Think, Feel" position later in life, mostly because recalling intense emotions night after night took a heavy toll on his actors and (reportedly) reduced a fair few of them to near nervous wrecks. It's also worth noting that getting really involved in the emotions you're playing as an actor can sometimes cause you to forget the words you're meant to be saying - as anyone who's been reduced to Angrish in the middle of an argument can testify.
Method Acting is about generating the character's behavior by examining their motivations, their goals, and then doing what people would naturally do under such circumstances, rather than a forced series of conventional gestures. An example in his first book on the method has his expy (the lessons are presented in story form) basically having a girl do a scene where she's looking for a valuable watch. In her first take, she does a bunch of melodramatic gesturing. In the next, he advises her to work out what the sensible actions of somebody looking for a watch would be, and chain those together to create her actions. In the first example, she's simply doing conscious imitations of emotional behavior. In the second, she's doing what the character would be doing, and expressing the feelings of the character through that.
This can even apply to your lines, when acting. After repeating the same dialogue over and over, the words start to become pure instinct, allowing you to focus on honing the tones and emotions behind them.
Typing. If you want to have any typing speed, you don't think about where to put each finger; it's all muscle memory. You think about what you want to type and your fingers move around without you giving them any direct orders. If you want to remember what it was like before you learned how to type, try using a completely different layout like Dvorak. Suddenly, you're back at step 1. Your typing speed drops enormously until you start building up muscle memory with the new layout. Typing this becomes an hour-long ordeal of 'where the heck is that key' instead of a quick five-minute typing session.
Writing, or any other form of art, is by default something emotional. It's meant to express those emotions in a physical form, oftentimes as a means of catharsis. Sure, most of it is skill since an artist needs to know how to do what he does, but all the practice and lessons means nothing without the emotion of inspiration.
Flying - you can use the instruments to tell you what you need, but that takes time, and attention away from everything else you're doing. After awhile you can feel what's going on in the wings, hear how fast you're going, etc. Not to mention basic control movements, which are much better done by touch than trial and error
Sailing. Once you learn the basic controls, you are better on trusting your emotions and intuition than looking at the instruments. The only instruments worth of following are compass and echo sounder.
Hockey. If you skate with the puck while staring at it, you're almost certainly going to get checked. One of the first things you learn in hockey, apart from the most basic skills, is to carry the puck without having to look at it, so that you can instead watch for the other team's defense and for open players to pass to.
Driving. Once you reach a certain level of skill, you no longer have to consciously think about accelerating, braking, turning or changing gear - you decide where you want the car to go to and what speed and your muscle memory automatically performs the correct sequence to execute the maneuver.
This can be most easily observed by watching a new and an experience driver just steering. A new driver has a tendency to overcorrect with jerky motions to stay in a straight line, but an experience driver will maintain a steady line with a constant series of minute corrections that they aren't given much notice to.
Driving a manual transmission vehicle seems like a daunting task for someone who's been driving only automatic transmission. Once you get the basic hand/feet motions down, you'll be able to shift gears without even looking at the tachometer to see if you're at the proper shift point. I.e., you'll be able to go by sound and feel alone.
Yoga involves a lot of this as you have to learn to feel sensations in your body that you normally aren't aware of, such as the movement of muscles in your back that you normally don't consciously control.
Cognitive behavioural therapy encourages this for some patients. Essentially, certain types of anxiety and depression are exacerbated by the habit of converting one's feelings into thoughts and focusing on the thoughts instead of experiencing the feelings directly. This can cause bad biofeedback that heightens stress responses instead of dissipating them. Learning to focus on bodily sensations and emotions without forming thoughts about them can help restore the self-equilibrating, good biofeedback capacities of the mind-body connection.
Gaming, or to be more precise, knowing when to push which buttons/keys to do what you want to do. Sadly, due to how most games have different layout for controls and such (and certain games are starting to lack customization to them) it becomes a Damn You, Muscle Memory, where you most likely meant to jump, but made your character activate something instead.
It is entirely possible to develop a gameplay technique without understanding exactly how it works (example: drift turns in F-Zero: Maximum Velocity). Figuring it out can cause a temporary inability to use the technique.
When it comes to professional gaming, most pros whom are fighting game pros spend hours in the training room practicing combos and other gameplay mechanics with their chosen character until they can perform them effortlessly. The challenge, however, is being able to perform the same way during tournaments when it matters. In most matches, the player whom has to think about what he/she needs to do against their opponent, loses. This is especially the true when the player faces an opponent with a character he/she isn't use to fighting against.
One of the most complicated actions a human can do that is 100% built on this is riding a bicycle. After learning how to walk without stumbling every few feet (or ever), your mind has already developed the senses of balance to ride a bike. The process isn't so much learning how to ride a bike, it's learning to stop thinking about how to ride a bike. Which is why often times the most successful way of finally getting it down is for someone to hold the bike until it gets to speed and let it go discreetly. Even worse, is the trying to explain how to turn a bike when at the appropriate speed.