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Don't Think, Feel

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"Don't think! Feeeeeel. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon... [WHACK!] Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."

This is when a mentor tries to teach the hero not by thinking but by feeling. The emotional content is what leads to progress, not logical analysis. This most often comes up in martial arts study (supernatural or otherwise), competitive sports, and creative endeavors such as painting.

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 

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. 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.

Compare There Is No Try and Machine Empathy.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Quoted almost verbatim in Act-Age by Kei Yonagi when another actor asks her how to get in character the way that she does.
  • 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 
    • In the original Japanese, where the song is stranger and more passionate, the same line says something along the lines of "my head is empty, so I can fill it with dreams".
    • In both Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F' and Dragon Ball Super, Whis tells Vegeta that he's relatively slow because he wastes time thinking about his moves.
      • During Super's Universe Survival Saga, Goku achieves a state called "Ultra Instinct" where the user acts entirely on instinct and reflexes with no conscious thought whatsoever, something that's said to be extremely difficult for even Gods to achieve. However, at first he can only use an incomplete version that has a major logical flaw: while his defense is nigh-on impregnable, his attacks are far weaker because that actually does require conscious thought (where to hit, how hard, etc). In the final minutes of the tournament Goku achieves full mastery of Ultra Instinct, which has powerful enough offense that it's the first thing to do real damage to Jiren.
  • In Delicious in Dungeon, this is Falin's approach to magic. It works really well for her, but it turns out that it isn't the best method for teaching magic. She tried to teach Laios magic in the past this way with little success while when Marcille later uses a more explained approach, he is able to pick it up relatively fast.
  • In Marginal #4, R quotes this to Atom when Atom is having trouble trying to understand the suggestive lyrics for the song they're supposed to sing. Atom doesn't quite get that either.
  • 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.
  • When Rossiu from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann asks Kamina how to move the Gurren, he just answers with "do whatever feels natural!". Justified as the Gurren is powered by Spiral power, i.e. Fighting Spirit.
  • Cowboy Bebop: Naturally for someone who sees Bruce Lee as his spiritual instructor, Spike offers this sort of instruction to 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 frustratingly 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 one chapter of Ghost Sweeper Mikami, 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.
  • In Fate/kaleid liner PRISMA☆ILLYA, Illya tries to help Miyu learn how to fly by telling her, "Don't think, imagine." Unfortunately, it doesn't work. Illya is a huge fan of anime and can fly at will just because the magical girls she admires can fly. Miyu is so jaded that even seeing Illya fly right in front of her can't convince her that flying is possible. Later, Miyu can memorize all the steps in a dance, but because she thinks about it so hard, it looks too forced and rigid. She resorts to cheating using magic to win a dance contest.
  • The Pokémon: The Original Series episode "Wired for Battle" guest-stars a trainer named Shingo who uses his computer to help him win battles, to the point where he no longer uses his natural instincts. His teacher brings in Ash to battle him, hoping to reawaken his instincts.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, there is a state known as Clear Mind, where the user must clear their mind. In essence, this is summed up as freeing themselves from all negativity in their mind and heart, and just focusing on the battle to be able to perform an Accel Synchro Summon.
  • My Hero Academia: This is why All Might sucks as a teacher and cannot effectively help Izuku Midoriya master the power of One For All. For All Might, tapping into its power was easy, natural, and instinctual. He cannot think of a way to explain it in academic terms and just tells Izuku to trust his instincts. Unfortunately, Izuku needs to do things academically and sucks at using his instincts, injuring himself whenever he uses his powers. When the much smarter Gran Torino starts mentoring Izuku, he quickly figures out an academic way how Izuku can use his powers without injuring himself.

    Comic Books 
  • Daredevil: Stick taught Matt how to utilize his radar sense in a similar manner.
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992): Zelda telepathically instructs Link to trust his "feelings" to guide him to her prison block.
  • Spider-Man: Spider-Man does not have a mentor but his Spider-Sense can be tuned to the point at 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. In The Amazing Spider-Man (1999) #597, he defeated Wolverine's son, Daken, who has empath powers, by doing this.

    Fan Works 
  • Child of the Storm has Harry quote this in the sequel, regarding use of the Phoenix and of Chaos Magic (though he seems to mix it up with the 'do or do not, there is no try' bit in Star Wars). In general, he tends to favour more intuitive magic - and he is alarmingly good at it.
  • This Bites!: Ace's instructions to the crew on how to unlock Haki follow this vein:
    Observation's Haki: Listen really hard.
    Armament's Haki: Concentrate willpower really hard.
    Conqueror's Haki: Hell if I know, I've always just gone with my f%cking gut!
    • It's hard to tell if he was trolling Cross or actually trying to explain; a very furious Cross believes it's the former, but Zoro thought that the directions were reasonable.
  • The Moonstone Cup: A running theme is that Twilight's way of using magic is a lot more instinctual than she thinks it is. While most magicians need to laboriously construct spells to achieve their ends, she can simply imagine a desired goal and have it happen. Celestia taught her the more traditional regimented method mainly to help her contain her immense raw power.
  • A Sunny Day in DC: Xander explains more esoteric uses of Kryptonian powers to Supergirl this way. According to him, almost all of their physical powers (strength, flight, heat vision, etc) are actually forms of telekinesis and aura manipulation. When Kara has to use sand manipulation to stop Xander's sand Godzilla, Harley Quinn helps further by quickly barking out orders, causing Kara to focus less on holding her sand figures together and more on the game they're playing.
  • Amazing Fantasy: Izuku struggles to learn how to use his newly-built web-shooters because he's focused on the minute details of aiming to make sure he hits, only to take too long and miss a still target by a long shot. Peter, who mastered his powers and equipment in almost no time at all, tells Izuku to stop worrying and just have some confidence that he can do it. Izuku balks at this advice at first, but he soon finds that web-shooting and web-swinging come much more naturally once he just lets go and takes that leap of faith.
  • The Rigel Black Chronicles: Harry's self-defense training takes this approach when Remus is teaching her to dodge spells; in order to be effective, she needs to dodge automatically and immediately, rather than taking time for conscious choice. She finds herself repeating this trope as a mantra while throwing herself all over the place to avoid Remus' stinging hexes.
  • Scoob and Shag: This is how Five defeats Dee in the sparring match. Dee can read her mind, so Five rushes Dee and attacks by acting purely on instinct, improvisation and desire to win, in order to avoid giving Dee any information to plan around.
  • One for All and Eight for the Ninth: Mirko points out Izuku, while having very good fighting skills, tends to overthink stuff, which distracts him during a fight, but when he disengages his intellectual part he's an absolute beast. She initially tries this by insulting him, but when he reaches his Rage Breaking Point he kicks her so hard she's embedded into a wall. Izuku then realizes he can use his muttering to keep his mind busy while he fights.

    Films — Animated 
  • Different variants in Disney Animated Canon film Pocahontas and Disney Animated Non-canon film Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. The point of Grandmother Tree's teachings in the original movie (put quite succinctly 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.
  • Mumble in Happy Feet tries to learn to sing this way, just doing what he feels, but with no luck.
  • How to Train Your Dragon (2010):
    • 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 afraid 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.
  • After the plane crash in The Incredibles, Helen reassures Violet that when the time comes, she'll know how to wield her nascent power. This helps her use her powers effectively from then on.
  • Monsters University. When Mike STILL can't scare people, despite knowing every theory and formula related to fear, Sully decides to help him by teaching him to stop focusing so much on theory.
  • Invoked by Rafael in Rio:
    Rafael: Flying is not what you think up here (taps Blu's head), it's what you feel in here (touches Blu's chest).

    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.
  • Star Wars.
    • Yoda lifts Luke's ship with the Force but Luke cannot. Why? Luke doesn't believe that. "That, is why you fail."
    • Also used by Obi-Wan Kenobi:
      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 culminating in the Wham Line during the final Death Star trench run, as Luke is lining up his targeting computer to fire.
        Obi-Wan's Voice: Use the Force, Luke.
    • ...and by Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace (almost verbatim) to Anakin before the podrace.
      Qui-Gon: Concentrate on the moment. Feel, don't think. Use your instincts.
    • Parodied in Thumb Wars
      Loke: I'm going to trust my feelings and use the power of the Thumb!
      Voice of Oobedoob: Use the instrument panel, Loke.
      Loke: ...what?
      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.
  • Inverted in Scaramouche (1952):
    Perigore: The head! Fight with the head. Forget the heart.
  • The training dojo scene from The Matrix:
    Morpheus: What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are — know you are.
  • Something similar is used by Ramirez to train Connor MacLeod in the film Highlander, although he's trying to teach him how to feel immortal. It's a little Wax On, Wax Off too.
  • Star Trek (2009): "Put aside logic. Do what feels right." Notable since it's Spock saying this.
  • A slight variation in Bull Durham when Crash tells Nuke, "Don't think, it can only hurt the ball club"
  • In Ghost (1990), this is the Subway Ghost's explanation on how he, and later Sam, can move 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.
    Xavier: The point between rage and serenity.
  • A variation in Momentum (2003), 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.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Yondu says that he controls his flying arrow not with his thoughts, but with his heart. Later, Peter Quill manages to use the Celestial powers he inherited from his father this way.
    • Spider-Man: Far From Home: Peter first began to consciously notice his Spider-Sense in Infinity War, and it's growing stronger in this film. At the climax, he masters it to the point that he can circumvent Mysterio's illusions, fighting with his eyes shut and relying on instinct to avoid the attacking drones.
    • Spider-Man: No Way Home: The Spider-Man from the Earth-96283 describes this is how his organic webbing works. In his own words, he doesn't do it, like he doesn't do breathing, it just happens.
  • In Inspector Gadget (1999), this is the principle behind Gadget's Neuron Synapse Amplifier processor-chip. All their previous experiments failed because they kept trying to mentally command the bionic prosthetic into moving. It only responds when the tester begins absent-mindedly moving the same body part it's modeled after, mirroring his motions. "It's animated by will, not by thought. By your heart, not your head!"
  • Top Gun: Unlike the other U.S. Naval Aviators, Maverick doesn't have a particular style. He flies almost entirely on instinct. At one point, he flat-out states to Charlie that, "You think, you're dead." This is also repeated in the sequel, which uses Maverick's catchphrase "Don't think, just do" as some of its Arc Words.
  • The Sun Is Also a Star: Daniel thinks Natasha is too insistent upon having scientific evidence for things, and should just go with her feelings. She eventually follows this somewhat.
  • Dead Poets Society: Todd tells Mr. Keating he hadn't written his own original poem like he was told to, he gets him to perform an entirely ad-libbed poem in class based on his own stream of consciousness.
    Keating: The picture of Uncle Walt up there. What does he remind you of? Don't think. Answer. Go on.
    Todd: A madman.
    Keating: What kind of madman? Don't think about it. Just answer again.
    Todd: A crazy madman.
    Keating: No, you can do better than that. Free up your mind. Use your imagination. Say the first thing that pops into your head, even if it's total gibberish. Go on, go on.

  • 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.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted in The Wee Free Men with some advice given to the main character
      Miss Tick: "Now...if you trust in yourself...and believe in your dreams...and follow your'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy."
    • Averting or subverting this is a central feature of witchcraft, which is interesting given their Mother Nature, Father Science contrast to the academic wizards. In Lords and Ladies, Magrat Garlick spends most of the book believing that the reason she can't use the godmother wand correctly is that she isn't wishing hard enough, until Granny Weatherwax tells her it's because she never tried to find out how it actually worked.
  • 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.
  • In The Dreamside Road, there is some debate among practitioners of Shaping. Some learn better by learning the theory behind the Sufficiently Analyzed Magic, but others, such as Enoa Cloud's Aunt Sucora, invoke this trope.
  • 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 Lost Fleet: Captain Geary describes his talent for complex formation tactics and four-dimensional thinking as something that "has to happen below the level of conscious thought", and which takes years of training to get really good at. Interestingly, for the ships he's commanding the exact opposite applies; his approach requires each vessel to execute their given manouveres with exceptionally precise timing and maintain strict formation discipline, with a very small margin of error.
  • In The Kingkiller Chronicle, the magical art of Naming requires an intuitive grasp of everything about the object being Named, which is explicitly impossible to process consciously. To explain, the instructor challenges the class to calculate exactly where a ball will land when he throws it; he lets them struggle in vain with the math, then lobs the ball at someone in the hallway, who catches it without thinking.
  • A recurring them in Animorphs is the kids learning to let their current morphs handle the details of whatever they want to do, whether it's flying as a bird or scurrying around as a spider. Best demonstrated when Jake spends several seconds as a monkey slowly climbing a tree while Marco lets the monkey part of his mind handle it and scurries up into the canopy in a few seconds. Though some animal instincts, such as those of insects, have to be tightly controlled due to how alien they are.
  • Codex Alera: The Marat Doroga tries to convince Tavi of this, pointing out that there is too little spontaneity in Aleran culture, and everything, from fighting to singing to dancing to simple interactions are governed by rules and endless practice. Tavi just shrugs and says that for all that Doroga bitches about time and effort spent in training, he has never complained about the results.
  • The ideal espoused by Ingsoc in Nineteen Eighty-Four is to, in Newspeak, "bellyfeel" the Party's ideology, as in feel it in your belly without thinking about it.
  • Nimrod encourages the twins in Children of the Lamp to do this when using djinn power—since it's all Mind over Matter, the best thing to do is to simply visualize the desired outcome and then wish for it, rather than try to figure out exactly how it works.
  • Deconstructed in These Words Are True and Faithful: Ernie says that he goes by his gut and criticizes Sam for thinking too much. This ultimately does not serve Ernie well. It is also the philosophy of secondary villains Pastor Mandeville and Cassilda.
    You have to accept that some realities about yourself and about other people are, well, real and won't go away just because of how you feel about them.
  • In Bounders, the mildly autistic boy Cole Thompson is by far the worst member of Jasper's pod at using the bounding gloves, which Waters says is because he's thinking too hard, instead of acting on instinct.
  • The Riefenstahls in Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte is a warrior clan that has a reputation to live on intuition and little on logic. They believe spirit, tenacity, and their own senses are sufficient for both magic and swordplay, and as a result, have a reputation to be dumb muscles by the rest of the high society. The titular Lieselotte is the rare exception to this, as she's more of a Genius Bruiser.
  • I, Jedi: Luke instructs his students using these exact words on how to open themselve and touch the Force, echoing Obi-Wan telling him something like this years before. He explains that them using the Force has much more to do with the heart than the brain, so putting aside rational thought in favor of feeling is key.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 defense 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.
  • "Don't think it, feel it." is the motto of Gekijuken founder Brusa Li in Juken Sentai Gekiranger. One of the Kensei, Bat Li, also uses a style that, while looking elegant, has no technique, with his philosophy being "There is training while in a trance."
  • 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 Longstreet, Li Tsung (Bruce Lee the Trope Namer himself) teaches the title character how to defend himself by overcoming his blindness. He insists on training him, through this method.
    Li Tsung: You think a fight is one blow, one kick? Until you can put combinations together without even thinking. Until you can learn to keep moving and endure, hire a bodyguard or choose a less aggressive lifestyle.
  • Ash vs. Evil Dead has Ash come to this realization during a Vision Quest.
    Ash: You shoot first and think later. Or don't think at all. [voice echoing] Yeah, shoot first, think never! Shoot first, think never.
  • Ultra Series has this happen a few times:
  • The Book of Boba Fett sees Luke Skywalker using the training of Qui-Gon Jinn and Yoda when teaching Grogu the ways of the Jedi. He tries to teach the kid to Force jump, and Grogu’s first attempt is rather minuscule (but adorable). He asks Grogu to feel the Force flowing through him and then jump; Grogu responds by thinking hard and then jumping, but doesn’t improve. Luke points out that he’s trying too hard and later uses a Marksman training remote to lightly tase Grogu, which succeeds in finally emotionally causing Grogu to perform a successful Force jump.


    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.
  • In Magic: The Gathering,
    • 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.
    • A particularly evil example of this is Vorinclex of New Phyrexia, who believes that sapient thought is a crippling weakness; his ideal world is one where creatures act solely on instinct, with no thought behind their movements. Appropriately, he's mono-Green.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • One of Chie's victory quotes in Persona 4. Given her interest in kung-fu flicks, she's likely quoting Enter the Dragon.
  • Street Fighter IV: Since he's essentially Bruce Lee with the serial numbers filed off, Fei Long has a take on this.
    "Don't contemplate...perceive."
  • Jann Lee from Dead or Alive literally says it during a win pose. He also tells this to Hitomi during a pre-fight cutscene in the third installment.
    • The manual for Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball advises the player to do this in order to deliver the strongest spikes.
  • In Dissidia Final Fantasy, this is one of Cloud's lines when fighting Cecil.
    Cloud: Don't think, just fight.
  • Planescape: Torment,
    • 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.
  • Neon White: Yellow tells White this after White rebuffs his attempts at partnership; he's not exactly giving wise advice so much as looking for someone to bro around with.

  • In Misfile, this is exactly how Ash drives.
    • 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!
    Martina: Got it!
    Nogg: You... Wha'...
  • Meti's Sword Manual in Kill Six Billion Demons states that mastery of the sword can only be obtained by training until every part of a battle becomes instinctual and thought itself becomes useless and slow before pure will and instinct.
    "A swordsman is at his most natural state when he thinks of nothing at all. Thoughtlessness is the natural state of things, and thinking is probably the biggest mistake of amateurs. By completely disavowing use of that pesky organ in your skull all that is left is the hard and old nerves in the body that think about deep and consequential things such as survival. They know exactly what to do, and they are smarter than you. You become a completely naturalistic and comfortable animal, who's only motivation is the killing impulse."

    Web Original 
  • Parodied in the lonelygirl15 video "Mission Alpha":
    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!
  • Don't think. Feel and you'll be tanasinn.
  • Parodied in the Ninja Gaiden episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd, most prominently in this section, which even invokes this trope by name:
    AVGN: (fails) Ergh!
    Ninja: Before you leap, you must look.
    AVGN: (plays and fails again) I looked, I looked!
    Ninja: Before you look, you must think.
    AVGN: (fails and stares accusingly)
    Ninja: Before you think, you must feel!
    AVGN: (fails) Ergh!
    Ninja: Before you feel, you must...
    • Don't Think, Feel was apparently the idea they had for how to shoot that scene, since the outtakes show the Ninja pretty much making up stuff as he went along.
    AVGN: (fails) Fuck!
    Ninja: Before you fuck, you must use proper protection.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: 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 Book 4 of The 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!"
  • Foster's 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: Zig-zagged. 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.
  • Inverted in an episode of The Penguins of Madagascar where Skipper tries to teach Kowalski to listen to his gut and not his brain in a fight. At the time, the zoo's residents were being taken by mysterious creatures until Kowalski is left. Determined to save his friends, Kowalski listens to his gut and fights off the attackers...only to learn that his friends are okay and the creatures were chameleons that just arrived at the zoo and they were using their own method to invite animals to their welcoming party. In other words, Kowalski should've listened to his brain instead of his instincts. Skipper still considers it a success.
  • In the cartoon of Donkey Kong Country, DK is carefully crossing a narrow bridge in a temple when he's suddenly assaulted by several arrows in a booby trap. As he's dodging, Funky Kong calls out and tells DK to "let [his] body do the brain work". DK survives the trap and makes it to the other side.

    Real Life 
Anything involving muscle memory.
  • Try thinking instead of feeling when walking across a room. Choose a room with a clear floor. You're now breathing manually.
  • 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, they're doing it right. All good firearms instructors do this. The three big issues that make for bad shooting are not aiming, breathing, and trigger jerk, in that order. Once you get the basics down, your best bet is to stop thinking and just shoot.
  • 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. This also applies to shotguns tracking airborne targets. Point, click, boom.
  • Some actors and musicians explain this as the best way to improvise. "You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail." - Charlie Parker.
  • 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 (begin defensive movement) in the space of time it takes an average human brain to detect a threat, before it even decides to do anything about it.
    • Expert fighters can react very fast, but they're limited by the actual speed of their bodies. The human body's startle response can bring your arm's response time down to around 125 ms. However, a fighter is limited by how fast their muscles can move and the distance necessary for a proper defensive/offensive movement. For instance, a study of professional boxers found that to complete an offensive action it generally took anywhere from 0.3 to 0.4 seconds after given a visual stimulus, even with their extremely fast reactions. However, defensive movements would be faster, thanks to shorter distances required from a ready stance.
    • 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.
    • If you want a really good demonstration of this, try typing with your eyes closed. If your fingers know where to go without your brain having to tell them, you'll probably wind up typing better than you do with your eyes open.
    • For the same reason, something that can really mess people up is when they switch to a different model of computer with different-sized keys: the brain is so used to the positions of the keys that a different-sized keyboard, where you have to position your fingers differently, can really throw you off.
    • Another thing that can mess people up is if they use a keyboard layout for a different language. For example, Japanese keyboards retain the QWERTY layout for English letters, but the punctuation marks are in different places, such as quote and double quotes (they're at the 2 and 7 keys respectively). European countries switch it up between QWERTY, QWERTZ, and AZERTY.
  • 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 they do, 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 a while 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 off trusting your emotions and intuition than looking at the instruments. The only instrument worth following is a compass.
  • 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 experienced 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. But with enough practice of the basic motions, you'll be able to get a feel for how it all works, allowing you to switch gears without thinking. With more practice, you can shift without even looking down at the tachometer, you can go by the sound and feel of the engine and transmission. The only hiccup is if you change cars. The feel of gear lever may be significantly different than what you're used to (how much "throw" you have to give, how precise you have to be with your movements, etc), how far the clutch pedal/lever needs to go to bite the transmission, and what RPM you should shift at.
  • 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.
    • This is likely how most higher level players of rhythm games play. Allegedly the more famous ones said that almost all of their technique is down to reaction, with little actual memorization of the notes. This makes sense as it's likely humanly impossible to consciously think about how to hit upwards of 20 notes per second in some cases.
  • When it comes to professional gaming, most 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 who has to think about what he/she needs to do against their opponent loses. This is especially true when the player faces an opponent with a character he/she isn't used 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. Oftentimes 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. Trying to explain how to turn a bike at the appropriate speed is even more difficult.
    • YouTube channel Smarter Every Day explores this concept with the backwards turning bicycle. It's a bicycle where turning the handle bars one way turns the wheel in the opposite direction. The presenter, Destin, wanted to see if he could learn how to ride a bicycle this way. The process he described was basically trying to get his mind to unlearn how to ride it like a normal bike. Something did eventually "click" and he was able to ride the bike. However, when trying to ride a normal bike, it took Destin a few tries before his mind "switched back." Another test is Destin had his son also learn how to ride it, finding out his son could do it in much less time than he could and could switch between bikes more easily.
  • Freestyle rapping. During the early years of Hip-Hop becoming popular, the most respected artist was the one who could freestyle rap. These are people who are capable of giving clever rhymes of dialog, easily and without thinking. Freestyle battles were held and the person whom hesitated for a second lost the battle. Nowadays, very few mainstream artists can freestyle, as their popularity is no longer judged by it. Most use a pencil and notepad and spend hours coming up with rhymes for their songs. Freestyle rapping is still very popular in the underground scene of hip hop.
  • In a darker application of this trope, fascism heavily encourages anti-intellectualism and the primacy of action over thought, including political violence, seeing life as endless struggle. The primacy of violence to fascist politics has lead them to form paramilitary groups, like the blackshirts and brownshirts of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy to beat up and murder their political opponents. The Nazis were open about appealing to emotion rather than reason and freely admitted that they "wanted to appeal to the intuitive world of the great masses, not the understanding of the intellectuals."
  • This is how you're supposed to operate a helicopter. A helicopter has three primary controls: the cyclic which controls the lateral movement, the collective that controls the elevation, and the anti-torque pedals which controls which direction the helicopter is facing. You actually have to use all four limbs to control these and a helicopter pilot has to be able to control any of these by feel for smooth operation.


Video Example(s):


Enter the Dragon

[Trope Namer] In the film, Lee is attempting to teach a student not how to kick the right way, but to kick the "right" way.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / DontThinkFeel

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