On the thinking/doing gap

When I need to make a difficult phone call I almost always have a feeling of, oh crap! Actually, let me be completely honest, any phone call. I just don’t like it and so I tend to defer. I might guess why that is, but that’s not so important here. Suffice it to say, I know I am not alone in this not liking to make phone calls, and for me the main reason is, I think, the darkness with which my mind sees the interaction, my eyes being blind to the other person in the conversation. And then, whoof!, there goes my mind. Off and away on its own conversation, no longer focused on the one with a human being at the other end. 

So there’s this gap between the thought, ‘I must phone X’, and the action of actually calling X. Now, this gap can have various names, but at its simplest there are two contexts for this ‘thinking-doing’ gap. The first is a positive one, and that’s when the gap is helpful. There are times when we actually want to think some more, gain perspectives, slow down the action process. Perhaps we don’t want to instantly shout at someone. Buy the first thing we find. Send an email reply straight-away that just accelerates a correspondance that is best slowed down. And there are times that we want to speed it up. When action is helpful. Making that call. Giving feedback (always best when proximal to the event being fed back on). Escaping a dangerous situation. 

When we act too much out of haste we call it impetuous; when too much out of delay we call it procrastination. Yet as with so many things seen through a western view we set these up as dichotomies. Much more interesting is the notion that the right thing done at the right time is simply that. It’s neither too early or too late. Not forced nor delayed. Like the snow slipping off a branch in winter. The gap exists everywhere, and when seen like this, it could be viewed – defined? – as being a representation of an imperfect timing. Something out of rhythm. You know it when you hear it, even if you can’t put your finger on exactly what is out of timing. A loss of harmony. If everything has the right time to be done, perhaps less thought and more connection is helpful. 

It certainly works in archery – and many sports, for that matter. A common factor with static aiming sports such as archery, golf and snooker is that there exists a gap between the backswing and foreswing, whether of a snooker cue, a golf club or a bow string. When seen as a two actions – back/forward, there is a gap, however small, between the two. Into that gap can flow thoughts and when that happens, all hope can be lost. Golfers call it the yips*. Archers call it target panic. It’s a crushing psychological trauma for a sports person to overcome. Snooker players miss the most makable of pots, feel as though they can never again strike the ball in a straight line. The archer can no longer even draw the string back, let alone point the arrow at the target. 

It’s all because of that gap. So the question arises, how do you bridge it? 

When viewed, though, as perfect timing, the backswing is no longer separate from the foreswing, the draw from the release. They are but different elements of the same motion, a motion which when completed with attention to timing and rhythm manifests the best possible results. Its all about the right time – the ripe time – for events to unfold. The kairos moment.  Whether the right time to go for a run, visit family, have a conversation, take a bold action, make that call, offer advice. If you are tuned in to the moment, present not distracted, offering your attention, you know when the moment is right.  

In reality, then, it’s not really about closing the gap at all. It’s about making sure the gap is the right time for the situation. Not arriving too early or too late, nor lasting too long or not long enough. To be anything other than just right is a sure sign that your timing is off, that there is something you are doing that is either a form of avoidance or pursuit. Perhaps that’s worth inquiring in to. What are the reasons for that? What might that tell you? Why am I avoiding that call, really? It’s not because I lack the technical abilities to perform the task. What do I learn about myself and what’s important to me, as a result?  

Connect more closely with the patterns and rhythms of the world, of yourself, focus on being attuned and go ahead with a smile. For things are unfolding as no doubt they should if we are present and attentive to them. 


* It turns out, having drafted this article, that ‘Yips’ was one of the words of the year 2022 according to an article⁠1 in The Times: 

“Originally a golfing term — it’s the involuntary spasm that causes a player to miss even the shortest of shots — the yips has now crossed into the mainstream. If you have ever been overcome by anxiety and overthought a problem so wildly that you stuff it up beyond all recognition, then you have had the yips. For example, “Did you see Liz Truss attempt literally anything at all in 2022? Boy, did she have the yips or what?”

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1 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/3f459396-8230-11ed-933d-2ad94f4b2285?shareToken=c0875d399d41753d12487bbec0249933

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