The other day, I had a bad case of what I’ve come to think of as my own personal form of the “yips.”
I’m borrowing a sports term meaning, according to Wikipedia, “a sudden and unexplained loss of ability to execute certain skills in experienced athletes.”
To me, it means a sudden and unexplained loss of ability to think about anything but what’s WRONG.
This takes many forms—often, it involves waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and then not going back to sleep because I can’t stop obsessively making grocery lists in my head, checking my calendar for when the dog's Heartguard needs to be given and/or chastising myself for never learning to paint even though I always wanted to.
The source of the yips—both for me and for professional athletes—is the recognition that we don’t have anywhere near as much control over what happens in the world around us as we’d like to believe we do.
I deal with this by attempting to micromanage what’s in front of me, but it usually just leads to me, exhausted and toting around a purse full of nearly illegible Post-it notes I scrawled to myself in the middle of the night.
But the yips can take many forms for others too.
I have one friend who just…cleans. Recently, Instagram sent her an ad for a form of sticky slime that you are supposed to shove in the lint compartment on your dryer to get every last bit of debris from within it.
She texted me a photo of the ad with the comment, “I think I have a problem.” This text came after she bought the stuff, of course.
The yips are a part of life. Usually, I cycle in and out of them on my own accord, but during this most recent bout, I happened to have a conversation with another friend—my ex-husband, actually—which really helped.
He was listening to me go on and on about all the things that were wrong, that I needed to fix, that I needed to tackle ASAP, when finally he cut me off and said:
“Listen, do you know anyone whose house you could help paint?”
“Why?” I said.
“Because it’s impossible to be upset and useful at the same time.”
He was right, of course.
When I’ve got the yips, it’s a vicious circle. The more I try to pull myself out, the deeper I dig in.
The solution always seems like it’s more lists, more tunneling inward, more trying to find tools that will solve the problem, but the problem is unsolvable.
The problem isn’t even a problem, really: It’s just life.
The only thing to do in those moments is to break the spell; to change the channel, as it’s called in meditation.
The number one, surefire way to get outside your own head is to make yourself useful to someone else. Service is medicine.
What do you do to “change the channel” when you need a perspective shift?
Elizabeth is a journalist who has been writing about health, beauty and wellness for over 20 years. She lives in Northern New Mexico with her two dogs and several hundred trees, shrubs, bushes and succulents.
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