“You think too much” is common feedback that I received throughout my career. And it confused me.
It was correct feedback…because people who were not as smart as me could play hockey much better than me. It drove me nuts.
But did their brains really just shut off? And is that what I should do? Just shut my brain off?
It turns out that a more accurate way of describing what was going on is, “you’re thinking with the wrong system.”
Two Ways of thinking…
Explicit System: This is the system that is typically associated with your conscious thought process. It processes one thing at a time and deals with things logically and sequentially. This is the system you use when you’re learning something new or working through a tough cognitive problem. It is also the system that is considered synonymous with left brain functioning.
Implicit System: This system is a set of internalized skills that operate without conscious thought. The often used analogy is driving. After learning to drive, you are able to drive your car almost on autopilot. Your implicit system works exactly in this way with all skills. The implicit system is able to process multiple things at once and provides a fluid movement and perception loop. The implicit system is also able to tie unconscious perceptions together to allow the player to perform skills and feats that seem impossible.
When players have an excellently built of repertoire of skills in their implicit system, if they can get themselves on autopilot, they can simply express themselves. But when players activate their explicit system by thinking through things as they happen, they dramatically slow up the process. Players who are used to thinking with their explicit system may find it hard to shut off their explicit system, much as I do. This is because the brain has limited capacity to use the explicit system. But the implicit system, when active (or disinhibited) can process many things at once.
So players who are anxious, nervous, receiving too much feedback may all activate their explicit system. This is critical information to coaches who need to understand best practices in feedback technique (bandwidth feedback) so as to not overwhelm the player with feedback. This is also critical information to parents who oftentimes feel the need to coach their kids. The coach probably has a message for the player, and by adding or contradicting it, you may activate the player’s explicit system.
This may explain why some athletes play (unexplainably), play better immediately after sustaining a concussion. (I am not, by any means, promoting or condoning playing with a concussion.) The part of their brain responsible for thinking things through with the explicit system may go offline, leaving the implicit system to do its job. And letting the implicit system go unimpeded may just lead to better outcomes. Obviously, getting your implicit system to run unimpeded more often without hitting your head is your best option.
Rethink “thinking too much”. Understand that you aren’t “thinking too much”, you’re thinking with the wrong system. Let your conscious/explicit mind turn off and get your implicit system calling the shots, and enjoy getting into more flow!
For more on this, read “The Rise of Superman” by Steven Kotler.