Ask a Panda: How do I stop overthinking?

Question: Could you do a post on “pulling the trigger” when rolling? The most common feedback I’ve gotten (across multiple gyms) is that I think too much. I especially get told this when I roll with higher belts. For example, after a recent roll, my partner told me that I have good technique, but that he could see in my eyes that I was thinking too much, and thus hesitating to go attempt a move—whether it’s a sweep, attack, etc.

So, in spite of knowing various moves/technique, I often find myself hesitating in actually going for the move. One of my coaches observed that I would often let my partner get two or three steps ahead of me before reacting. Luckily, I do not have this issue when competing, but I believe this hesitation during rolling inhibits my growth and, most importantly, prevents me from being a good training partner, especially when a higher belt asks to roll with me.

Answer: Ah, yes. Analysis paralysis. I know it well. Not helpful in “normal” life, and not helpful on the mat, where a fraction of a second can be the difference between advancing and losing ground. I am intrigued by the fact that this does not happen to you when you compete, and I wonder if this is part of the solution to your problem, though I also have other ideas. To start, think back to the last time you competed and what was (or was not) going through your mind. What was different during competition that enabled you to move effectively when circumstances warranted it? Try to articulate that to yourself, because if you can identify the difference, you might be able to incorporate it into your non-competition training.

I have some other ideas that may help you as well, and they all boil down to one thing: Jiu-Jitsu is a decision. Even if your partner puts you in a situation where you feel you must tap, you still choose to do so. It may not be a conscious choice, but it is a choice. If you want evidence for this, watch matches where the person who is caught does not tap and is put to sleep or leaves the mat with an injury. Those people made a different choice.

I am not recommending that you decide not to tap. Rather, I am recommending that you decide to decide. Learn to recognize consciously when you are not moving, and make a different decision. At first, you will recognize this after the moment has passed when you would be able to do anything useful. But if you commit to it, you will become more skilled at identifying in the moment when it is time to make a decision to move.

Here are a few specific things you can do to break out of your analysis paralysis and get moving:

Drill for speed: Choose a movement (guard pass, takedown, sweep, etc.) you want to get better at executing at the right moment. Set a timer for a minute or two and do as many reps as you can. Of course, you want to do the technique(s) correctly, but the overall goal is to move more and think less. You will create more muscle memory to help you execute well, and you will get practice in executing at all, rather than dithering until the moment has passed.

Count to 5: Spend an entire training round counting to 5, over and over. Every time you get to 5, check to see whether you are moving. If you are not moving, move. It does not matter how you move, just that you move. Until you get some practice doing this, you may move in less effective ways. But you are more likely to move instead of thinking about whether you should move.

Ask for feedback during the round: You mentioned that people at multiple places have given you the feedback that you think too much. The next time you have the opportunity to roll with one of them, ask if they would be willing to point out to you the times when you are doing so. This does not have to be a lengthy discussion. You can just ask your partner to say, “Move,” or “What do you have here?” or something equally short and sweet, in the moment, and then you will know that is your cue to get a move on.

To free yourself from analysis paralysis, start by recognizing those situations when you are able to move in a timely fashion and try to transfer them to other situations. To do so, decide to make a different choice. Then, support that decision with speed drilling, counting to 5, and asking for in-the-moment feedback. Give it a try, give it some time, and let me know how it goes. Good luck.

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