7/29/21: Twisties, yips, dartitis, and prioritizing mental health
- Our podcast interview with Joe Klecker is out. He runs the 10k on Friday night!
This week's Think Better Newsletter is about twisties, yips, dartitis, and prioritizing your mental health.
Prior to Simone Biles pulling herself out of the Olympics gymnastics competition, I'd never heard of the "twisties," a condition in which gymnasts lose their orientation mid-air and are unable to execute their maneuvers safely. I suspect 99% of casual fans hadn't either. I'd seen a few examples of athletes with the "yips" and "dartitis" over the years, but these always seemed to be incredibly rare conditions.
To see the number of competitive gymnasts come to Biles's support and share the injuries they incurred due to twisties completely caught me off guard. I had no idea it was so common for gymnasts to struggle with it.
So much of elite athletics is training your body to do things automatically. I write about this in Chapter 7 of Make the Leap. There are two types of actions or behaviors we execute: explicit (or declarative) and implicit (or procedural). Here's the diagram I used to explain them.
So much of training is geared toward making more productive behaviors implicit. When it comes to elite competition, you have to perform implicitly. Thinking your way through each activity is literally impossible.
The twisties is one example of how a mental condition can affect our physical performance. But any mental condition that gets severe enough will affect our physical performance. Mental health is tied to physical health.
Depression, anxiety, fear, stress, distraction, confusion...they affect our sleep, our our ability to eat and drink, and our ability to focus on the task at hand. The cause may be mental, but the effects are very much physical.
I can't imagine how hard it was for Biles to not just pull herself from the competition, but to share the reason openly. We still stigmatize mental health far too much. It's changing, but talking about it is still scary.
But my wife said something that I think is true: The risk to being open and honest isn't real; all of the results will be positive. She protects her health, fans will better understand her decision, more people will be aware of the twisties as a condition, and she is setting an example for everyone else that they, too, can prioritize their health over a sports competition, even one as big as the Olympics.
This decision will positively affect more people's lives than anything else she's done in her career.
Here's the truth: nobody's perfect. Nobody has it all figured out. Nobody has 100% of their shit together 100% of the time. Not rich people, not professional athletes, and not newsletter writers. If you are struggling with a mental health issue, know that you're not alone and that help is out there.
Tell someone. Seek help. Don't try to hide it and let it put your physical health at risk.
It's ok to take time off. It's ok to speak with a therapist. It's ok to cry on a friend's shoulder. It's ok to pull out of the biggest competition of the year, if your health is truly at risk.
Life is about priorities. Prioritize your health. Not everyone else will.
If you need help, have you asked for it?
Go Be More,
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast
"Once you've had 'em, you've got 'em." — Tommy Armour, talking about "the yips"
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