HYCS #34 – How the Yips Are Making You Work Too Hard

HYCS #34 – How the Yips Are Making You Work Too Hard

When golfer’s yip, they miss their objectives by miles.  Musicians, writers, artists and consultants yip too. Here’s how to sidestep this awful condition.

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The yips are involuntary muscles movements that throw off a golfer’s stroke, causing the ball to go wildly off course.  It’s a maddening condition:  The more you work on improving your stroke, the worse it gets.  New research shows that this is neuromuscular problem:  The brain fires several muscles all at once instead of in sequence.   How the brain links muscles that used to fire separately is a mystery.  How to retrain the brain to fire the muscles in sequence is also mystery.

I’ve got musician’s yip in my left hand, which causes my fingers to move as a group rather than individually, no matter what I intend.  It’s this mismatch between what we intend and what we do that causes consultants to yip.

How Consultants Yip

You want to flow with your client, to find that sweet spot where you work together in a way that yields results beyond looked possible only moments before you hit the zone.  And, you are anxious about bringing something of value to the conversation.  This collision of the result you want and the anxiety you feel but don’t name can make you yip.  You want and need to work in partnership with your client, but the way he’s looking past you is confusing.  When you hear “I’m happy to take this over,” come out of your mouth, you realize you’ve yipped yourself into owning his project.  How did that happen?  When you yip, it surprises you.   Like a neuromuscular yip, it’s outside your conscious control.

How to handle the yips

Golfers loosen their grip on the club, or look at the rim of their hat or close their eyes as they swing.   They do anything but look at the ball.   Musicians change their technique,curling their hand more or less.  Writers who’s hand cramps to the point of uselessness switch to computer or dictation.  They shift their focus from the performance they deeply desire to something else, right at the crucial moment. 

Consultants lower their expectations from the ideal to what is actually possible.  Nothing causes a consultant to yip like the refusal to be in touch with their client’s reality.  The false connection the brain has made is between your worth as a consultant and what your client can accomplish.  The proper attitude toward what can be accomplished is respect for the mystery.  You can’t try your way out of the yips.  You can’t power through the yips.  You have to surprise them.

Because what can be accomplished with this project and this client at this moment is a complete mystery.  It’s a mystery because it’s never happened before.  No matter how much experience you each have, no matter how the organization has behaved up to this moment, no matter how tempting it is to give into your certainty about how this will go, don’t.  It will make you yip.

Look for the tiny step forward

You want to find the sweet spot between something that will move the project forward and what will overwhelm you or your client into standstill.  In golf, this is the yip-free drive that sails down the middle of the fairway and lands an easy putt away from the hole.  To trick the brain, make the thing you agree to do tiny, then keep each subsequent step eensy.  So small the brain doesn’t register it as movement at all.

Project or task?

To do this, you’ll have to distinguish between a project and a task.  A task is something you can complete in one quick step.  Like writing something on a to-do list.  Tasks can be checked off and completed quickly.

Projects are conglomerations of tasks.   Projects require planning, organizing sequencing. They take longer than tasks.  Projects cause resistance.  Tasks don’t.  If you are feeling resistance or confusion, you are probably mistaking a project for a task.

To avoid the yips with a client, break the project into tasks.  Tiny, simple tasks.  The rule of thumb is this:  If it’s not met with a smile and an uptick of energy, you need to make is smaller.

My Latest Yip

Right now I’m working on a ginormous organizational change project with a client.  It’s so big it makes us all choke. The only way forward to make the actions we take microscopic.  Earlier this week I yipped:  I wanted to commission three project teams to carry the work forward, which is itself a project, not a task.  My expertise tells me that this is the right time for this step.  My client’s response tells me I’d lost touch with her reality.  We scaled it way, way back.  I got a couple of small tasks.  She got a couple of small tasks.  We made getting involved in the project a small task for one other person.  I’m looking forward to my tasks. 


We all want to fly, all the time.  But a lot of our life is spent on the ground, getting ready for take-off.  Where are you mistaking projects – flying – for tasks – the small steps that prepare us for flight?  Start looking for the MVSF – the minimum viable step forward.  If you focus on that, you’ll be yip-proof.