Body Follows Eyes

RELATED: MakeFearFuel, EverythingAboutObjects, EyeOnTheBall

PROBLEM: You're speeding towards an obstacle while skiing or perhaps riding a bike. You have to react quickly to avoid it.

CONTEXT: You feel comfortable with your equipment. You may be taking greater risks than before. There are rocks, trees, people and other things that you don't want to run into or over.

FORCES: SOLUTION: Don't look directly at the obstacle. Focus on the path around the obstacle. Focus on the solution, not on the problem.

RESULTING CONTEXT: You are more able to avoid crashing.

RATIONALE: Moving your eyes to look away from an obstacle triggers a subconscious reflex which causes your whole body to adjust. (I can't prove this, it just feels right).

Author: This was explained to KentSchnaith by an expert rider during Motocross practice.
A friend has been teaching me how to ride an old Honda 480. He's got a whole language that he applies subconsciously while racing, and several of these have parallels to Downhill Skiing patterns I'm familiar with. One of my favorites is TryNotToThinkAboutWhatYouAreDoing?, which is superbly described as MakeFearFuel. -- KentSchnaith
There were several articles about this in Cycle World in the period 1978 through 1982, the only trace I can find of this on the web is at http://www.samnet.net/racingrep/tips.html under the heading Look where you want to go.

From what I dimly remember about the articles there were some interesting accident anecdotes, possibly UrbanLegends? about vehicle hitting the only tree by the side of a long straight road. The explanation was that on a featureless road your eyes get drawn to the only feature and as they say BodyFollowsEyes.

Also for followers of counter intuitive system actions, the same place has a reference to CounterSteering -- PeteMcBreen


A great example is gymnastics. Not only does BodyFollowsEyes, but body often follows other parts of the body as well, depending on the trick. For example, in a back tuck (backwards flip), one of the most important idea is to swing your arms up and back over your head (called "setting") to allow them to help carry you up and backwards The whole point is that there is always some small part of your body that can cause the other parts to follow it. I'm not an expert in martial arts, but I'm sure that we can get some great examples from those as well. -- James Clover
BodyFollowsEyes also applies in horse riding. I have been instructed numerous times that the horse will go where I am looking. Therefore, to train myself to look where I want to go, not to look at what I want to avoid (guess where the horse goes?). - - AlistairCockburn
I'm just out of what for lack of a better translation I will call a workshop (2-day) in 'extreme driving'. This is a safety-oriented workshop for car drivers, with lots of hands-on exercises, the point of which boils down to : if you find yourself in an emergency situation, you've screwed up. The best way is to observe your driving environment at all times and always keep an eye out for difficult situations so you will be able to avoid them. Since that only takes about ten seconds to spell out, the way they hammer it home is by having you drive under (simulated) extreme conditions : emergency stops, loss of control, etc. When you fail for the Nth time to make a 45-meter stop at 70mph, you start to get the point.

But what really drove the lesson home for me was the 'icy road' sim car exercise. (This is a car with the rear wheels mounted on freewheel plates.) You have almost no control. The only way you can get anywhere is by locking your eye on where you want to go; as the car swings this way and that, your hands follow your eyes, the wheel follows your hands, and the car follows the wheel. If you look elsewhere - even for an instant - such as an obstacle in your way, you're done for. You will head straight for the obstacle.

There's of course nothing magical about it - it does take work, and even conscious thought at first, to make your hands 'follow' your eyes. It would just appear that looking one way (at the obstacle) and steering another 4(wherever you want to go) is a contradiction your brain can't resolve under stress.
Here's another direction for this. I'm a dog lover, and so I like walking dogs. When you're walking a dog, if you walk where you want, your dog goes in the same direction, even if he pauses to look at an exceedingly interesting blade of grass. As you're focused on the goal, he'll follow along because he doesn't really have a goal. This implies that you have a goal, and you're ahead of him. If he leads you, you go where the dog goes.

The most interesting thing that I've noticed is this: when you look at the dog while you're walking, he looks at you, and sometimes bumps into you. When you look at him when he wanders, he continues his interest in the absolutely unimportant thing (in your mind) that he is studying.

I think that this has implications for team management, and also hints about why team leaders or coaches have more direct impact on productivity than higher-level managers. Team leaders tend to work by pairing on a rotating basis on harder problems. They focus on the goal and not on the programmer. Higher-level managers tend to feel that their team has to be constantly studied and I think that produces unpredictable results, something similar to the programmer also watching the manager, and the programmer ignoring the manager and studying at the very interesting but completely inappropriate language or runtime environment. --JohnDuncan


In most martial arts this effect is seen as dangerous as the reflex gives away too much information. So funnily enough one trains to never explicitly focus the eyes. This forces one to use mechanical "flinch" responses which are significantly faster. Boxers develop the same skills to a very high degree. RichardHenderson.


In martial arts, I was taughted to not to look where I want to hit. Funny results at the beginning. --LeonardoHerrera


The same principle applies to less-athletic pursuits than those described above. You type faster when you don't look at the keyboard or at the output. You play video games better when you don't think about the controller. You play music better when you don't have to look at the placement of your fingers on the instrument.


Football (American) players are taught to focus on the ball carrier's hips rather than his eyes, because eyes may lie, but hips never will.

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