Don't Think, Feel

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"Don't think! Feeeeeel. It is like a finger pointing away to the moon... [WHACK!] Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."


This is when a mentor tries to teach the hero not by doing but by feeling. This makes sense if the art that is taught here is something like Supernatural Martial Arts. Action-oriented disciplines to have, well, discipline. Paradoxically, letting your emotions run and feeling your instincts guide you are not one and the same... but we're not going to pretend that's logical. Maybe these mentors simply suspect that their students are already driven by serenity rather than negative feelings but that their role is to guide that along.

The problem is it can get nauseating for the audience when the mentor goes on and on and on. They say stuff like: "Please, no more! I don't want to communicate with The Lifestream; I want to see plot happen!" Taking a real approach to it can easily end up as Info Dump unless you do something creative with it.

There have been times in Real Life when people have in fact embraced this notion wholeheartedly; the so-called Romantic movement, for instance, was highly characterized by artists and philosophers critical of the Enlightenment's philosophies that (among other things) often shoehorned nature in as a sort of mechanical automaton and people as beings perfectly capable of using the power of rational thought to solve any problem. However even Henry David Thoreau had to get his book published and he likely needed to think for that.

This has some Truth in Television. When our brains learn a new skill, we learn it step by step. With practice, the process becomes implicit, meaning it can be done without really thinking about it i.e. "second nature" and "muscle memory". In high stress situations, the part of the brain that first learned the skill comes back to the fore, and tries to perform the skill explicitly, as if you were learning it all over again. This is why some athletes have a tendency to "choke" under pressure. Once you start thinking about doing something, it suddenly becomes very difficult and awkward to perform. Of course, this only applies when the skill in question is something you have done a couple thousand times. The reason it becomes so effortless is because we repeat it so often. This approach does not work when trying something for the very first time.

See Ice Cream Koan for pseudo-profound riddles. Blindfolded Vision may rely on this. For Aesops lashing out against "thinking" in general, see Straw Vulcan and Logical Fallacies. See I Don't Pay You to Think, for when employees in companies are actually told that it's not part of their jobs to think. See the Centipede's Dilemma for when thinking does enter the picture.

Examples of Don't Think, Feel include:

Anime and Manga

  • It was a bit like this when Gohan taught Videl to fly in Dragonball Z.
  • Subverted in Samurai Champloo. An old hermit tries to teach Jin a lesson by using fishing as an example. The lesson: Going with the flow. If you do, the fish will come to you. He then attempts to catch a fish this way and... fails. "Well... Some fish are going to slip by anyway." May be a Double Subversion, as the advice was still useful.
  • When Rossiu from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann asks Kamina how to move the Gurren, he just answers with "do whatever feels natural!".
  • Cowboy Bebop: Naturally for someone who sees Bruce Lee as his spiritual instructor, Spike offers this sort of instruction to a a very persistent kid that chased him down after an incident on a stellar flight - after he finally broke down from being pestered enough. It included the famous "be like water" Mantra that Bruce espoused when it comes to Martial Arts.
  • On Keitaro and Naru's first date in Love Hina, they go to see an action movie. The only scene we see is the caption "Don't think - feel."
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, Alphonse tries to learn Xingese Purification Arts (the equivalent of Alchemy) from May. Her lessons are frustrantingly vague to him, because it's all about "Feeling the Dragon's Pulse" and "opening your mind" and stuff, and Al has a lot of trouble thinking in those terms. Telling May to "explain it more academically" doesn't help him much. Apparently, you have to be "like woooosh!"
  • A hilarious subversion in the Ghost Sweeper Mikami manga, where Mikami and Yokoshima had to defuse an alien bomb. Yokoshima has an epiphany that he must feel the presence of the bomb... only for Mikami to slap him upside the head.

Mikami: Don't use powers you don't have, you idiot!

  • There's implication that this trope was used in MAR after Ginta and Jack are trained for the second time, which is during the War Games. Their master is asked what they were taught and in response launches a pebble at each of them. They both dodge despite being shot at from behind. The humor is explored with Jack actually catching the stone.. and then rolling around on the ground because the pebble was moving at such speed that being stupid enough to catch the thing hurt.
  • These exact words are left by Nabeshin to Excel at the end of their "intensive training" in episode 9 of Excel Saga. Ultimately it's parodied: in the end, she defeats the bowling villain by exploding the bomb hidden within the bowling ball Nabeshin left her. Also, this being Excel, the "don't think" part goes without saying.
  • In Rosario + Vampire, this trope may have been used when Moka taught Tsukune how to sense youki energy.


  • Stick from Daredevil taught Matt how to utilize his radar sense in a similar manner.
  • Spider-Man does not have a mentor but his Spider Sense can be tuned to the point in which he reacts based on this sixth sense, letting go of any thoughts. He'll even close his eyes during this time, allowing himself to act on instinct. This usually comes during very emotional or dangerous situations. The most recent example would be when he defeated Wolverine's son, Daken, who has empath powers.


  • The Trope Namer is Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. In the quote, Bruce's character, Lee, is attempting to teach a student not how to kick the right way, but to kick the right way. Bruce Lee was well-versed in philosophy (it was his field of study), and always made attempts to apply it to life and martial arts, as well as espouse it in his films.
  • Yoda from Star Wars.

Obi-Wan: Remember, a Jedi can feel the Force flowing through him.
Luke: You mean it controls your actions?
Obi-Wan: Partially. But it also obeys your commands.
Obi-Wan: This time, let go your conscious self and act on instinct.
Luke: With the blast shield down, I can't even see. How am I supposed to fight?
Obi-Wan: Your Eyes Can Deceive You. Don't trust them.
Luke: You know, I did feel something. I could almost see the remote.
Obi-Wan: That's good. You have taken your first step into a larger world.

    • ...and by Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace (using the trope name itself) to Anakin before the podrace.
    • Parodied, naturally, in Thumb Wars

Loke: I'm going to trust my feelings and use the power of the thumb!
Voice of Oobedoob: Use the instrument panel Loke.
Loke: ...what?
Voice of Oobedoob: The instrument panel. That's what it's there for. Advanced weaponry designed to hit tiny targets.

    • The Emperor also encourages Luke to "let the hate flow through you!", a path that leads to the Dark Side.
    • Justified, since Jedi training is basically all about learning to use a sense you never knew you had.
  • Caddyshack had a scene where Chevy Chase goes new-agey about golf, and then successfully hits the ball onto the green while blindfolded. His protege isn't nearly as successful.
  • In Batman Begins, Ducard lectures Bruce about overcoming his fear and not blaming himself for his parents' death.
    • This comes across as more of an inversion, given that he's telling him to approach the situation rationally instead of dwelling on his emotions. Bruce's whole training montage seems to be about taking control of his anger, guilt and fear instead of being driven by them.
  • Inverted in Scaramouche:

Perigore: "The head! Fight with the head. Forget the heart"


Morpheus: What are you waiting for? You're faster than this. Don't think you are, KNOW you are.

  • Different variants in Disney Animated Canon film Pocahontas and Disney Animated Non-canon film Pocahontas 2. The point of Grandmother Tree's teachings in Pocahontas (put quite succintly in "Colors of the Wind") was for Pocahontas to get and stay in touch with nature; this is done to Anvilicious extent. Its direct-to-video sequel has, shortly before Pocahontas goes to Europe, Grandmother Tree asking her to get into and stay in touch with her heart—that is, her human nature—and then disappears.
    • "Listening to her heart" somehow manages to cross the difficult language barrier for everyone, something which The Nostalgia Chick is incredibly confused by.
  • Something similar is used by Ramirez to train Connor MacLeod in the film Highlander, although he's trying to teach him how to feel immortal. As well as a little Wax On, Wax Off too.
  • Star Trek: "Put aside logic. Do what feels right." Notable since it's actually Spock saying this.
  • Both played straight and subverted in the How to Train Your Dragon movie with Hiccup.
  • Professor Harold Hill's "Think System" in The Music Man.
  • A slight variation in Bull Durham when Crash tell nuke, "Don't think, it can only hurt the ball club"
  • Mumble in Happy Feet tries to learn to sing this way, but with no luck.

Live Action TV

  • The X-Files. Mulder says this while giving Scully a Hands-On Approach to baseball. Of course, as he was delivering an Aesop about how you play baseball to forget about all your troubles it was a Justified Trope.
  • A contestant who made it into the top 24 on the tenth season of American Idol was given the advice that her performances were not emotional enough and was told not to think so much. Feel. Certain other contestants in past seasons have been told a similar spin on this.
  • Firefly When the crew invades a skyplex to rescue The Captain, secondary defence of the ship relies on a shepherd, a doctor, a mechanic and a mentally traumatised young girl. At the time, Book is the only with known combat training. Although Simon does try hard to help, Book ends up having to advise him that he's thinking too much and should just go with the shot. In the end, it doesn't help. Simon still can't hit the broad side of a barn. His sister, on the other hand... does feel it.
  • "Don't think it, feel it." is the motto of Gekijyuken founder Brusa Li in Jyuken Sentai Gekiranger.
  • The Colbert Report uses this as its central theme, lampooning the way some conservative pundits and politicians take positions based on what they feel is true rather than what the facts say. This is the meaning of the neologism "truthiness." Colbert frequently says that he thinks with his gut because there are more nerve endings in the gut than in the brain. He doesn't know if that's true, but it feels true.


  • Played in The Subtle Knife (part 2 of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials). How to open a door between worlds with the Subtle Knife: transfer your mind to the blade's tip, move the blade around feeling the air around you, and as soon as you perceive a notch, cut.
  • Subverted in The Wee Free Men with some advice given to the main character

Miss Tick: "Now...if you trust in yourself...and believe in your dreams...and follow your'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy"

  • Deconstructed in Atlas Shrugged. It's the philosophy espoused by the looters, who claim to be motivated by love and compassion for others. They hold this to be more important than rational thought, and as a result of their ideals being adopted by much of society, the world's falling apart.
  • Subverted in "All American Girl". The protagonists art teacher criticizes her for basically "free-styling" on a still life assignment by adding in a random pineapple. At first, she sees this as stifling her natural creativity, but the real message is that you have to learn how to draw what you SEE, first, instead of drawing things the way you assume them to be.
  • Subverted in The Lord of the Rings: After he hears that Frodo is still alive, Sam gives this admonition to himself:

You fool, he isn't dead, and your heart knew it. Don't trust your head, Samwise, it is not the best part of you. The trouble with you is that you never really had any hope.

  • The novel Youth in Sexual Ecstasy gives this advice regarding sex (the actual act, not if you must have it or not).

Tabletop Games

  • In the Planescape campaign, the entire faction of the Transcendent Order, also know as the Ciphers, follow this principle in everything. They're consequently called the 'Ciphers' because it's impossible to figure out their rationale—they don't have one since they act on impulse. In-game, this means the player of a Cipher character doesn't get to go "no, wait..." after they've announced what they're going to do, no matter how stupid, silly and/or suicidal the declared action is. As with all things, it's up to the DM if they want to enforce it.
  • In Magic: The Gathering, Red and Green magic is this trope, gameplay wise. Red's is known for being passionate and emotional so it's primary strategy is to finish the game as quickly as possible, but have trouble surviving midgame. Green is about being one with nature so uses cards that revere nature and/or are gargantuan beasts of nature. A sharp contrast is Blue and White magic, who "thinks" (takes its time) about how to dominate the game. Black magic users can go either way since that branch of magic encourages people to be selfish, and do whatever they want to.
    • For an individual example the Vedalken Heretic is from a world that's disdainful of instinct and pretty much anything associated with organic life, yet she has this epiphany when encountering a world that's filled with natural life.
      • The ironic thing being that playing Red in top level tournaments requires an almost obscene attention to probability and efficiency, even while using cards that represent thoughtless destruction, frequently in concert with mass quantities of collateral damage.

Video Games

  • In Soul Nomad and The World Eaters, Gig uses a speech of this type to get Revya to tap into his power—of course, he's not trying to train the protagonist but to goad Revya to accept his Deal with the Devil, in which case it's doubly important for him that you don't think too much over it.
  • One of Chie's victory quotes in Persona 4. Given her interest in kung-fu flicks, she's likely quoting Enter the Dragon.
  • Since he's essentially Bruce Lee with the serial numbers filed off, Fei Long has a take on this in Street Fighter IV -- "Don't contemplate...perceive."
  • Jann Lee from Dead or Alive literally says it during a win pose. He also tells this to Hitomi during a pre-fight cutscene in the third installment.
  • In Dissidia: Final Fantasy, this is one of Cloud's lines when fighting Cecil.

Cloud: Don't think, just fight.

  • In Planescape: Torment, night hag Ravel Puzzlewell bites back on this sentiment when she chastises the Fiery Redhead Annah with, "The tiefling. The fiery one. No choice. At. All. When you feel instead of think, there is little room for choice." Ravel's whole worldview revolves around riddles and magic, two disciplines you can't "feel" your way through in the Planescape universe. The best ending could be argued for or against the trope, though, since it involves the Nameless One both reasoning and intuiting his way through Talking the Monster to Death.


  • In Misfile, this is exactly how Ash drives.
  • Spacetrawler inverts this, in that the teacher insists on thinking, while the student insists on operating by instinct. Martina is preparing to open fire on a Bollyk ship that is docked with her own ship:

Nogg: Now, before you do it, relax and think-
Martina: If I think, I'll end up over-thinking and fuck it up. I'm just gonna do it.
Nogg: What? Wait!
Martina: Got it!
Nogg: You... Wha'...


Web Original


Spencer: All right, this one is about centering your qi. Now, we're gonna do it like this! Ready? [stands balanced on one leg]
Jonas: I got it. I got it. It's like The Karate Kid. [adopts a one-legged karate pose]
Spencer: No, no! No, no, no, no, no! Not The Karate Kid!


AVGN: (fails) Ergh!
Ninja: Before you leap, you must look.
AVGN: (plays and fails again) I looked, I looked!
Ninja: Before you look, you must think.
AVGN: (fails and stares accusingly)
Ninja: Before you think, you must feel!
AVGN: (fails) Ergh!
Ninja: Before you feel, you must...
AVGN: I've had enough!

    • Don't Think, Feel was apparently the idea they had for the way how to shoot that scene, since the outtakes show the Ninka pretty much making up stuff as he went along.

AVGN: (fails) Fuck!
Ninja: Before you fuck, you must use proper protection.


Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has many, many of these lessons for whenever someone learns a new bending technique.
    • The thing is, for Aang, learning each bending discipline requires a certain amount of letting go of what the previous one taught. Airbending? Go with the flow, let loose. Waterbending? Go with the flow, but never let it control you. Earthbending? Stay in control. Keep aware of everything around you. Firebending? Stay aware of the life and danger of fire - and know when to let loose. They're all more intuitive than not, but each one intuiting a different instinct and acting on that.
      • Coarse as much as he must let go a bit of each previously learned lesson, he still needs each lesson to learn the next, Fire bending still requires a control for example that air bending lacks, hence the undisciplined response Aang facilitated when he tried to learn fire bending early.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends parodied it in "The Big Leblooski", when Mac acquired a mentor in bowling who talks like this about feeling the ball instead of knowing it. Turns out "Bowling Paul" only thinks he knows how to bowl, and was feeding Mac a line the whole time.
    • Doesn't stop him from scoring a strike though.
  • Played surprisingly straight on The Simpsons when Lisa is teaching Bart how to play miniature golf using Zen Archery-like methods.
    • Though subverted when Springfeild Elementary offered seperate maths classes for the two genders. Lisa got fed up with doing no math problems and being asked how she "feeels" about math.
  • In Beast Machines, Optimus Primal does (and teaches the others) to do this. It helps if The Lifestream is tangible..

Real Life

  • Trying to aim an attack directed at your opponent's foot while fencing epee ensures an almost certain miss. The most effective method might be to stare at the other person's nose and just drop your point down to where you think the toe is.
  • The US Army teaches soldiers to squeeze the trigger and not jerk like in the movies. In fact it the shot surprises the soldier, he or she is doing it right.
  • There is an aiming technique in paintball where you point your index finger along the barrel of your marker following the theory that your finger knows what it's pointing at.
  • Some actors and musicians explain this as the best way to improvise.
  • A large part of sports or martial arts is to become so familiar with the moves required that you can perform them through muscle memory only, without having to consciously think of the individual motions required to do them. High level martial artists will react(Dodge, punch, grab an assailants gun etc.) in the space of time it takes an average human brain to detect a threat, before it even decides to do anything about it. Highly trained Israeli commandos have been clocked disarming an opponent in .12 seconds. Try to start and stop a stopwatch as fast as possible and most people will do it in about .19 seconds.
    • Expanding on that - by the time you have consciously come up with a move to attack, defend, or counter-attack, you are most likely already on the ground.
    • Moreover, movements tend to be very fast especially in close quarters, to the point where you don't see them coming. Hence why close-quarters fighting styles teach you to get into physical contact with your enemy. Because you can feel an opponent's tension necessary to make a move faster than you can see the move. In other words, don't look - feel.
  • Playing a musical instrument is a particularly refined version of the muscle memory idea. Only once you reach the point where you can play the given notes or chords without having to think about them first can you actually perform something that (may) resemble music. Then you've got to work on not just playing it, but actually expressing emotion while you do it.
    • Or faking it, at least. Playing both the instrument and the audience at the same time is easier when the two aren't completely separate processes.
  • By extension, anything involving muscle memory. Try thinking instead of feeling when walking across a room. Choose a room with a clear floor. We'll wait.
  • Or, talk yourself through every step of tying a tie. If you've ever worn one to go to school, chances are you just do that on instinct by now.
  • Learning a foreign language. Once you get past the basic grammar, the advancement occurs by going by the flow.
  • Acting used to be about the rote memorisation of gestures - there are books from the Victorian era demonstrating the correct way to hold your hand to your head to express grief, melancholy, and so on. Constantin Stanislavski was the man responsible for tearing down the melodramatic traditions of the theater of his time, encouraging his actors to empathise with the characters they were playing by recalling similar emotions from their own lives and actually feeling them on stage, rather than just imitating them; Lee Strasberg, the father of Method Acting, drew inspiration from the Stanislavski System. In a slight reversal, Stanislavski backed off from the "Don't Think, Feel" position later in life, mostly because recalling intense emotions night after night took a heavy toll on his actors and (reportedly) reduced a fair few of them to near nervous wrecks. It's also worth noting that getting really involved in the emotions you're playing as an actor can sometimes cause you to forget the words you're meant to be saying - as anyone who's been reduced to Angrish in the middle of an argument can testify.
    • This is very true. There's a reason all the great method actors eventually ended up neurotic messes, and emotional burnout has been the kiss of death to an otherwise potentially successful budding acting career. When you're so stuck in character you literally cannot get out of it and have a panic attack as a result, serious shit is wrong.
    • The moodiness and excessive identification with the character is more a mark of an American school of thought on Method acting, rather than being a true expression of its general principles. In reality, the Don't Think, Feel aspect of his method really was more about generating the character's behavior by examining their motivations, their goals, and then doing what people would naturally do under such circumstances, rather than a forced series of conventional gestures. An example in his first book on the method has his expy (The lessons are presented in story form) basically having a girl do a scene where she's looking for a valuable watch. In her first take, she does a bunch of melodramatic gesturing. In the next, he advises her to work out what the sensible actions of somebody looking for a watch would be, and chain those together to create her actions. In the first example, she's simply doing conscious imitations of emotional behavior. In the second, she's doing what the character would be doing, and expressing the feelings of the character through that.
  • This can even apply to your lines, when acting. After repeating the same dialogue over and over, the words start to become pure instinct, allowing you to focus on honing the tones and emotions behind them.
  • Typing. If you want to have any typing speed, you don't think about where to put each finger; it's all muscle memory. You think about what you want to type and your fingers move around without you giving them any direct orders. If you want to remember what it was like before you learned how to type, try using a completely different layout like Dvorak. Suddenly, you're back at step 1. Your typing speed drops enormously until you start building up muscle memory with the new layout. Typing this becomes an hour-long ordeal of 'where the heck is that key' instead of a quick five-minute typing session.
  • Writing, or any other form of art, is by default something emotional. It's meant to express those emotions in a physical form, oftentimes as a means of catharsis. Sure, most of it is skill since an artist needs to know how to do what he does. But all the practice and lessons means nothing without the emotion of inspiration.
  • Flying - you can use the instruments to tell you what you need, but that takes time, and attention away from everything else you're doing. After awhile you can actually feel what's going on in the wings, hear how fast you're going, etc. Not to mention basic control movements, which are much better done by touch than trial and error
  • Sailing. Once you learn the basic controls, you are better on trusting your emotions and intuition than looking at the instruments. The only instruments worth of following are compass and echo sounder.
  • Hockey. If you skate with the puck while staring at it, you're almost certainly going to get checked. One of the first things you learn in hockey, apart from the most basic skills, is to carry the puck without having to look at it, so that you can instead watch for the other team's defense and for open players to pass to.