This article will explore the psychology behind clumsiness and why people fall or drop things when they’re clumsy. Of course, there can be purely physical reasons behind why a person falls or drops things.
For instance, tripping over something. In this article, my focus will be on the purely psychological reasons behind such behavior.
As he walked up to her with a bouquet of roses in his hands, mentally picturing himself giving her the bouquet, he slipped on a banana peel and fell with a loud thud.
He probably broke a rib or two and had to be immediately hospitalized. However, the emotional injury of embarrassment was far greater than physical injury.
How many times have you seen such a scene in the movies or TV or in real life?
What causes clumsiness and accident-proneness in a clumsy person?
Limited attention span and clumsiness
Our conscious mind can only pay attention to a limited number of things at a time. Attention and awareness is a precious mental resource that we’re able to allocate to only a few things. Usually, these are the things that matter to us the most at a given moment.
Having a limited attention span means when you focus your attention on something in your environment, you simultaneously take it away from all the other things.
If you’re walking down the street and see an attractive person on the other side of the street, your attention is now focused on that person and not where you’re headed to. Therefore, you’re likely to bump into a lamppost or something.
Now the distractions vying for our attention aren’t only present out there in the outer world, but also in our inner world. When we take our attention away from the outer world and focus it on the inner world of our thought processes, clumsiness is likely to ensue.
In fact, most of the time, it’s the inner distractions that cause clumsiness more than the outer distractions.
Say you have an attention span of 100 units. When you’re totally free from any thoughts and fully aware of your surroundings, you’re unlikely to act clumsily.
Now suppose you have a problem at work that you’re worried about. This takes up, say, 25 units of your attention span. Now you have 75 units left to allocate to your surroundings or to what you’re doing.
Since you’re less attentive to your surroundings now, you’re likely to be clumsy.
Now, what if you had a quarrel with your partner this morning and are ruminating over that too? Say it takes up another 25 units of your attention span. Now only 50 units can be allocated to the surroundings and hence you’re more likely to be clumsy than in the previous scenario.
See where I’m getting at?
When people’s cognitive attention bandwidth is full i.e. they have 0 units left to allocate to their surroundings, they “can’t take it anymore” or “need some alone time” or “need a break” or “want to get away from the noise”. This lets them resolve their inner issues and consequently free up their attention bandwidth.
Having little or no attention span left to allocate to the surroundings can cause serious accidents that could not only cause embarrassment but could also prove to be fatal.
This is the reason most deadly accidents happen when a person is going through an inner turmoil, be it in the movies or in real life.
Anxiety is a major cause of clumsiness
…but not the only cause. There are a lot of things that can take up your attention bandwidth besides worry or anxiety. Anything that focuses your attention toward the inner world automatically takes it away from the outer world and hence has the potential of causing clumsiness.
Absent-mindedness by definition implies that your mind (attention) is somewhere else. So any form of absent-mindedness can cause someone to be clumsy. Anxiety is just one form of absent-mindedness.
Suppose you had a great time watching a movie that you can’t stop thinking about. The movie has taken up a significant part of your attention span. So you may still drop things, trip, or bump into things even though there’s no anxiety at all.
The more you’re focused on the inner world- the world of your thought processes, the less you’ll be focused on the outer world. Less focus on your surroundings causes you to commit ‘mistakes’ while you’re interacting with it. This is clumsiness.
Because we humans have limited attention spans, clumsiness is an inevitable consequence of our cognitive makeup. While clumsiness cannot be disposed of completely, its frequency can be significantly reduced by resolving emotional issues and increasing situational awareness.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. I’ve published one book and authored 300+ articles and on this blog (started in 2014) that have garnered over 4 million views. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.