A friend recently suggested a brilliant book to me called “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W. Timothy Gallwey. Gallwey wrote the book back in the 70s as a summary of his own approach to the game of tennis as a player and as a coach. He went on to use these techniques to coach corporate executives, entrepreneurs and athletes from many different sports.
Whether you play tennis or any other sport or simply want to improve your ability in any area of your life, this book will certainly stand shoulder to shoulder with any other life enhancement book out there. Here is what I learned:
1. The ‘I’ and the ‘Myself’ are two separate parts of our mind.
When we say “I was talking to myself” we are really talking about two very different aspects of ourselves. The ‘I‘ represents the conscious self that ‘thinks‘ it’s in control, and the ‘myself‘ is the unconscious self which is actually in control. The ‘I‘ always wants to assert itself over the ‘myself‘ – that is the ego. If we allow our conscious mind to dictate to our unconscious through negative words our unconscious actually takes on the ‘role’ of being that way (bad, useless, inconsistent etc.).
2. Any event is only ‘good’, ‘bad’ or ‘indifferent’ depending on our perspective – and we get to choose that.
When describing our performance in any area of our life it’s helpful to use non-emotional adjectives to describe what’s happening. Avoid judgemental words like ‘bad‘. In order to allow ourselves to learn more effectively we must try to detach ourselves from the outcome, a bit like a laboratory assistant noting the results of an experiment – wishing it to be neither one way or the other. This approach helps build trust between our conscious and unconscious minds. This reduces negative associations such as “I always mess up my first serve on pressure points“. By saying it, we override our body’s ability to make the shot.
3. Trying too hard uses more muscles than required to perform in a particular way.
This trying is controlled by the conscious mind and is a signal that it doesn’t trust the unconscious to let the body perform correctly. If our body has performed well in the past it will have stored that memory and can repeat it. By trying to control it we end up using too much energy and risk becoming fatigued prematurely. Also, by trying consciously we end up using muscles that weren’t involved in the correct performance thereby not performing in the same way as we need to.
4. To communicate effectively it’s best to use the ‘others’ primary language.
When speaking to a French person it’s best to speak in fluent French in order to be optimally understood. Likewise, when speaking to the unconscious it’s best to speak in the primary language of the unconscious which was established in infancy; sight, sound and touch (mainly). Before a child understands verbal language it learns through its senses. Therefore, in order to learn effectively first watch someone else doing the activity correctly, then visualise yourself doing it. Then apply without trying to do it perfectly. Just allow your body to perform over and over without judgement.
5. Applying positive role playing
If we give the unconscious mind positive role playing commands it will act on these and reveal suppressed or even never-before-seen qualities or abilities. EG: “When I relax and visualise I find my performance improves dramatically.”
6. When coaching physical activity first give technical instruction accompanied with awareness instruction.
An athlete for instance, should be shown how to perform a move and then encouraged to feel which particular parts of their body are responsible for certain movements. Once they know the how, they can become aware of whether they are actually moving in that way. When they realise there is a fault in their movement they can notice and adjust when they visualise. If they try to adjust physically before they have performed it correctly they may end up firing the wrong muscle groups.
7. Getting out of old undesirable habits
Undesirable habits are the main cause for sub-optimal performance. Start an alternate habit and the old one will dissipate in its own time. Like a baby learning to walk after habitually crawling for months. At first walking is more difficult and clumsy than crawling, but in time, crawling becomes obsolete.
8. Extending focus
In the book, Gallwey talks about tennis players creating interludes to distract them from thinking too hard. He would get them to concentrate on the seams of the ball (so they wouldn’t think about how they are hitting it), and then the bounce and hit each time on each stroke. By putting their attention on the interlude; bounce…hit…bounce…hit, they would have to allow their body to hit the ball intuitively without thinking. This is because our conscious mind cannot hold two thoughts at the same time.
9. The true power of competing
Gallwey’s realisation that competition was a good practice in order to achieve our true potential. Without it we are only shadow boxing. The competitor in this viewpoint becomes less an advesary and more a co-creator. They offer us the challenge to be the best we can be and we offer the same to them. This perspective allows us to see our competitors not as opponents but key players in our own development.
I’m looking forward to seeing how I can apply these lessons to the physical and non-physical aspects of my life and would love to hear if you succeed in doing so too.
Strive to thrive