This handbook works for anybody who wants to improve his or her performance in any activity, from playing music to getting ahead at work. W. Timothy Gallwey, a leading innovator in sports psychology, reveals how to
- focus your mind to overcome nervousness, self-doubt, and distractions
- find the state of “relaxed concentration” that allows you to play at your best
- build skills by smart practice, then put it all together in match play
- Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game. The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place in the mind of the player, and is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation.
- The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.
- The key to better tennis—or better anything—lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the natural capabilities of Self 2. It is the constant “thinking” activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when this mind is quiet and focused. Only then can peak performance be reached.
- If you reflect upon your own highest moments or peak experiences, it is likely that you will recall feelings moments of great pleasure, even ecstasy. During such experiences, the mind does not act like a separate entity telling you what you should do or criticizing how you do it. It is quiet; you are “together,” and the action flows as free as a river. When this happens on the tennis court, we are focused without trying to concentrate. We feel spontaneous and alert. We have an inner assurance that we can do what needs to be done, without having to “try hard.”
- Self-judgments can become self-fulfilling prophecies. They are communications from Self 1 about Self 2 which, after being repeated often enough, become rigidified into expectations or even convictions about Self 2. Then Self 2 begins to live up to these expectations. Judgment results in tightness, and tightness interferes with the fluidity required for accurate and quick movement. Relaxation produces smooth strokes and results from accepting your strokes as they are, even if erratic.
- When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless.” We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.
- The first step is to see your strokes as they are. They must be perceived clearly. This can be done only when personal judgment is absent. As soon as a stroke is seen clearly and accepted as it is, a natural and speedy process of change begins.
- Always looking for approval and wanting to avoid disapproval, the subtle ego-mind (Self 1) sees a compliment as a potential criticism. It reasons, “If the pro is pleased with one kind of performance, he will be displeased by the opposite. If he likes me for doing well, he will dislike me for not doing well.” The standard of good and bad had been established, and the inevitable result was divided concentration and ego-interference.
- Acknowledgment of one’s own or another’s strengths, efforts, accomplishments, etc., can facilitate natural learning, whereas judgments interfere. What is the difference? Acknowledgment of and respect for one’s capabilities support trust in Self 2. Self 1’s judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.
- The trick is not to identify with the backhand. If you view an erratic backhand as a reflection of who you are, you will be upset. But you are not your backhand any more than a parent is his child. If a mother identifies with every fall of her child and takes personal pride in its every success, her self-image will be as unstable as her child’s balance. She finds stability when she realizes that she is not her child, and watches it with love and interest—but as a separate being.
- To Self 2, a picture is worth a thousand words. It learns by watching the actions of others, as well as by performing actions itself. Almost all tennis players have experienced playing over their heads after watching championship tennis on television. The benefits to your game come not from analyzing the strokes of top players, but from concentrating without thinking and simply letting yourself absorb the images before you.
- What is the native language of Self 2? Certainly not words! Words were not learned by Self 2 until several years after birth. No, the native tongue of Self 2 is imagery: sensory images. Movements are learned through visual and feeling images. Letting go of judgments, the art of creating images and “letting it happen” are three of the basic skills involved in the Inner Game.
- The mind cannot be controlled by the mere act of letting go—that is, by a simply passive process. To still the mind one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused. If peak performance is a function of a still mind, then we are led to the question of where and how to focus it.
- The most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle, not easily perceived. It’s easy to see the ball, but not so easy to notice the exact pattern made by its seams as it spins. Seeing the ball better is only a partial benefit of focusing on its seams. Because the pattern made by the spinning ball is so subtle, it tends to engross the mind more completely. The mind is so absorbed in watching the pattern that it forgets to try too hard. To the extent that the mind is preoccupied with the seams, it tends not to interfere with the natural movements of the body.
“Say the word bounce out loud the instant you see the ball hit the court and the word hit the instant the ball makes contact with the racket—either racket.” As the student said “bounce … hit … bounce … hit … bounce … hit … bounce …,” not only would it keep his eyes focused on four very key positions of the ball during each exchange, but the hearing of the rhythm and cadence of the bouncing and hitting of the ball seemed to hold the attention for longer periods of time. The results were the same as with any effective focus. The exercise would give the player better feedback from the ball and, at the same time, help clear his mind of distractions.
- Focus is not achieved by staring hard at something. It is not trying to force focus, nor does it mean thinking hard about something. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. When this occurs, the mind is drawn irresistibly toward the object of interest. It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled. When watching the tennis ball, allow yourself to fall into focus. If your eyes are squinting or straining, you are trying too hard. If you find yourself chastising yourself for losing focus, then you may be overcontrolling. Let the ball attract your mind, and both it and your muscles will stay appropriately relaxed.
- To stay concentrated in the here and now between points, focus attention on breathing.
- Some people believe that only by being the best, only by being a winner, will they be eligible for the love and respect they seek. Many parents foster this belief in their children. Yet in the process of learning to measure our value according to our abilities and achievements, the true and measureless value of each individual is ignored. Children who have been taught to measure themselves in this way often become adults driven by a compulsion to succeed which overshadows all else. The tragedy of this belief is not that they will fail to find the success they seek, but that they will not discover the love or even the self-respect they were led to believe will come with it. Furthermore,in their single-minded pursuit of measurable success, the development of many other human potentialities is sadly neglected. Some never find the time or inclination to appreciate the beauties of nature, to express their deepest feelings and thoughts to a loved one, or to wonder about the ultimate purpose of their existence.
- The surfer waits for the big wave because he values the challenge it presents. Because those obstacles, the size and churning power of the wave, draw from the surfer his greatest effort. It is only against the big waves that he is required to use all his skill, all his courage and concentration to overcome; only then can he realize the true limits of his capacities. At that point he often attains his peak. The more challenging the obstacle he faces, the greater the opportunity for the surfer to discover and extend his true potential. The potential may have always been within him, but until it is manifested in action, it remains a secret hidden from himself. The obstacles are a very necessary ingredient to this process of self-discovery.
- Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself. Once one recognizes the value of having difficult obstacles to overcome, it is a simple matter to see the true benefit that can be gained from competitive sports. In tennis who is it that provides a person with the obstacles he needs in order to experience his highest limits? His opponent, of course! Then is your opponent a friend or an enemy? He is a friend to the extent that he does his best to make things difficult for you. Only by playing the role of your enemy does he become your true friend. Only by competing with you does he in fact cooperate! No one wants to stand around on the court waiting for the big wave. In this use of competition it is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you, just as it is yours to try to create obstacles for him.
- The difference between being concerned about winning and being concerned about making the effort to win may seem subtle, but in the effect there is a great difference. When I’m concerned only about winning, I’m caring about something that I can’t wholly control. Whether I win or lose the external game is a result of my opponent’s skill and effort as well as my own. When one is emotionally attached to results that he can’t control, he tends to become anxious and then try too hard. But one can control the effort he puts into winning. One can always do the best he can at any given moment. Since it is impossible to feel anxiety about an event that one can control, the mere awareness that you are using maximum effort to win each point will carry you past the problem of anxiety. As a result, the energy which would otherwise have gone into the anxiety and its consequences can then be utilized in one’s effort to win the point. In this way one’s chances of winning the outer game are maximized.
This was a quick enjoyable read, and felt much more like a book on life philosophy than sports. A lot of ideas reminded me of Stoicism. My favorite concept was looking at competition through a different lens, where they are your allies, and bring out the best in you. What an awesome way to look at things!