The Inner Game
“Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game, and an inner game. . . . It is the thesis of this book that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game. This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance. . . . Victories in the inner game may provide no additions to the trophy case, but they bring valuable rewards which are more permanent and which can contribute significantly to one’s success, off the court as well as on.”
- A major thing which leads us to lose the Inner Game is trying too hard and interfering with our own natural learning capabilities.
Self 1 and Self 2
- Self 1 is the conscious self. Self 2 is the subconscious. The two are always in dialogue.
“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.”
Self 1 tries to instruct Self 2 using words. But Self 2 responds best to images and internalizing the physical experience of carrying out the desired action.
“In short, if we let ourselves lose touch with our ability to feel our actions, by relying too heavily on instructions, we can seriously compromise our access to our natural learning processes and our potential to perform.”
Stop trying so hard
- We are commonly told that to get better at something we need to try harder. Work harder. Put more effort in. Pay more attention to what you’re doing. Do more. Yet what do we experience when we are performing at our best? The exact opposite. Everything becomes effortless. We act without thinking or even giving ourselves time to think. We stop judging our actions as good or bad and observe them as they are.
- Consider a manager who feels the need to constantly micromanage their employees and direct every detail of their work, not allowing any autonomy or flexibility. As a result, the employees lose interest in ever taking initiative or directing their own work. Instead of getting the perfect work they want, the manager receives lacklustre efforts.
- Consider a parent who wants their child to do well at school, so they control their studying schedule, limit their non-academic activities, and offer enticing rewards for good grades. It may work in the short term, but in the long run, the child doesn’t learn to motivate themselves or develop an intrinsic desire to study. Once their parent is no longer breathing down their neck, they don’t know how to learn.
Positive thinking backfires
- To quiet Self 1, we need to stop attaching judgments to our performance, either positive or negative. Thinking of, say, a tennis serve as “good” or “bad” shuts down Self 2’s intuitive sense of what to do.
- In order to let Self 2’s sense of the correct action take over, we need to learn to see our actions as they are. We must focus on what is happening, not what is right or wrong.
“But to see things as they are, we must take off our judgmental glasses, whether they’re dark or rose-tinted. This action unlocks a process of natural development, which is as surprising as it is beautiful...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.”
- It’s hard to let go of judgments when we can’t or won’t trust ourselves.
- Positive and negative evaluations are two sides of the same coin. To say something is good is to implicitly imply its inverse is bad. When Self 1 hears praise, Self 2 picks up on the underlying criticism.
- Observe existing behaviour without attaching any judgement to it. We must see what is is, not what we think it should be.
- Picture the desired outcome
- Trust Self 2 and “let it happen!”
- Continue non-judgemental, calm observation of the results in order to repeat the cycle and keep learning.
- If we can overcome the instinct to get in our own way and be more comfortable trusting in our innate abilities, the results may well be surprising.