The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey was a book I picked up being primarily interested to learn about how your inner game in sports and life affects your outer experience.
I wasn't disappointed. Timothy Gallwey talks about the idea of Inner Game, but in this books case in the area of tennis. However, the concepts and principles basically apply to all aspects of life. There are major comparisons of the Inner Game of sports and when it comes to your fitness, finances, relationships, and virtually every area of life.
In the introduction, Tim talks about how every game is composed of two parts: Inner Game and Outer Game. I also like to think of it as Psychology and the Mechanics, as Tony Robbins alludes to many times.
The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal. Mastering this game is the subject of many books offering instructions on how to swing a racket, club or bat, and how to position arms, legs or torso to achieve the best results. But for some reason most of us find these instructions easier to remember than to execute.
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.
We often wonder why we play so well one day and so poorly the best, or why we clutch during competition, or blow easy shots. And why does it take so long to break a bad habit and learn a new one? 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.
Timothy stresses the importance of Inner Game. When it comes to any other area of your life there is the Outer Game. The Outer Game consists of the day-to-day actions, mechanics and tasks that you take to achieve an outcome. These are all the “How To's” and “tactics and techniques.”
And then there's the Inner Game. The Inner Game consists of your emotional state, beliefs, psychology, mindset and attitude, feeling confident and comfortable, and so on. It's also conversley being nervous, having anxiety, self-doubt, lack of self-esteem, being scared or experiencing fear, and so forth.
What it comes down to is that Inner Game is more important than Outer Game. Because if you don't have the confidence, beliefs, psychology, emotional state, etc… then all the “How To” stuff and all the “tactics and techniques” in the world will never work. It starts with your internal self.
Timothy Gallwey talks about “state” which I loved, because we have the same beliefs about the topic.
Reflect on the state of mind of a player who is said to be “hot” or “playing in the zone.” Is he thinking about how he should hit each shot? Is he thinking at all? Listen to the phrases commonly used to describe a player at his best: “He's out of his mind”; “He's playing over his head”; “He's unconscious”; “He doesn't know what he's doing.” The common factor in each of these descriptions is that some part of the mind is not so active. Athletes in most sports use similar phrases, and the best of them know that their peak performance never comes when they're thinking about it.
Exactly! Most people when they're performing certain actions are stuck inside their heads. They're overthinking things, which makes them start doubting themselves and lose certainty. But, if you want to experience a level of peak performance or be totally ON then you must not be thinking and be fully in the moment. I can relate to this socially when I go out and meet people.
Timothy has a chapter on “Quieting the Mind”, which I found interesting. Here is an excerpt on something you can do to achieve a better state of mind when you're out.
For most of us, quieting the mind is a gradual process involving the learning of several inner skills. These inner skills are really arts of forgetting mental habits acquired since we were children.
The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad. Letting go of the judging process is a basic key to the Inner Game, its meaning will emerge as you read the remainder of this chapter. When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, focused play.
This is a trap that most people fall into. They judge themselves. “I'm a loser”, “I'm too lazy”, “I suck at xyz”, etc… these are all judgments. But what happens when you judge yourself? You're setting yourself up to play a certain role. As Timothy says, if you say to yourself “I'm a bad server”, then you're setting a certain expectation for yourself and you begin playing the role of a bad server. You basically start to become what you think. This is something that is mentioned in the As A Man Thinketh book review I wrote about.
One area that Timothy Gallwey goes into a lot, which I won't go into here, is the process of learning. He believes learning isn't having more and more information, but rather it's the creation of a pattern of thought. It's when you have a realization or understanding or epiphany or paradigm shift. It's when you form a new belief. The information is the vehicle for that process.
The Groove Theory of Habits
Every time you swing your racket a certain way, you increase the probabilities that you will swing that way again. In this way patterns, called grooves, build up which have a predisposition to repeat themselves. Golfers use the same term. It is as if the nervous system were like a record disk. Every time an action is performed, a slight impression is made in the microscopic cells of the brain, just as a leaf blowing over a fine-grained beach of sand will leave its faint trace. When the same action is repeated, the groove is made slightly deeper.
This is a interesting description of forming negative habits or “grooves.” And, as I've learned in the book, the way to get out of a groove is to start a new one. As Timothy says, “Habits are statements about the past, and the past is gone.”
Whatever You Focus On You Feel
He talks about to quiet the mind, instead of telling it to shut up or by arguing with it, or criticizing it, learn to FOCUS it. Your focus controls how you feel. If you focus on why you suck, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, if you focus on why you're so amazing and amazing moments, you will FEEL totally different.
The book has many more concepts and ideas than what I've talked about here. I could go on, but this review wouldn't end.
I really enjoyed the book The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. I'm thankful I picked it up. If you're interested in checking it out on Amazon, then click here.