I am my own best coach
The Inner Game of Tennis.
One of the greatest books I have ever picked up on sports psychology and peak performance, an area that interests me, as an MMA fighter, very much. It might have a tennis ball on the cover, but this book applies to any sport or aspect of life where you need to bring your best consistently.
Most instances that we have for peak performance, usually competitions, seem to be a battle of us against external forces – our opponent, our bosses, our audience, nature – and on the surface, this is true. However, there is another battle going on, simultaneously, within us that will determine the result of the external battle. This is us against ourselves, or how the author, Timothy Gallwey, puts it, Self 1 vs Self 2.
Timothy Gallwey tells us that our mind or consciousness is composed of two selfs; Self 1 and Self 2, he names them.
Self 1 – The teller. Self 1 is the voice or words in our head telling us what we have to do. Self 1 likes to be in control at all times, but is not very good at doing things. When someone says “I am talking to myself”, Self 1 is the I.
Self 2 – The doer. Self 2 is the unconscious genius behind our action. When we let Self 2 take over the doing, it usually can do it very well if it already knows how to and if it does not, it can learn very rapidly. Self 2 is the myself in the statement, “I am talking to myself”.
Have you ever choked during an important performance? Knowing that you have practiced better and you could do better, but, stuck in your head, you simply failed to live up to your potential? On the opposite end of the spectrum, have you ever outperformed your wildest thoughts? (If you haven’t had these opposing experiences, I feel bad for you because that means you probably have not done much) The sentences prior contains the key to the separation between these between these two polar experiences: stuck in your head and thoughts.
When you choked, you probably could not stop thinking and criticizing yourself inside of your own head. You kept telling yourself what you had to do or you got stuck listening to what was going on inside your head. In other words, you let Self 1 take control of the telling and doing.
When you performed amazingly, you probably weren’t thinking a thing. Afterwards, it didn’t even seem like it was you that performed, it just happened. In other words, Self 1 disappeared and Self 2 took over the doing.
It took him nearly his entire tennis career, but Andre Agassi definitely mastered the Inner Game
The Inner Game of Tennis is all turning off or quieting Self 1 and trusting Self 2 to perform and learn. This is known as the state of Relaxed Concentration.
So what’s the secret to attaining this state? If we could turn it on at will, we would have no problems, right? Well it’s not that simple. There is no formula or method to reach relaxed concentration, but there are techniques we can learn to push Self 1 to the side and focus on Self 2:
- Learning to see without judging, either good or bad.
The first step to quieting Self 1 is to stop judging (yourself). We need to learn to see reality, accurately, without judging it as either good or bad. Ending judgement means we stop adding or subtracting facts from what actually is. It is very hard for me to properly explain this concept so I will use a short story to illustrate it
Three men are driving down the road. One man represents positive judgement, one man represents negative judgement, and the third man represents no judgement – the inner game. At a stop sign, each man sees a beautiful naked woman walking across the road in front of them. The positive judger sees her and begins thinking about how beautiful she is and what he would like to do with her. The negative judger sees her and begins thinking about how she is improper and she should put some clothes on. The third man sees her, but does not judge either way. Because he is not busy thinking, he realizes the woman’s eyes are closed and she is sleepwalking. He goes and wakes her up, puts his coat on her, and drives her home (where he receives his just rewards).
Self 2 already knows how to do most things you would ask of it. So stop trying to do what you can already do and let it happen. When you think about what you are going to do and try hard to do it, you tighten your body and mind and prevent Self 2 from doing it’s best work.
- Visualize and feel the clearest possible picture of your desired outcome
Self 1 communicates with words. Self 2 communicates with senses. Visualize in your mind the best picture of the result you would like, whether it is deeper voice projection during your public speaking or turning your fist over more on your cross and let Self 2 take over. Listen to how it sounds and how it feels in your body as you do it correctly and focus on remembering that sound and feeling as you repeat the action.
These are great techniques for using Self 2 during practice or to learn which will naturally carry over into every aspect of our lives. But how about applying this directly into our performances, when it really matters? We must learn FOCUS.
It is not enough to simply let the mind go, it must be put somewhere. Everyone must find something to focus on during their performance, but it is a personal choice what that is. Great examples are the seams of the ball (for tennis) or the sound of what you want which are external focuses. Internal focuses are the feeling of our bodies as we act or our breathing. Any focus is helpful as long as we continue to keep our minds on it and bring them back when they drift, some will be more helpful than others and it is up to you to find a focus that keeps Self 1 at bay and Self 2 at work.
A word of caution:
When Self 1 does something, you feel like you are doing it, which seems to feed our egos and make us feel good. When Self 2 does something, it feels like it just happened, which doesn’t feel as good for our minds. We can’t take credit or try to consciously repeat Self 2’s actions, we can only allow it to happen. Self 1 is sneaky and always seems to find ways to jump in and take over our doing. Especially when Self 2 is performing great, Self 1 loves to jump in and try to figure out a formula for repeating this performance… which of course puts the doing right back into Self 1’s court.
It is a slow and difficult process to learn – or rather, unlearn – to let Self 1 stick to telling and Self 2 stick to doing and attain relaxed concentration. But it is worth doing if we want to enjoy what we do more and more, learn at a faster and more natural rate, and perform at our peaks consistently!
Joanna left Self 1 at home and brought Self 2 to her UFC Championship fight and walked out with the belt on her arm (I’m a big fan)
“What is the real game? It is a game in which the heart is entertained, the game in which you are entertained. It is the game you will win.”