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Winning the Inner Game

by Akash Karia · Updated Jul. 9, 2024

Two days ago, I stumbled into this book at the bookstore:

The Inner Game of Tennis.

Looked interesting enough, so I bought it.

Well, it’s already become one of my favorite books EVER.

The core concept? We have two “selves”:

Self 1 is the thinker, the one who knows what to do and what not to do. It operates on a conscious level and tends to be a very judge-y know-it-all.

Self 2 is the doer, the one that carries out the actions that Self 1 is telling it to. It operates on an unconscious level and likes to be relaxed and go by feel.

Source

Peak performance, Gallwey argues, comes from quieting Self 1 and trusting Self 2.

Here’s how to do just that:

 

1. Cultivate Non-Judgmental Awareness

Instead of berating yourself for mistakes, simply observe your actions and thoughts without judgment. This allows your natural abilities to surface.

  • On the court: Instead of thinking, “My serve is terrible,” observe the ball toss, the swing, and the result without attaching negative labels.
  • In life: When facing a challenge at work, notice your thoughts and feelings without judging them as “good” or “bad.” Simply observe.

 

2. Trust Your Body’s Wisdom

Your body often knows what to do before your conscious mind catches up. Overthinking can interfere with this innate intelligence.

  • On the court: Instead of rigidly following technical instructions, focus on the feeling of a fluid swing. Your body will naturally adjust.
  • In life: When giving a presentation, trust your natural rhythm and connection with the audience instead of rigidly sticking to a script.

 

3. Shift from Outcome to Process

When we fixate on results (winning, succeeding), we create unnecessary pressure. Focusing on the process allows for greater ease and often leads to better outcomes.

  • On the court: Instead of obsessing over winning the point, concentrate on making solid contact with the ball.
  • In life: When working on a creative project, enjoy the process of exploring ideas instead of fixating on the end product.

 

4. Embrace the Present Moment

Peak performance happens in the “now.” Dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future outcomes only hinders your present actions.

  • On the court: Each point is a new opportunity. Let go of previous errors and focus on the present serve, rally, or volley.
  • In life: When feeling overwhelmed, bring your attention to your breath, your senses, and the present moment.

 

5. Use Imagery and Visualization

Instead of bombarding yourself with technical instructions, visualize the desired outcome and feel what it would be like to achieve it.

  • On the court: Before serving, visualize the ball landing precisely in the service box. Feel the smooth motion of your serve.
  • In life: Before a job interview, visualize yourself answering questions with confidence and clarity. Feel the positive energy in the room.

The Takeaway for Winning the Inner Game:

The key to peak performance isn’t always to add more stuff; sometimes, it’s to simply take away the interference from Self # 1.

Here’s how you can start applying it:

  • Start Small: For one day, simply observe your self-talk without judgment. Notice how often Self 1 tries to take over.
  • Focus on Feeling: In your next challenging task, pay attention to one physical sensation (e.g., your feet on the ground, the feeling of your pen on paper).
  • Visualize the Process: Before your next important event, spend 5 minutes visualizing yourself moving through the process with ease and confidence.

 

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