Our next blog series comes from one of the classics. Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance offers performers strategies to clear their minds, trust in their training, and just play the game. The book emphasizes the importance of letting go of overthinking to play free of distraction and pressure. The next blog of the series will focus on the process of learning and changing habits.
Athletes typically are always trying to improve and get better at their sport. Gallwey talks about our usual way of learning where we first criticize or judge our past behavior (i.e., my serves stink today) and then we tell ourselves to change by repeating commands at ourselves (i.e., toss the ball high, don’t change grips, hit it hard). Next, we try really hard to force the correction (i.e., Self 1 is telling Self 2 what to do and tries to control the action). Finally, we use critical judgement about our results, which leads to a vicious cycle of Self 1 not trusting Self 2. From a logical perspective, this method of learning is not productive in producing new skills, modifying existing skills, or performing even basic skills. Instead, this method creates frustration, doubt, and judgement in our abilities.
The Inner Game way of learning is based on how children learn new skills. First, we need to observe our existing behavior without judgement. The key here is to increase our awareness about our skill. How does my serve feel? Where is the ball going consistently? Next, picture the outcome you want. Visualize yourself performing the action or even watch a teammate or professional athlete. Imagery here creates new neural pathways to connect the image with the physical action of completing the skill. The third step is to let it happen by trusting Self 2. According to Gallwey, “This isn’t magic, so give your body a chance to explore the possibilities. But no matter what the results, keep Self 1 out of it. Don’t force it. Trust the process and let it happen.” Finally, using nonjudgmental and calm observation of the results, continue to practice and learn. Rather than intellectualizing the learning process, focus on how it feels, the experience, and just letting it happen. The challenge with this way of learning is that we are more comfortable trying hard, even if it doesn’t help us. Trusting and letting things happen requires a great deal of belief in ourselves and willingness to do something uncomfortable and new.
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