The Inner Game of Tennis Provides a Focus for Life

Timothy Gallwey’s book, “The Inner Game of Tennis” has become a classic. After reading it I understand why. Of course it is not just about tennis, it is about life. He discusses our 2 Self’s. Self 1 is our “Telling” self, such that it tells us how we are doing and is often criticizing for not doing things well. Self 2 is Doer and is the self that does everything. He explains how when or if Self 1 is in charge, it focuses on judging and determining how things are done. If Self 1 is in charge, we are bound to have a difficult life. If however we focus and let things go without constantly positively or negatively judging, we do better.

He put Focus in a different light. He notes that to be focused we must be curious and find something interesting. He uses a focus on the seams of a ball or the sounds generated during a tennis match as an “other” focus that will allow Self 2 to conduct itself better. Self 2 functions better when there is no interference from Self 1. He also points out the value of focus by analogizing it to providing light in dark spaces. He says focus allows us to see how things really are just as a bright light enables us to really see something that we could not see if it were dark. Beyond just the difference between dark and light, it is also about when we don’t see things clearly when there is only a “flickering” light. I thought he compared seeing things in a flickering light to seeing things without a focus to mean that when we don’t focus we cannot really know or understand what we are seeing.

I realized I had recently experienced the benefit of a focus, or the shining of a brighter light on something. Of course this is also what education accomplishes by shining a brighter light on information so it can be better understood and used. Although the “Defund the Police” rant at first blush seems preposterous, I discovered after focusing on and learning more about this, not only does it make sense, it is what we should do. The “Defund the Police” movement is not trying to defund the police but to spread the funding out to appropriate agencies so police are not handling problems beyond their training. By “Defund the Police”, activists are asking for a shift of resources away from police agencies toward public goods that would enhance the health, safety, efficacy, sense of belonging and citizenship within communities. This could help all.

The idea of changing funding being offered by “Defund the Police” reminded me of something I read in Dan Heath’s new book, “Upstream”. In the book he explains that although the US and Norway spend the same amount on health care for children 0-18 years, the money is disbursed differently. Norway spends money “Upstream” on daycare, parental leave, and education. America on the other hand spends money downstream on problems and treatment. The results on quality of life are dramatically better when funds are disbursed “Upstream” as they are in Norway compared to when money is spent downstream as they are  in America. It is amazing what I learned from a focus that shed more light on an issue.

He also reaffirmed what my work and the work of others has demonstrated. Relationships are important to everything in life. He explains that that our life depends on the relationship people have between Self 1 and Self 2. The book outlines how to create a more effective relationship. Although he says we need to use natural abilities, he does not discount developing abilities.

Overall he recommends this process:
Step 1: Non-Judgmental Awareness. How did things go?
Step 2: Picture the Desired Outcome (I would suggest an Idealized Outcome)
Step 3: Trust Self 2 – or the doer. Let self do what it wants more than judging how well you are doing.
Step 4: Non-Judgmental Observation of Change and Results – how did things go?

He is actually recommending a life that includes a continual process improvement. He says we should always be learning what works and what doesn’t so we can continually improve. He notes that this process is natural because our Self 2 is constantly searching for and attempting to improve by trying new methods, even without conscious effort. We therefore need awareness to see, without judgement, what works and what doesn’t. Judging inhibits this ability because positive or negative judgements impede the process.

I also appreciated his discussion about competition. I have always said, based on Deming’s work, that cooperation is more powerful than competition for achieving desired results. Which I still believe. He however provided a new perspective on competition. He said competition, as a game, is when you have at least 1 player, an obstacle between the player and the goals and a motive for playing. He also explains that True Competition is really True Cooperation.

Competition is cooperation because it means you agree to provide the greatest obstacle to the other person’s goal using an agreed upon set of rules. These competitions then enable the player to discover and improve their capacities. He suggests competition is really just a great training method to allow one to improve. For those of us that have competed in sports, we know competition enabled us to improve. He also suggested competition is not useful if it is being used to prove self because of insecurity or self-doubt.

Overall I strongly recommend “The Inner Game of Tennis” to help people in all areas of their life. He provides ideas to develop a stronger Inner Game. As we all know now, due to COVID-19, getting things together so we are prepared must happen before, “Upstream”. However, we should remeber getting things together isn’t just valuable if something bad happens. A stronger Inner Game makes life better today, its a by-product would enable us to handle unexpected difficulties. 

A strong Inner Game, made possible with a better relationship between Self 1 and Self 2 is a way to Practice Paneugenesis  because it can generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish selfless interactions so everyone and everything benefits. Make it a Great Day & Week!

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

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