Saturday, January 31, 2015

Book: The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey argues that success can result only if you don't try too hard which sounds counter intuitive. Trying too hard means becoming emotionally attached and being judgmental. He gives practical tips on how to achieve relaxation while practicing. First and foremost, you have to be interested in what you are doing.

A very good book for anyone who wants to be a better person by using tennis (or any other practice) as a means to achieve inner peace and perfection.

My underlinings:

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.

...the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.

...sometimes my verbal instructions seemed to decrease the probability of the desired correction occurring.

...learning to see “nonjudgmentally”—that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening. This overcomes “trying too hard.” All these skills are subsidiary to the master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved: the art of relaxed concentration.

...the most beneficial first step is to encourage him to see and feel what he is doing—that is, to increase his awareness of what actually is. [This is true for software debugging too. You have to analyze the data thoroughly before hypothesizing]

Always looking for approval and wanting to avoid disapproval, this subtle ego-mind sees a compliment as a potential criticism. It reasons, “If the pro is pleased with one kind of performance, he will be displeased by the opposite.

Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are—undistorted.

Trust the body to learn and to play, as you would trust another person to do a job...

Almost all tennis players have experienced playing over their heads after watching championship tennis on television. The benefits to your game come not from analyzing the strokes of top players, but from concentrating without thinking and simply letting yourself absorb the images before you.

Getting the clearest possible image of your desired outcomes is a most useful method for communicating with Self 2, especially when playing a match. Once you are competing it is too late to work on your strokes, but it is possible to hold in your mind the image of where you want the ball to go and then allow the body to do what is necessary to hit it there. It is essential here to trust Self 2. Self 1 must stay relaxed, refraining from giving “how-to-do-it” instructions and from any effort to control the stroke.

It is important not only to understand intellectually the difference between letting it happen and making it happen, but to experience the difference.

You will experience that there really is a Self 2 who is acting and learning without being told what to do.

Language is not the action, and at best can only hint at the subtlety and complexity contained in the stroke.

For the teacher or coach, the question has to be how to give instructions in such a way as to help the natural learning process of the student and not interfere with it. might not be so difficult to learn if you observed someone who did the stroke well, let yourself “play around with it,” before putting your attention to the details of the swing.

To formulate technique while watching the pro or by trying to imitate too closely can be detrimental to your natural learning process.

When one learns how to change a habit, it is a relatively simple matter to learn which ones to change. Once you learn how to learn, you have only to discover what is worth learning.

It is not helpful to condemn our present behavior patterns—in this case our present imperfect strokes—as “bad”; it is helpful to see what function these habits are serving, so that if we learn a better way to achieve the same end, we can do so. We never repeat any behavior which isn’t serving some function or purpose. It is difficult to become aware of the function of any pattern of behavior while we are in the process of blaming ourselves for having a “bad habit.” But when we stop trying to suppress or correct the habit,we can see the function it serves, and then an alternative pattern of behavior, which serves the same function better, emerges quite effortlessly.

In short, there is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones.

Remember, make no corrections; simply observe without interfering.

Though the player knows his goal, he is not emotionally involved in achieving it and is therefore able to watch the results calmly and experience the process.

Relaxation happens only when allowed, not as a result of “trying” or “making.”

To still the mind one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused. If peak performance is a function of a still mind, then we are led to the question of where and how to focus it.

Focus means keeping the mind now and here. Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it, while with it, much can be achieved.

The ball should be watched from the time it leaves the opponent’s racket to the time it hits yours. (Sometimes the ball even begins to appear bigger or to be moving slower. These are natural results of true focus.)

Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested.

...I know of no better way to begin to deal with anxiety than to place the mind on one’s breathing process.

The second my mind starts wondering about whether I’m going to win or lose the match, I bring it gently back to my breath and relax in its natural and basic motion.

Interestingly, this state of being, when Self 1 is absent and Self 2 is present, always feels good, and allows a more vivid consciousness and usually great excellence in performance. It may not feel the same as ego gratification, a feeling which we all too often like a great deal, but there is a feeling some call harmony, balance, poise, even peace, or contentment. And it can feel that way in the middle of a very “intense” tennis match.

When love and respect depend on winning or doing well in a competitive society, it is inevitable (since every winner requires a loser and every top performance many inferior ones) that there will be many people who feel a lack of love and respect.

...the more challenging the obstacle he faces, the greater the opportunity for the surfer to discover and extend his true potential.

...instead of hoping your opponent is going to double-fault, you actually wish that he’ll get his first serve in. This desire for the ball to land inside the line helps you to achieve a better mental state for returning it... Then at the end you shake hands with your opponent, and regardless of who won you thank him for the fight he put up, and you mean it. can control the effort he puts into winning. One can always do the best he can at any given moment. Since it is impossible to feel anxiety about an event that one can control, the mere awareness that you are using maximum effort to win each point will carry you past the problem of anxiety.

Then, instead of learning focus to improve his tennis, he practices tennis to improve his focus.

Competition then becomes an interesting device in which each player, by making his maximum effort to win, gives the other the opportunity he desires to reach new levels of self-awareness.

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