Winning the inner game

via Creative Commons

In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential. (The Inner Consultation By Roger Neighbour)

I have a habit of picking up older books that might be somewhat dated but nonetheless useful. This was the case when I paid less than a dollar for a paperback copy of “The Inner Game of Tennis”, a best-seller from the 1970s by Tim Gallwey. While this is ostensibly about tennis, it is much more about life.

Whether from Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Eric Berne, Arthur Koestler, or Joseph Campbell (or even the Bible), the idea of a consciousness at battle with a “sub-conscious” or “unconscious” is a well-established notion as we have considered our existence in this world. What I liked about “The Inner Game” was its practical approach to this duality.

Gallwey’s basic assertion is that we often get in our own way. In his terminology, Self One is the conscious nagger, while Self Two is the unconscious doer:

  • Self One criticizes ourself and others, while Self Two goes about the business of doing what it knows how to do.
  • Self One over thinks and is full of itself, believing it always knows best. Self Two reacts spontaneously and without thinking.
  • Self One is confident it can learn from analysis and instructions. Self Two learns from observing others and from experience.

We marvel when athletes and others are “in the zone”. We hear stories that when basketball players are playing at their best, the hoop looks twice as big. Baseball players describe the ball as looking bigger and coming in slower when they are batting well. The fact is that athletes and others can seldom think themselves into the zone. If it were so, why would anyone ever leave it? The reason coaches call timeouts before an important field goal or free throws is so that the athlete will think about the consequences; it is hoped that the timeout will remove the player from being in the moment.

I find reassuring the notion that we already know what to do if we can just quit trying to force it. ”Trying too hard” is an understandable mistake.

How can we make things easier for ourselves?:

  • If we want to capture an audience with a speech, we can let go of trying to impress them and instead just give ourselves to them. Generally, we know more about the subject at hand, and our audience wants us to do well.
  • If we want to succeed, we can stop worrying so much about the consequences of failure.
  • If we are trying to learn the truth, we can stop judging. Judging is all about our version of the truth, and gets in the way of a more objective view of reality. (Gallwey points out the irony in the fact that the judge in a tennis match is probably the only person not placing a value judgment on whether the outcome of a particular point is good or bad.)

At the end of a yoga class once, I sensed, perhaps for the first time, that there was a “me” beneath the thoughts and feelings that so dominate the consciousness. I found happiness in this discovery, a lessoning of pressure. The thoughts and feelings we have are no doubt useful to navigating through life successfully, but they can also limit us greatly and cause quite a bit of consternation.

Much of the current emphasis on mindfulness arises from an almost universal sense that we over think much of our lives, to our detriment. We ruminate about the past, and we worry about the future. By focusing on the present moment, we stand a better chance of winning the inner game.

You know what to do most of the time. Quiet your mind and let it happen.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s