The Inner Game of Tennis

I read Timothy Gallwey’s The Inner Game of Tennis, and really enjoyed it. It’s one of those “hub” books you come across every so often, where you realize there are spokes sticking out into a bunch of other stuff that’s been on your mind lately.

Gallwey’s working theory here is about the internal dichotomy between “Self 1” and “Self 2” in performance. Self 1 is that voice inside, that part of you that “knows” how to do things, that instructs, urges, reprimands, exhorts. Self 2 is the one that does things. Given that Self 1 is so eager to “try hard” and correct and evaluate, successful practice and performance is about building trust for Self 2 and learning through practice and simple observation.

Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.

Mindfulness! There’s a flip side of that, too – Self 1 can be too pleased with itself when things are going well. Self-congratulations also takes you out of the moment. I really like this section, about avoiding criticism as we learn:

When plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as “rootless and stemless”. We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential.

Another interesting bit:

If you think you are controlled by a habit, then you will feel you have to try to break it. […] There is no need to fight old habits. Start new ones.

And I thought this was nicely phrased…

Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested.

Focus isn’t something we do, it’s something that results.

I also like one final section on the games that people play aside from the actual game itself. We each tend to embrace different goals within the game: to be perfect, to be better than the other guy, to appear to be great, to bond, to learn, to be challenged, etc. Each of these motivations influence and contaminate and distract us from performance to some degree.

Very highly recommended!

Some other related posts around here: Never try to look cool and learn something at the same time. Nervous is good. Performance vs. editing. In order to have your best performance you have to be relaxed. That eye-on-the-object look. Reality not maybe is zen. Festina lente. Willing to be shit at things. Forever the 5-year-old of something. A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you.

Q. and A. – Chris Rock Is Itching for Dirty Work – NYTimes.com

On criticism:

Only fans should be allowed to criticize. Because it’s for the fans. When I hear somebody go, “Country music [stinks],” I’m like, well, country music’s not for you. You’re just being elitist. Only a fan of Travis Tritt can say the record [stinks], because he’s got every one.

Also, on the need to work up your craft in private:

When you’re workshopping it, a lot of stuff is bumpy and awkward. Especially when you’re working on the edge, you’re going to offend. […] You’re mad at Ray Leonard because he’s not in shape, in the gym? That’s what the gym’s for. The sad thing, with all this taping and stuff, no one’s going to do stand-up. And every big stand-up I talk to says: “How do I work out new material? Where can you go, if I have a half an idea and then it’s on the Internet next week?” Just look at some of my material. You can’t imagine how rough it was and how unfunny and how sexist or racist it might have seemed. “Niggas vs. Black People” probably took me six months to get that thing right. You know how racist that thing was a week in? That’s not to be seen by anybody.

Q. and A. – Chris Rock Is Itching for Dirty Work – NYTimes.com

Missing the Point | RyanHoliday.net

Getting up and going for a run everyday doesn’t need to be “justified” a few months later by competing to finish an arbitrary number of miles in a certain amount of time against a bunch of other unhappy losers. No, you run because keeping a healthy body and clear mind is part of your job as a human being. Because its a commitment you made to yourself that you’re obligated to keep no matter how tired, how busy or how burn out you feel. In other words, it’s practice—proof of your ability—in always having a little bit extra in you.

Missing the Point | RyanHoliday.net

The value of physical pain is that it is finite. It ends when the ailment ends. We can use this as an opportunity to push on through, with the safety net of knowing it will eventually be over. It is practice.

Ryan Holiday. Just this weekend I was talking about the value of exercise qua mild self-harm. This is more articulate than I was.

Should you pursue mastery? | Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist

At some point, all first dates become the same. The beginnings of relationships are all the same, but deeper connections require understanding more and more about yourself to keep going. That’s what I think of mastery. […] It occurs to me that mastery is irrational. Pursuing it makes life more difficult and more interesting than people really need life to be. But people who are driven to mastery can’t stop. It’s either charming or boorish. I’m not sure which.

Should you pursue mastery? | Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist

Because growth curves are asymptotic, I am convinced it is better to get pretty good at a lot of things rather than investing your scarce time in becoming marginally better at a couple of things.

Wehr in the World: Squibs. It may also be easier/more efficient to maintain a state of pretty-goodness than a state of mastery.

This is a surprisingly great interview with Jason Segel (via Austin). My favorite bit:

I had two friends in high school who sort of showed me how a piano works. And I just spent two years being terrible at it until I was good at it. That’s just me. There’s no way I’m actually intrinsically talented at writing, acting, playing music, puppeteering. It’s that I’m willing to be shit at them for a while, until I’m good at them.

Derek Powazek – Why Everything Sucks, Why That’s Awesome, and How It’s Changing Us

We were spared hearing The Beatles when they were new. There’s no record of Shakespeare’s embarrassing early attempts. No MP3s of Bach’s school choir. Maybe if we were more used to seeing people suck before they get good at something, we wouldn’t expect perfection from day one.

Just think about the millions of people on the internet, each in their own timeline of learning something new. Most people will never get to 2,500 hours. They’ll never not suck. It’s not personal, it’s just math.

So that’s why the vast majority of everything on the internet sucks. It’s because most of the people doing it, most of the time, just haven’t put in the hours yet. And most of them never will. So only a small percentage of all the people online will ever be vaguely good at whatever it is they’re doing.

But here’s the thing: I think this is beautiful. People are out there, trying new things, learning the hard way, and sharing their experience. That gives me hope.

(via) This reminds me of the idea for a museum of rough drafts.
Derek Powazek – Why Everything Sucks, Why That’s Awesome, and How It’s Changing Us