Inner Game explained

Read something interesting from Paul Millerd's Boundless newsletter this morning. 

He writes, 

In the book, the author W. Timothy Gallwey shares his approach for thinking about improvement through the lens of tennis. 

He argues that everyone has two selves: Self 1, the "teller", and Self 2 the "doer". It is the relationship between these two selves that determines how well people are able to translate "knowledge into effective action." This is what he calls the "inner game.".

...the message is quite clear: we spend far too much time in self 1 mode and struggle to let go enough to shift into self 2 mode. 

The problem is that you can't just "do" doing. We have to find ways to loosen the grip that self 1 has over our actions. Which is really hard because most of us are brought up in cultures that tell us that life is pretty much about avoiding bad outcomes, aiming at "good" goals, and trying harder when we fail. 

Farnam Street agrees, 

If both selves can communicate in harmony, the game will go well. More often, this isn't what happens. Self 1 gets judgemental and critical, trying to instruct Self 2 in what to do. 

This trick is to quiet Self 1 and let Self 2 follow the natural learning process we are all born competent at; this is the process that enables us to learn as small children. The capacity is within us - we just need to avoid impeding it. 

Self 1 tries to instruct Self 2 using words. But Self 2 responds best to images and internalising the physical experience of carrying out the desired action. 

Gallwey explains,  

In short, if we let ourselves lose touch with our ability to feel our actions, by relying too heavily on instructions, we can seriously compromise our access to our natural learning processes and our potential to perform. 

This reminded me of what happened this afternoon. I help coach a team of football girls at a primary school. We had a match today and we were winning 6-0 at this point. Our striker tried to shoot more goals but she either kicked the ball too high or kicked too far off the left or right that it missed the goal post. Instructions were shouted, "Aim properly!", "Focus!" or when she scored, "Good job!" "Nice one!"

Farnam Street wrote

Positive and negative evaluations are two sides of the same coin. To say something is good is to implicitly imply its inverse is bad. When Self 1 hears praise, Self 2 picks up on the underlying criticism. 

Could we have given better feedback? Definitely! As Farnan Street recommends, better questions like "Why did the ball go that way? or "What did you do differently compared to the last time?" could be asked. 

This can be applied to our learning as well. 

From today, let's observe our behaviours without judgment. In Gallwey's words "To observe each tennis stroke as they are, no good or bad strokes". Then let's visualise the actions to engage Self's 2 natural learning capabilities before we trust it and "let it happen!" With the right image in mind and no interference by forcing our actions or trying too hard, Self 2 can take over. The final step is to continue "nonjudgemental, calm observations of the results" in order to repeat the cycle and keep learning. 


This blog post is heavily inspired by Paul Millerd's Boundless newsletter edition #213 and The Inner Game: Why Trying Too Hard Can be Counterproductive.

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