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The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey Book Summary

The Inner Game of Tennis

I first heard about The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey many years ago on a guitar forum. It was recommended because the principles in this book apply not only to tennis, but to many other activities, including playing the guitar. I eventually read this book when I was in university, and indeed, the concepts in this book have since had a big influence on how I perform many activities, such as weightlifting and playing the guitar.


The Inner Game

Letting go of judgments, the art of programming with images and “letting it happen” are three of the basic skills involved in the Inner Game.

Every game is composed of two parts: an outer game, and an inner game. The outer game is the physical component, while the inner game is the mental component. Although the inner game is very important, it is often neglected.

Self 1 vs. Self 2

Self 1 is the part of you that tells you what to do. Self 2 is the part that does what you tell it to do. Self 1 often judges and criticizes self 2. Although self 2 is very competent, self 1 does not trust self 2, and this causes self 2 to make mistakes. This results in a feedback loop that negatively affects the performance of self 2.

The Relationship Between Self 1 and Self 2

The relationship between self 1 and self 2 determines how effective someone is. The less self 1 interferes with self 2, the more effective someone is. The following are strategies for preventing self 1 from interfering with self 2.

Don’t Try Too Hard

Quieting the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering or distracting.

When you try too hard, you are letting self 1 take over. This leads to overthinking, distraction, tightness, and overall ineffectiveness. Instead, you should “just do it”, and let self 2 take over without interference from self 1. Harmony is achieved when the mind is still, quiet, and not actively thinking or trying too hard to do something.

Let Go of Judgments

The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad. Letting go of the judging process is a basic key to the Inner Game;

Judgment is assigning a negative or positive value to something. If you judge something as negative, you will inevitably try too hard to improve. If you judge something as positive, you will try too hard to live up to expectations. Judgment causes interference with self 2. Getting rid of judgment is not the same as ignoring error. Instead, it allows you to see things as they are and improve.

Let it Happen

Focus on seeing things as they are without judgment, labelling, or trying to control. Remove your ego from the situation. Learn to develop trust between self 1 and self 2, and letting things be as they are. This is analogous with a child learning how to walk with their parents; there is no judgment or criticism or identification of any falls, just letting it be as the child learns.

Programming Yourself

The learning process involves self 1 communicating what it wants from self 2, and then letting self 2 perform. Self 2 acts based on stored memory from past actions and observations of others’ actions. More practice results in deeper memory.

Images work better than words, and showing is better than telling. Involve as many senses as possible. Too much instruction is worse than none, and conscious trying often produces negative results.

The following are techniques for programming yourself:

  1. Programming for results: self 1 sets goals for self 2, and then lets it perform without interference.

  2. Programming for form: give self 2 a clear image of what you want to do and go through the motions, imagining your form as you do it.

  3. Programming by identity: play the role of what you want to be, and have self-confidence without any self-doubt.

Importance of Concentration

The greatest lapses in concentration come when we allow our minds to project what is about to happen or to dwell on what has already happened. How easily the mind absorbs itself in the world of “what if’s”

Concentration is focusing one’s attention. This stills the mind and keeps it in the present. This is a skill that you learn that requires practice. The practice of meditation helps with concentration and remaining calm, which are both important tools. This allows you to see the true nature of what is happening and respond appropriately.

Unfreakability: The Art of Quieting the Mind

There are only two possible approaches to dealing with upsetting circumstances in the present. One is to change the circumstance; the other is to change the mind which is experiencing the upset.

Learn to separate an event from your reaction to the event. Concentrate on your breathing, and observe your thoughts without judgment. This is not the same as positive thinking, as you are not acknowledging the negative or attempting to gain peace where it does not exist. Instead, you focus on what you can control, which are your thoughts, and seeing things as they are.

The Meaning of Winning

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.

A game is an interaction between people involving an ulterior motive - a trial of strength or wits played within a system defined by rules. Most people’s motives are to be good and achieve excellence. However, this leads to judgment, especially when people begin to question their worth based on how they compare to others.

Competitiveness (i.e. proving oneself) is often based on insecurity and self-doubt. This can cause the worst in a person to come out, and interference from self 1. Instead, winning should be about realizing the true limits of your capabilities using courage and concentration to overcome obstacles and explore latent capabilities. You also learn a lot from teaching others. This results in self-knowledge.

In this way, true competition is identical to true co-operation, where both sides challenge each other with obstacles to achieve their full potential, and no one is actually defeated. You hope for a challenge that allows you to work on your weaknesses. Being defeated or defeating someone helps you achieve this.