The 18th Grand Slam title for Novak at Australian Open challenged once again the definition of what’s impossible – his achievement in the professional career of a tennis player, sports athlete and human being is at the very least out of this world. Rafael Nadal (also part of the big three in tennis) just recently equaled Roger’s record of 20th!!! Grand Slams (at the French Open in 2020). My love affair with tennis (and Rafa) dates back from long ago and I often encounter similarities between tennis and life in general. What’s more, several business and leadership lessons can be extracted as well.
In her article for Forbes Elena reminded me of the book “The Inner game of tennis.” Now I had to read it twice to tell you a few lessons you can take from it and use in your everyday life.
The book is about tennis and it’s not about tennis. Tennis is the medium to explore one of the biggest life questions – how to get better at what you are doing and how to be happy. It’s not the typical self-help book though. It speaks about the simple truths of life with easy to understand and actionable advice. If you are a tennis player or a fan you might like it better, but even if you don’t speak the language of tennis I believe you can totally relate.
In a nutshell, Timothy argues that in order to achieve mastery you should not only improve your skills as a tennis player – you should master the game inside your mind. This is the inner game and it is connected with obstacles such as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation. Relaxed concentration, natural way of learning and not trying too hard are the pillars of the inner game.
This process does not have to be learnt, we already know it. All that is needed is to unlearn those habits which interfere with it and then to just let it happen.
The Two Selves:
According to Timothy our mind consists of two selves which are in constant conversations in our head: Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 gives instructions, self 2 executes, self 1 gives evaluation of what’s happening. If we are to exceed in our endeavours we need to take good care and improve the relationship between our two selves. Self 2 is our unconscious mind and in order to communicate better with it we need to learn several internal skills:
- Visualize the desired outcomes with the clearest possible picture
- Trust self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures
- Perceive everything non-judgmentally
I would stress only on the third point because self-judgment becomes more and more an issue in our personal and professional development. Self-judgment is the quickest road to sabotaging our own efforts to succeed and our assessment of failures, goals and relationships. Timothy assigns judgment to our ego and personal reactions to the external and internal world which is limited within our own experience. Our ego is strong because it gives us the wrong impression of taking control on the situation.
To be clear – self 1 is the main director and slave of judgments.
On the importance of playing in the present moment: It’s not surprising to put sport and mindfulness in one sentence. Doing sport activities as part of a competition or as an amateur is one of the shortest routes to self-awareness – living in the moment, here and now. Some compare meditation with writing, others like the author of the book sees playing tennis in the present moment as the main prerequisite to good work. Self-awareness requires a non-judgmental mind and the trust that you are not your tennis game, you are not your body.
On changing habits: Timothy reminds us of how children cope with life challenges. He does not recommend us to focus on fighting the bad habits but on starting new ones.
Why do we teach our kids and promote achievement as the only way to success? Why do we assess people according to their accomplishments? The book ponders on the philosophy of being a human – are we worthy of respect only if we succeed?
Value of a human being cannot be measured by performance – or any other arbitrary measurements. We are what we are, not how well we happen to perform at a given moment. The score does not define us nor give me cause to consider myself more or less than I was before the match.
The question of self-value has bothered me for the last couple of years – I, myself, struggled with attaching my identity to my business and it is a common thread in the entrepreneurial journeys.
One self-help tip I admire is the concept of the broken self – we are always on the lookout to fix ourselves, as if we are broken. And all problems deepen with our attempts to compensate whatever we think we lack. The author concludes: The cornerstone of stability is to know that there is nothing wrong with the essential human being.
Change. The end.
No matter whether you are a Greenpeace activist or the founder of one the most inspiring companies in the world change is never a one time event, it does not go in one direction and it definitely does not come easy. Or fast.
But change does not happen in a balloon – it might be or seem as a lonely event but in reality we are not alone. The wisdom comes from the realization that there isn’t a difference:
It is a process of self-discovery that naturally makes its own contribution to the whole as we learn to make the basic contribution to ourselves.
Are we still talking about tennis? I am not quite sure but the inner game never ends. Just Keep Playing.