The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis is a book about the mental side of peak performance. It was written in the 70s by a tennis coach. The ideas in the book have larger appeal than just tennis players. It’s fascinating how much thought a tennis coach put into how people learn, and was able to distill methods that can be applied to other fields. There are familiar concepts from meditation like quieting the chatter of your mind by focusing it on your breath or the ball. He says:  “What I really wanted, I realized, was to overcome the nervousness that was preventing me from playing my best and enjoying myself. I wanted to overcome the inner obstacle that plagued me for so much of my life.” This resonates with me, there are many situations where after enough practice, the bottleneck for your best performance becomes controlling your emotional state and calming your nervousness: job interviews, public speaking, playing chess etc.

Here are some concepts from the book:

The Two Selves: The book separates the mind into “Self 1” and “Self 2”, the “teller”, “internal critic” is Self 1 and “doer” is Self 2.

Non-Judgemental Awareness: It talks about non-judgemental awareness, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening. Neither the goodness nor the badness ascribed to the event by the player is an attribute of the shot itself. Rather, they are evaluations added to the event in the minds of the player. Nonjudgemental awareness might observe that during a certain match you hit 50 percent of your first serves into the net. Judgement results in tightness, and tightness interferes with the fluidity required for accurate and quick movement. You should free yourself from any emotional reaction to success or failure, simply know your goal and take objective interest in the results.

Trusting Self 2: Trusting and loving parent lets the child perform his own actions, even to the extent of making mistakes, because he trusts the child to learn from them. If a mother identifies with every fall of her child and takes personal pride in its every success, her self-image will be as unstable as her child’s balance. The same kind of detached interest is what is necessary to let your tennis game develop naturally. Remember that you are not your tennis game.

Picture Desired Outcome: Give Self 2 a clear visual image of the results you desire. Getting clearest possible image of your desired outcome is the most useful method for communication with Self 2.

Natural Learning: Too many verbal instructions interfere with one’s shotmaking ability. The more awareness one can bring to any action, the more feedback one gets from experience, and the more naturally one learns the technique that works best. No teacher is greater than one’s own experience. During play, observe different parameters like weight on your shoulder muscle, whether your racket moves from high to low or low to high, the weight shift in your feet etc. Simply observe without interfering.

Learning to Focus: To still the mind, one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused. As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here. In tennis, the most convenient object of focus is the ball itself. Focus is not achieved by staring hard at something. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. Every time your mind starts to leak away, simply bring it gently back.

July 4, 2022

Think Like a Rocket Scientist

Think Like a Rocket Scientist is a book about different tactics that can be used in our thought process. This book is a great example of well researched non-fiction with 50+ references in the bibliography for each section. It has lots of examples from famous scientists or business life to demonstrate each point. The author studied planetary sciences, worked on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers mission and has an interest in astronomy. It was refreshing to see familiar concepts like first principles thinking, Occam’s razor or unknown unknowns illustrated by examples from fields other than technology companies. Here are some parts that I liked from different chapters:

A mind at play

  • Key to supercharging your creativity is to do nothing at all, large chunks of unstructured time free of distractions. A walk in the park. A shower. Sitting in the sauna or a chair to day dream. Boredom allows your mind to freely associate and draw connections between drastically different subjects.
  • To create is to recombine. Pick up a magazine or book about a subject you know nothing about.
  • Optimal creativity doesn’t happen in complete isolation. It happens in groups that alternate between isolation and interaction.
  • Thought experiments ignite a process of open-minded inquiry that can result in unexpected major insights.
  • My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always what I’ve already hard about the subject, the conventional wisdom.
  • When it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.

Moonshot thinking

  • Moonshots force you to reason from first principles. If your goal is 1 percent improvement, you can work within the status quo. But if your goal is to improve tenfold, the status quo has to go. If your goal is to improve car safety, you can make gradual improvements to the design of the car. If your goal is to eliminate all accidents, you must start with a blank slate and question all assumptions – including the human operator behind the wheel.
  • Convergent thinking vs divergent thinking: During divergent thinking, we don’t think about constraints, possibilities or budgets. We just throw ideas, open to whatever might present itself. The goal is to create a flurry of options – both good and bad – not prematurely judging them, limiting them or choosing among them. To activate divergent thinking, you must shut down the rational thinker in you.
  • Many authors separate drafting from their editing. Drafting is better suited for divergent thinking, and editing for convergent.
  • For divergent thinking, ask yourself: “What would a science fiction solution look like?”

The Power of Flip Flopping

  • To make sure you don’t fall in love with a single hypothesis, generate several. When you’ve got multiple hypotheses, you reduce your attachment to any one of them.
  • If you can’t find opposing voices, manufacture them. Build a mental model of your favorite adversary, and have imaginary conversations with them.

Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

  • Focus on variables you can control – the inputs instead of the outputs.
  • What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?
  • Every time you make a mistake, every time you fail at something, you should say “How fascinating!”. It provides emotional distance, perspective, and an opportunity to view things through a different lens. What can I learn from this?

Nothing Fails Like Success

  • You can do some things wrong and still succeed. A spacecraft with a design flaw can safely land on Mars where the conditions don’t trigger the flaw.
  • Premortems can be a powerful way of organically uncovering dissent. Because they assume a bad outcome – that the project failed – and ask people to generate reasons for the failure, they can provide psychological safety for expressing genuine criticism. In a premortem, we travel forward in time and set up a thought experiment where we assume the project failed.

Overall, it was an informative and fun read. Highly recommended!

July 4, 2022

Clarity & Connection

Clarity & Connection is a collection of poems about turning inwards, self love and growth. Yung Pueblo is the author’s nickname and he has a large following on social media. Here are some parts that resonated with me:

  • next time you feel agitated / because you are falling back into past patterns, / remember that simply being aware / that you are repeating the past / is a sign of progress
  • self-awareness is noticing / the rhythm of your thoughts / feeling when they are clear / and when they are out of sync / knowing when to take them seriously / and when to let them go / not every thought is valuable / most are just the sounds of / impulsive emotional reactions
  • maturity / is knowing that / when your mood is down / you should not trust / the way you see yourself
  • real maturity is observing your own / inner turbulence and pausing before / you project how you feel onto / what is happening around you
  • before you can see / someone else clearly / you must first be aware / that your mind will impulsively / filter what it sees through the lens / of your past conditioning and / present emotional state
  • sometimes a person end a good relationship / because the areas they think are bad are being / intensified by their personal issues that they / have not dealt with properly. sometimes / people break apart a home because they / are unaware of their projections and are / not ready to appreciate a good thing.
  • heal yourself / not just so you can thrive / but to ensure that people / who cross your path in the future / are safer from harm
  • ask yourself / is this how i actually feel, or / is this my emotional history / trying to recreate the past?
  • time does not heal all the wounds; it just gives / them space to sink into the subconscious / where they will continue to impact your emotions / and behavior. what heals is going inward / loving yourself, accepting yourself, listening / to your needs, addressing your attachments / and emotional history. learning how to let go, / and following your intuition.
  • have you noticed that when / you feel the urge to change / someone, what you really want is / for them to behave more like you?
  • when desire combines with tension, it morphs into craving. attachment is when you start craving things to be a certain way …. craving itself gives birth to attachment… craving occurs when wanting deepens and becomes filled with tension or stress.
  • being okay with not being okay / does not make things / automatically better / but it does stop you / from adding more tension / to an already difficult situation / being okay with not being okay / helps you let go
  • it is not about managing your / emotions; it is about managing / your reactions to your emotions
  • know your sources of rejuvenation / the amount of solitude you need to feel fresh again / the activities that strengthen your creativity / the people who light up your spirit
  • in relationships, it is important to understand that the other person cannot fix your emotional problems.
  • throw away the idea that your partner can make you happy. they can be great support, treat you well, and bring so many good things into your life, but happiness is only sustainable when it comes from within.
  • it is not about expecting your partner / to make you happy; it is about clearly / communicating the best ways they / can support you as you travel inward / to ignite your own happiness
  • heartbreak shows you that your self-worth and wholeness should not depend on another’s word or love.
  • love is rejuvenated / when partners / occasionally ask each other / how can I better / support your happiness?
  • when an argument starts / your goal should be to arrive /at a mutual understanding
  • trust blossoms in the absence of control
  • find a partner you do not have to perform for
  • a lot of advice comes from fear
  • we feel so safe with the ones we love / that we often share with them / our tensions, our stress, our fear / our sadness / and even our anger / but let us remember to also / give them the best version of ourselves / our joy and happiness, our excitement / and peace, our attention and care
  • getting unsolicited advice is one of the best tests / and a great time to check in with your self / are they saying this for my benefit or their own?
June 25, 2022

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sarp centel

Sarp is a software developer. He writes about technology, books and software.
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