Renowned tennis coach Timothy Gallwey noted that everyone plays two games of tennis at the same time: the outside game that’s happening on the court, and the inside game that’s happening in their mind. His body of work on the inner game has been a staple of coaching practice in sports, corporate leadership and beyond since the 1970s.
What Gallwey observed is that the more we try to observe rules and follow instructions, the more paralyzed we become when we’re not able to live up to an imagined ideal. In fact the harder we consciously try to get to where we think we should be, the farther we fall short. Gallwey talked about an inner “Self 1,” a critical and hectoring instructor who barks orders at “Self 2,” the natural, sponateous and uncontrolled do-er. Self 2 has little initiative and is primarily reactive to natural impulses or to the instructiosn of Self 1. Self 1 has more analytical prowess but no ability to carry out actions: whenever we do, we’re being Self 2.
Subsequent psychologists, notably Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have since theorised about an optimal state of flow that occurs when the mind is quiet, yet fully concentrated on an activity. Time slips by unnoticed and self-consciousness is virtually nonexistent, yet we are totally immersed in what we are doing. This could be seen as the natural harmony of Selves 1 and 2: Self 1 has set a goal but remains quiet in the background while Self 2 gets on with doing things uninterrupted and uncriticized. This doesn’t mean that we lose the rational ability to assess our performance, but simply that we’re able to view this without judgement or detachment and be in the moment while we are doing.
Learning to quiet Self 1 can seem daunting. After all, if we instruct Self 1 to be quiet, we’re simply engaging in the controlling and critical behaviour of Self 1 and we’re right back in the same repetitive loop. But there are a few things we can try to help turn the volume down on Self 1 and let Self 2 get on with things.
First, let go of value judgements like good and bad, and simply describe or notice your experience as it’s happening in non-metaphorical language. Just describe your actions or what’s happening without any sense of what that might mean.
Second, imagine your desired outcome as clearly and in as much detail as you possibly can. Imagine how achieving that outcome might feel. Make this picture as clear in your mind and the sensation as clear in your body as you can. Don’t spend time “what-if”ing negative scenarios, just on what success would be like. Self 2 is very grounded in bodily reality, so you can help turn up the volume on Self 2 by making the desired outcome as clear as possible in the language it understands: image and sensation.
Finally, be in the present: don’t picture past failures or successes you’re trying to relive, and let go of trying to predict the future. Simply be here, doing what you’re doing, without attachment to what it might mean or how it could go differently than how it is currently going.
It might take some time, but Self 1 and Self 2 can learn to work together.