To learn anything we need to let our body do the steps, without our critical mind interfering all the time. The rational mind is great for setting goals, but learning always happens in the body.
This summer, on the ferry back to Athens, I finished The Inner Game of Tennis by W.Timothy Gallwey. One of the best books I’ve ever read and I don’t even play tennis.
The inner game is what takes place in our mind
What fascinated me was how W.T. Gallwey describes the ‘inner game’ which takes place in our mind. He tells a story we all know by heart. It’s the story of our rational mind wanting to take over, whenever we face a difficult situation. With our conscious energy stuck worrying about future or past, we lose the ability to act in the present.
The discovery of the two selves
W.T.Gallway refers to the inner critic, the conscious ego-mind, as self1. To initiate an action self1 communicates a task to our body, self2. Self2 is a tremendously sophisticated servant, including brain, conscious and unconscious memory and the nervous system.
Self2 then tries to complete the task to the best of its abilities. Most of the time, while self2 is working hard, self1 tries to keep a tight grip on self2. It wants to make sure that nothing goes wrong, yearning for all the credit it can get.
Here an example how self1 and self2 typically interact. No wonder we feel stressed, if we listen to self1 talk to us like this.
From the tennis court to life and work
At work I immediately told my colleagues about the inner game. Their first reaction was: “Well, this might work for something like tennis, where you need a lot of body coordination. But here we use our mind, not our body!”
It might be true that at work we don’t run around like tennis players on a tennis court. We develop software systems after all. But we need our fingers to type on our keyboards, our eyes to read what we’re writing, our mouth to voice what we think and our ears to listen to feedback. It’s still a connection from the rational mind to our body, a conversation between self1 and self2. If our conscious energy is stuck somewhere in the past or future, we will not be there to act in the present.
To learn anything we need to improve the relationship between self1 and self2
We need to work on the relationship between self1 and self2, if we want to learn anything and have some fun while doing it. By focusing our senses on the task in front of us, our internal critic will slowly calm down. A calmer mind will help self2 to access it’s inherent intelligence, opening up the learning centres in the brain. Without much conscious effort self2 will start acting on it’s own, resulting in effortless action.
To quote W.T.Gallways:
“Harmony exists if the mind is quit! Resulting in perfectly, thoughtlessly executed action and afterward, no self-congratulations, just the reward inherent in the action.”
Trusting in self2
I have a simple proposal: Whatever difficult situation you’re facing, try to become aware who is guiding you through it. Is self1 controlling every step of the way, making you feel inadequate and frustrated? Or are you able to trust your bodies intelligence, letting it guide you through the day?
Trusting self2 is like letting your body take over, when you’re learning to dance. Instead of controlling every single step, just observe how other people are doing it, form a clear image in your head and then give it a try.
Don’t let self1 be your only guide.
Keep your senses in the present and trust the intelligence stored in your body to do the right thing. You will learn faster and have more fun!