In the introduction to his classic book, The Inner Game of Tennis, W. Timothy Gallwey imagines our lives as a long series of activities, all of which can be thought of as games.Whether its a literal game of pick-up basketball, or other more complex games like starting a business or raising a child, we can think of life as a series of more or less serious games.
And in order to play these games well we need to understand that every game has two parts: an outer game and an inner game.Heres how Gallwey defines the outer game:The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles and to reach an external goal. Mastering this game is the subject of many books offering instructions on how to swing a racket, club or bat, and how to position arms, legs or torso to achieve the best results.
This outer game is any activity weve explicitly learned about, like solving Algebra equations, making a budget, or yoga. Most of us are fairly comfortable playing many of the outer games in our lives. Some of us have even achieved a lot of success in, for instance, business or athletics, by learning to play the outer game very well.
But Gallwey goes on to make the case that its the inner game that often prevents people from playing certain notoriously tricky games well think of weight loss or saving for retirement or from reaching truly peak levels of performance and satisfaction in the games they already play fairly well:Neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game. This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation. In short, it is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.
The book is a fascinating and mind-opening read, even if you have zero interest in tennis. One of the most intriguing implications of the book is the potential for leveraging excellence in the inner game to overcome natural disadvantages we may have in the outer game.In the rest of this article, I want to explore how learning to become a student of the inner game a student of our own habits of mind and psychology may give us the boost we need to get unstuck and achieve much higher levels of mastery and satisfaction in the various games of life.
No One Goes to School for Mental and Emotional HealthFrom a young age, most of us learn at least the fundamentals in several important areas of life:Intellectual. We go to school and learn at least the basics of arithmetic, spelling, history, biology, grammar, and most other common academic subjects. We may not be experts at solving differential equations or writing novels, but we know our multiplication tables pretty well and can manage to write a pretty clear email without too many spelling mistakes.
Physical. Many of us also grow up learning some basic ideas about physical health and wellbeing. We know we shouldnt eat too much candy, that we should brush our teeth every day, try and exercise at least a few times a week, and check in with our doctor and dentist at least once a year.
Whether we actually do these or not is another story but at least we know. Social. Finally, most of us learn the fundamentals of good social interactions from a young age.
We were taught to chew with our mouth closed, say please and thank you, look people in the eye when were talking to them, or whats appropriate to wear to work vs laying around the house on Saturday morning.But unlike our intellectual, physical, and social development, almost no one learns the fundamentals of psychology and how the mind works. This is shocking given that our minds influence every single thing we think or feel or do every day of our lives!
Consider the following:Do you remember learning how to tell the difference between a thought and an emotion?Were you ever taught how to validate someones emotional struggle rather than rushing in with advice and trying to fix it?Did you spend your childhood practicing Assertive Communication and learning how to differentiate it from the 3 other (unhelpful) forms of communication?
Do you remember quality instruction in how to analyze behavior functionally, to look for the internal rationales behind seemingly bad or dumb decisions?Did you take a class in college on sleep dynamics and how to create and maintain effective sleep habits?Did you learn the difference in grade school between empathy and sympathy?
Fear vs anxiety? Hopes vs expectations?You were required to pass Behavioral Modification and Reinforcement 101 before having your first child/pet/employee, right?
Maybe you were incredibly lucky, but I certainly didnt grow up learning any of these things! And Im pretty sure 99% of us dont.But why not?
If we spend hours upon hours memorizing facts about European History and solving Algebra problems, why didnt we spend at least a little time learning about our own minds?Nothing against Algebra and European History, but are they really that much more important than understanding the fundamentals of how our minds and psychology work?Most of us are taught how to use our minds, but few of us are taught what the mind is and how it works.
This is unfortunate, to be sure. But maybe theres a silver lining hereTheres Opportunity in Our Mutual DisadvantageBecause virtually no one receives this psychological education and training, that means almost no one no matter how many advantages they had in other aspects of their life is starting off ahead of us in this respect. Were all psychological rookies.
And when it comes to understanding and managing our mental and emotional lives, many of us are starting from a similarly impoverished place.I see this regularly in my job as a psychologist and therapist.Every day, doctors, lawyers, engineers, CEOs, and professors some of whom are at the very tops of their fields walk into my office because theyre struggling with some aspect of their mental and emotional life.
Their struggles are not just painful, theyre also impacting their job performance and personal relationships.And guess what? All these people with MDs, and PhDs, and six-figure salaries Theyre struggling with the same things as everyone else is.
And theyre struggling in large part because just like everyone else they were never taught at a young age about their own psychology, about how it works and how to develop it:How to manage emotions (What should I do if I have a panic attack?)How to communicate more effectively (Why do my employees seem afraid when they meet with me? Why dont my wife and I click like we used to?
)How to build and maintain self-confidence (Im incredibly successful, so why do I feel like a fraud?)How to sleep well (Im doing all the Sleep Hygiene tips and I still wake up feeling like a zombieHow to think about and handle depression (Why do a cry when Im alone? Why dont I feel motivated or interested in things anymore?
)No matter how impressive their credentials and achievements look from the outside, most people are struggling significantly in some aspect of their life because they dont understand and havent mastered their own psychology. And while they may be able to ignore and contain the negative effects of this struggle for a while, this lack of psychological insight and mastery will have negative consequences eventually:Using alcohol to manage stress and anxiety will eventually start to affect the quality of their work and performance.Pouring all their time and energy into their work in an attempt to justify themselves as lovable or worthwhile will eventually lead to alienating the people in their lives who actually love them.
Popping increasing numbers of Xanax and Valium in order to avoid their anxieties and insecurities will steadily erode their belief in themselves with terrible long-term consequences. Now, dont get me wrong people who struggle psychologically need help no matter what their credentials or salary. In fact, its what I do for a living as a psychologist and therapist!
But its crucial to see especially if you didnt start off life with many of the advantages of your peers that theres a way to rise to the top despite those disadvantages.No matter how large other peoples advantages intellectually or physically, for example, their psychology is usually a limiting factor, sometimes severely so. But for the person whos willing to reflect and start to work seriously on themselves on their own emotional and psychological life theres tremendous advantage and opportunity.
By dedicating ourselves to mastering our own psychology, we can overcome many disadvantages in other domains and rise to the very top of our field.Lets take a look at a few specific examples of how mastering our own psychology the inner game can lead to significant advantages in work and life. 3 Powerful Examples of Competitive Advantages that Come from Mastering Our PsychologyHere are few small examples of the tremendous competitive advantages we can gain by mastering and leveraging our own psychology.
1 | Focus deeply and produce exceptional work by increasing our tolerance of uncomfortable emotions.The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.
Cal NewportAs Cal Newport shows in his book Deep Work, the rise of smartphones and social media is rapidly eroding our capacity to work intently and with deep focus for sustained periods of time.Weve become so accustomed to easy access to quick hits of novelty from the internet that we can barely go a few minutes without giving into some kind of digital distraction. Consequently, most of us arent working at anything near our true cognitive capacity, and therefore, severely limiting the quality of our work.
But, if we can overcome this impulse to distraction and cultivate our capacity for Deep Work, theres tremendous advantage in terms of the quality and quantity of our work and the overall trajectory of our careers.At its core, our tendency to get distracted and lose focus is a psychology problem. Deep, difficult work often leads to momentary frustrations, disappointments, confusion, even boredom.
And in order to temporarily alleviate these emotions, most people lose themselves in a Facebook feed, or a new blog post, or checking the weather.To successfully resist these distractions and continue working at a high level, we have to understand the emotional dynamics at play and cultivate our capacity to acknowledge and tolerate these uncomfortable emotions rather than instinctively avoiding them with cheap distractions. Mastering our own psychology is the key to producing deep, valuable work, which is increasingly more valuable than any number of letters after your name or list of top schools on your resume.
2 | Effectively Sell, Promote, or Persuade Using Empathy and Emotional ValidationThe language of empathy does not come naturally to us. Its not part of our mother tongue. Most of us grew up having our feelings denied.
To become fluent in this new language of acceptance, we have to learn and practice its methods. Adele Faber & Elaine MazlishMost of us are fixers at heart. The instant we encounter a problem, our first thought is: How can I solve this?
The trouble is, in many areas of life and work, trying to solve a problem before you understand it can have severe negative consequences. On the other hand, when we have the ability to truly understand people before jumping in to offer a solution, good things tend to happen.Consider the recent success of Apple.
As a company, they deeply understand consumer psychology in a way that most tech companies miss.Because of their engineering, problem-solving culture, most tech companies try to sell their products with lists of features: Processor power, storage capacity, battery life, etc. What Apple has always prioritized, however, is user experience how it actually feels to use an Apple product.
If youve ever unboxed a beautifully packaged iPhone or Apple Watch, you know what Im talking about just taking the damn thing out of the box feels incredible!But in order to do this well, Apple had to first understand on a deep level what tech consumers struggled with. What were the pain points?
In other words, good product design required being able to empathize with and validate their users experiences. Similarly, if youve ever studied effective sales copy, you know the same lesson applies: Before you can make a sale or flaunt your features, you have to empathize with the pain points, needs, or aspirations of your potential customer.You have to make a meaningful connection with people before theyll do something for you.
Ultimately, all of this comes down to the idea of validation. Validation means that you consider, try to understand, and genuinely feel what someone else is experiencing before you start problem-solving, selling, or persuading.Unfortunately, the art of validation is not a skill that comes naturally to most of us.
It takes practice and repetition.The person adept at the art of genuinely trying to understand and validate how another person feels is a force to be reckoned with!3 | Set effective and productive boundaries by learning to communicate assertivelyMany people in todays society fear conflict and criticism.
They believe that in any conflict they would lose and that any criticism would crush them. Randy J. PatersonAssertiveness means asking for what you want and saying no to what you dont want in clear, respectful language.
And its something most of us are terrible at doing. Rather than being assertive, most of us end up falling into one of the three other communication styles:Passive Communication. Rather than respectfully saying no to that last minute request our boss gives us before vacation, we cheerily say sure and spend valuable family time on vacation working on someone elses work.
Only to return from vacation more burnt-out than when we left. Aggressive Communication. When another co-worker at the sales meeting points out a problem area in our most recent proposal, we lash out and try to discredit that persons authority by bringing up their poor performance last quarter.
Passive-Aggressive Communication. Rather than schedule a meeting with our boss to discuss our dissatisfaction with our current pay structure, we gossip about her and the company culture with co-workers at lunch.We fall into these unhelpful communications styles because theyre often less emotionally difficult in the short-term.
They allow us to avoid conflict, protect our own egos, and express ourselves without risk of retaliation respectively.The problem is, while they may feel better or even work in the short term, they end up only making things worse for us in the long run:When were in the habit of communicating passively and are unable to say no, we end up over-worked, resentful of others, and lose confidence in ourselves.When act out aggressively, we end up alienating important and/or valuable people in our lives.
When we are regularly indirect and passive-aggressive in our speech and behavior, we lose trust and credibility in the long run, and often end up feeling guilty and ashamed.On the other hand, if we practice identifying and accepting the short-term emotional discomfort of speaking our mind assertively, were much better able to set healthy, productive boundaries and communicate clearly and effectively with those around us.2 Ways to Get Started With Psychological MasteryIf you want to get started better understanding your own psychology and learning to master it, here are to good places to start:1.
TherapyYou dont have to be sick or mentally ill to start therapy. In fact, there are dozens of compelling reasons and benefits to trying therapy even if you dont need it and Psychological Mastery is a big one.Because of the structure, consistency, and expert guidance of therapy, this may be the most direct, and efficient way to get started.
Learn More:Does Everyone Need Therapy?Find Your Therapy: A Practical Guide to Finding Quality Therapy (Book)2. MindfulnessStarting and maintaining a formal mindfulness practice is arguably the best way to begin to better understand your own psychology and cultivate better mental and emotional habits.
Learn More:No Seriously, What is Mindfulness?How to Start a Mindfulness Practice: A Quick Guide for Complete BeginnersSummary and TakeawaysMost people never learn even the fundamentals of their own psychology and how their mind works. Consequently, very few people have cultivated any kind of deep Psychological Mastery.
While unfortunate on a societal level, this means that those who are willing and able to do this to learn how to master their own psychology can leverage this ability in their work as a competitive advantage and rise to the tops of their fields, often outcompeting others who had significant early educational or financial advantages.This story is published in The Startup, Mediums largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 340,876 people. Subscribe to receive our top stories here RELATED QUESTION I didn't get Google Glass Explorer Edition.
Is trying to learn Glass dev without the hardware a futile effort? No, you can still learn the fundamentals of Glass development without the hardware. There are three main approaches for accomplishing this: 1) Visit the Mirror API documentation, get into the playground, and start hashing up some code.
Download the PHP, Java, and Python library, whichever you're most comfortable with. Familiarize yourself with the jargon and converntions (timeline, bundles, menus, etc). Read the support documentation (second link below) to see how the Glass hardware actually functions.
Build some apps to this specification. Soon enough, you will find a friend with hardware to t