THE INNER GAME OF LIFE. LESSONS LEARNED FROM TENNIS

“You have to be very focused on channeling your energy and this is what is going to give you success!” 

_Vasko Mladenov, Professional Tennis Player, National Champion 2017, Bulgaria 

The inner game of tennis is the inner game of life. It starts with focusing on what you are passionate about. Knowing why are you “in the game of life” is fundamental to channel your energy in the “right direction”. We are all programmed to think that we need to focus on what’s wrong, what doesn’t work well and to correct it. Why don’t we try to break the rules and focus on what we do right, what we are capable of doing, what our hidden and untapped potential is? Focusing on what doesn’t work is draining our energy.

Levar Harper-Griffith (Vasko Mladenov’s tennis coach) talks about focus and presence as key elements for effortless high tennis performance.

What does focus mean to you? Is this your mental capability to be 100% into what you are doing? What is the greatest distraction that might hinder your success as a professional athlete?

My personal experience and the research on effortless high performance I am doing are leading to an important finding. The elements, which improve our ability to focus and be 100% present at a given moment and which are very critical for success in professional sports and life are, these:

  • Knowing what you want – clarity (clarity allows focusing). This also relates to our capability of taking conscious decisions from a place of inner peace and harmony.
  • Knowing why you want it – purpose and passion

“The best players do not operate from a place of dramatic emotional swing. They are very composed. It is effortless. They are putting their heart and soul into running, into legs....”

_ Levar Harper-Griffith, Tennis Coach 

  • Having a quiet mind – know that what your mind is telling you is not the truth and learning to detach from the useless mental chatter, which is one of the biggest distractors and obstacles to effortless high performance.
  • Being curious (in a genuine way) towards what’s happening within and outside of you. Questioning with the “WHAT’s RIGHT Pattern” of questions shared below.

This relates to high levels of self-awareness. This is also a very good antidote of self- judgment and judgment in general of outside circumstances that occur in the environment and might affect your focus.

Self-judgment, judgment of circumstances and others clouds your clear mind. See the mind as the blue sky and judgment as a heavy black cloud, because it activates defensiveness, anger and frustration. These emotions are distracting you from the present moment, affecting your focus and create unfavorable conditions (weather patterns of the mind) that make the journey more complicated.

  • Having a wonderful body awareness, recognizing the body signals and your innate ability and intelligence to choose the best action in a moment of ambiguity. Call it intuition. On the tennis court you need to take very fast decisions under psychological pressure. Believing in your physical potential which is closely connected to your mental faculties is essential. Clearly understanding the link between those two is critical. What do you rely on when you have but seconds to take the best decision in an instant? Your intuitive mind, which is quite conscious! It processes information non-verbally, relying on pictures, patterns and feelings to express conclusions. The processing speed of the intuitive mind is too fast. The difference in processing speed between our analytical and intuitive mind is thought to be about 1:1000.
  • Being fearless

We have identified four phases in our work with Vasko Mladenov. All of those phases are essential for success and effortless high performance.

1.Preparation phase prior to a tournament – requires continuous inner work; developing high level of consciousness, exploring success patterns, stress reaction, inner psychological barriers and based on this creating his own formula for mental strength and focus, and emotional resilience.

2.Preparation phase prior to each tournament match. We have created a list of elements to go through prior to each match. We explore key elements like performance factor, energetic pattern, factors that influence presence and focus. We go through all the elements of the “inner game” to set the right mindset for success.

3.In the game – the player implements specific formula (customized for his own needs and inner challenges) based on prior “in the game awareness” and what works well for him. The goal is keeping the inner game on top – quiet mind – no judgment – trust in the innate capability of the body, hence, presence in the moment.

4.Post tournament / match phase – self- reflection in a quiet space implementing the “What’s Right Questioning” pattern, always learning and growing not only on a professional level through diligent practice, persistency and also on an inner level.

Playing the inner game of tennis is a never ending process. It occurs not only on the tennis court. It is a prerequisite to play at your best in life in general. What your passion and purpose is equals to what your life is. Are you currently at your best? How well do you play the inner game of life?

All these four phases we created so that he learns how to “win” the inner game of tennis first. Once you learn to play well the “inner game”, you flow effortlessly and naturally (without force) reach the outer results (success measured in terms of won matches and championships)

Instead of filling the gap we are exploring with curiosity ourselves at our best.

A powerful set of questions was introduced from Kurt Wright in his book Breaking The Rules. This is an extended look that building on strengths really works in practice.

Let us give it a try:

The initial question is simply “What’s right?”, “What’s working?” 

  • The intent of this question is to help you identify something that is working so well that it deserves further study.
  • Right here is definitely not right/wrong form of RIGHT. It represents a “slogan” for potential.
  • The effortless high performers always identify something deserving of further inquiry

Next “What makes it RIGHT?” or “Why does it work?” 

  • Imagine you are a 3-year-old curious child that is fascinated about life itself.
  • This question is energy-generating and insight-producing
  • It works to transform knowledge into wisdom
  • “Why” is a probing question inter-linking all accumulated pieces of data in our intuition from our experience.

Third “What would be ideally right?” 

  • This is the vision building question, processed by the analytical mind
  • Finding the answer of this question generates a lot of creative energy to fill in the vacuum created as a result of searching for the answer.
  • Hence, the feeling of emptiness that develops around the vacuum has an extremely close resemblance to pain. Some of us tend to run from the truth. Effortless high performers however know that truth always comes out of pain, which is a natural feeling in the process of growth.

• What would the ideal “tennis match” look like?

Fourth “What’s not yet quite right?” – sounds quite different from “What’s wrong” question. Instead the fourth question is an attempt to more precisely define the edges of the unknown in a way that gives it more power to attract the perfect solution.

Last “What resources can I find to make it right?” – This last question serves as a magical focusing question to guide constructive action.

No matter what your area of expertise is, playing the inner game of life is a prerequisite for success on all levels – professional and personal.

Where is your focus? On what’s working well or what’s not working? Challenge yourself and try to find your answers.