The Mental Game in Everything

Do you want to improve or grow a new business venture? Do you want to become a better parent or life partner? Do you want to improve an aspect or area in your life?

It’s the mental discipline that will have the greatest impact in your life. And it’s your unconscious thinking patterns that sabotage your progress.

In the movie, “The Last Samurai,” Tom Cruise’s character learns the concept of “too many minds” which keeps him from succeeding during a practice fight. This is so often what happens in life.

When we’re overwhelmed with all we want to do and have to do, all the while juggling family and work responsibilities, we’re habitually mindless. As we go throughout our days, our minds are fractured, full of worry, self-doubt, and self-judgment.

These three books I’m showcasing include ideas to help improve mental performance in any activity or aspect of life.

The Inner Game of Tennis

Every game, even the game of life, is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game. There are many books offering instructions about the outer aspects of living. Timothy Gallwey, in his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, suggests, “that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game.”

Illuminating Quotes

“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. It is played to overcome all habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance.

“The player in [the game of life] comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills. The secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard. An individual aims at the kind of spontaneous performance which occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at one with the body, which finds its own surprising ways to surpass its own limits again and again.

“Moreover, while overcoming these common habits of mind, the player of the inner game uncovers a will to win which unlocks all his energy and which is never discouraged by losing.

“The best athletes in most sports know that their peak performance never comes when they’re thinking about it. Clearly to play unconsciously does not mean to play without consciousness.

“He is not aware of giving himself a lot of instructions. He is conscious, but not thinking, not over-trying. The unconscious or automatic functions are working without interference from thoughts.

“Perhaps a better way to describe the player who is “unconscious” is by saying that his mind is so concentrated, so focused, that it is still. As soon as we reflect, deliberate, and conceptualize, the original unconsciousness is lost and a thought interferes.

“Quieting the mind [whether in a game or in life] means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, or controlling.

“The mind is still when it is totally here and now in perfect oneness with the action and the actor. It is the purpose of the Inner Game to increase the frequency and the duration of these moments, quieting the mind by degrees and realizing thereby a continual expansion of our capacity to learn and perform.

“The first inner skill to be developed is that of nonjudgmental awareness. Judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions, and then to tightness, trying too hard, and self-condemnation.

“When we ‘unlearn’ judgment we discover that we may simply need to be more aware. There is a more natural process of learning waiting to be discovered.”

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Boys in the Boat

A second surprising book about the mental game in everything is Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This is an exciting, richly-detailed, and beautifully-crafted true story about the nine Americans from the University of Washington’s rowing crew that was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, let alone win an opportunity to row in the Olympics of 1936 held in Berlin where Hitler concealed his true intentions behind well-orchestrated propaganda.

The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his self-regard, but also to find a real place for himself in the world.

This book is about teamwork, and the boat builder, George Pocock’s wisdom is worthy of reading about if you’re interested in improving the mental game in your life.

Illuminating Quotes

“To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn’t necessarily enough just to give your all from start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally.

“When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something [your opponent] did not—that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not  yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted the most.

“There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. It’s called ‘swing’—that fourth dimension of rowing It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others.

“It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at the same time. Each minute action—each subtle turning of the wrists—must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman from the one end of the boat to the other.

“At the gun they got off slowly, falling behind all three other boats. Then something kicked in. Somehow determination conquered despair. They began to pull in long, sweet, precisely synchronized strokes.

“By the end of the first mile, they had found their swing and surged into the lead. For the remaining mile and a half, the sophomores settled in and rowed gorgeously—a long, sleek line of perfection, finishing a comfortable two lengths ahead.

“When you were done and walked aware from the boat, you had to feel that you had left a piece of yourself behind in it forever, a bit of your heart. Rowing is like that. And a lot of life is like that, too, the parts that really matter anyway.”

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The Energy of Money

The third book that explores the mental game in everything is The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth. She teaches about two realities: the physical with form, density, and size, and the metaphysical with information, ideas, inspiration, and intentions. With focused consciousness, we bring the metaphysical into the physical every day.

Illuminating Quotes

“When we bring ideas from the metaphysical into the physical, we bump into trouble at the border, an invisible line where old unresolved issues come up. What comes up are your fears and unfinished business.

“It takes energy to move the boulders away–clear away any barriers that would keep you focused so that you are able to take an idea or inspiration or dream past that trouble at the border fully and completely into physical reality.

“People who succeed have the same doubts and fears and worries as anyone else. They don’t spend time analyzing. They see that those doubts and fears aren’t relevant to who they are or their goals. They just keep going.

“Success is doing what you do with ease—a sense of fun, even if you’re working hard, versus doing what you want with struggle.

“Something else: your basic assumption is a decision you made many, many years ago about yourself or life–a reaction to threat. It occurs at a deep & cellular level: Fight (people are awful, you can’t make me), run away (I can’t; life is hard; I’m dumb), or freeze (I don’t know; I’m not sure).

“There are four steps to help you move past the trouble at the border: 1. Be willing to look—direct your attention towards your money issues, 2. Be willing to see—discern something that was there, perhaps in the background, 3. Allow yourself to tell the truth, and 4. Find the opportunity to take authentic action.

“To be financially successful is doing what you said you would do with money with ease. Make a promise about money using the four steps. Telling the truth gives you some breathing room.

“Monkey mind becomes very loud at the border, and tries to protect us. Say “thanks for sharing,” when monkey mind says this is stupid.

“To say probably, try, hope to be willing, or maybe is the language of fear. Yoda: there is no try—only do or do not. Yes or no is more conscious and brings clarity and ease. You are no longer able to fool yourself.

“Once you are conscious about your relationship with money (or anything else, for that matter), you can no longer pretend that you don’t know what you’re doing.”

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Each of these books illuminates the mental game in everything—whether in sports, about money, or the game of life. You are making choices every day—decisions that show how you are using your mind.

Either you’re making yourself crazy by consciously or unconsciously filling your mind with worry, doubts, and fears—feeding monkey mind, or you trust yourself and practice the empowering art of mindfulness.

You can find your peaceful center, the ability to stay in relaxed concentration; you can find your swing.

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