DRMacIver's Notebook

The Inner Pedestal of Tennis

The Inner Pedestal of Tennis

From The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey, page 129:

I have been my own worst stressor. But slowly I have found that the demands I'm trying to fulfill when I'm stressing myself are not really my own, but ones I have "picked up" or "bought into" for perhaps no better reason than I heard them early in life, or because they seemed to be so generally accepted. Soon they begin to sound right - and are therefore easier to listen to than the subtle but insistent urging of my own being.

I think this gets to the heart of my disagreement with Gallwey, which largely stems from the fact that in this paragraph almost every word he says is wrong.

Indeed, I think this book is entirely a giant bait and switch: He makes the (mostly) useful distinction between (ugh) "Self 1", the teller, and "Self 2", the doer. This is a reasonable split which is useful in many circumstances. I don't necessarily think it's a true split, but it works pretty well for about 90% of cases.

Unfortunately he then goes on to posit that:

  1. Self 1 is intrinsically dysfunctional.
  2. Self 2 is intrinsically functional.
  3. Every other binary split of your self, including "the bad bits" and "the good bits" also lines up with this distinction.

Every single one of these premises is badly wrong. It is certainly true for many people that Self 1 is dyfunctional and Self 2 is functional, but those dysfunctions are not intrinsic and treating them as such is actively harmful. The third is just intrinsically nonsense and is the sign of someone with an explain everything theory.

All of these errors manifest in this paragraph.

Anyway, specifically what he is wrong about in this paragraph boils down to two important glaring errors:

  1. Almost everything in you is learned from outside of you. That's not you listening to things that are "not really your own". That is how being a person works. We socially construct our knowledge and behaviours by engaging with the people around us. You are complaining about being a person, Tim.
  2. The arising internally/learned externally split of your behaviour in no way maps on to the self 1 / self 2 distinction. Self 2 absolutely learns and internalises lessons from the outside world. That's what trauma, and emotional responses more broadly, are. This is why operant conditioning works.

I mean FFS, really.

I listen to a lot of Therapist Uncensored and an interesting theme that keeps coming up listening to it is that they're also quite into a similar split to Self 1 vs Self 2 (they tend to neurowash it and refer to it by parts of the brain, but that's neither here nor there), but they think that Self 2 is the dysfunctional one and that a lot of the skills they're trying to learn are essentially trying to use Self 1 to help Self 2 heal from its entrained fear reactions.

I think here I must adopt my usual brand of fence sitting: Actually, both sides are wrong.

Self 1 and Self 2 each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and you cannot operate as a fully healthy human being without:

  1. A functional Self 1.
  2. A functional Self 2.
  3. A functional relationship between the two.

Self 2 needs to give Self 1 a hug, and Self 1 needs to help Self 2 to talk about its feelings. They're literally both in this together, and they should behave as such.

The relationship is the important part, and Gallwey's framing basically fucks up any chance of a healthy relationship.

Putting someone on a pedestal basically dooms any possibility of a healthy relationship with them, and this is what we are doing when we claim Self 2 is in some sense intrinsically whole and just needs to be let free. Self 2 is wrong all the time and that's OK. It's wrong in ways that Self 1 is good at helping it resolve. Self 1 does tend to get a bit neurotic if left in control, it's true, but Self 2 just needs to give it a bit of a hug and tell it to calm down and let the body do its thing (I've not yet figured out a better tool for this than actual hugs unfortunately).