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The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis

The Inner Game of Tennis

You’ve always wanted to play tennis. The best way to learn is to enroll in a beginners course. To make it optimum effective you hire a private instructor. He stands next to you when you play and gives relevant instructions: bend your knees, hit the ball on the side, follow with the shot, move to the starting position, etc. If you just listen carefully and always do what he says, then you’ll soon be able to play the perfect game. Or maybe not?

In 1974 Tim Gallwey published the book The Inner Game of Tennis. He describes an unconventional way to learn new skills. Instead of constantly listening to detailed instructions, we must mentally step back and experience. Those detailed instructions that you want to get rid of don’t always come from a tennis instructor. Surprisingly, they often come from you. And they prevent your full potential.

Imagine that two persons live inside your mind. The first person continuously gives out orders and rates the outcome. Let’s call him Command-and-Control-Self, or C & C Self. The second person listens constantly and uncritically to C & C Self and tries to complete the orders. Everything he does is rated in a Good-to-Bad scale by C & C Self. We call the second person Obedient Self.

C & C Self’s chatter goes on and on and it prevents your natural feedback loop. You can’t focus while you constantly try to just follow orders. The first step is to disconnect this monologue; to get C & C Self to be quiet. The main trick in the Inner Game of Tennis is to get the mind to focus on something relevant and interesting, such as how the ball rotates, or how it flies. We step back and listen to the situation. How does it feel? What do we see? How does that sound? Then when we do act, we will let it just happen.

Without thinking about it, you have closed the feedback loop. You see, hear and feel what is going on and you let your body react to it. You have got rid of the concepts Good and Bad. Instead, you have built a trust in your body’s ability to self learn and carry out; without simultaneous involvement of the mind. You are listening to what is essential. You can only learn when you are aware of and feel your situation.


  1. Copy the flower in box Original to box #1. Try to make it look alike as much as possible.
  2. In step 1, you drew four petals. Regardless of the outcome, here are some questions: Did you try harder when the first petal wasn’t perfect? Did you criticize yourself when you were drawing the flower? Did you instruct your body when you drew the second, third and fourth petal (easy on the hand, pen to left now, etc.)? Take a look at one of the petals in box Original for 10-20 seconds. Close your eyes and then try to see it in your mind. Choose a proper color for it. Imagine how the petal sounds if it’s blowing in the wind. Then open your eyes and draw a large petal in box #2. Let the hand take control without the involvement of C & C Self.
  3. Now, copy the flower from the original box to box #3. Does it look better than the flower in box #1? You became the Inner Game superior in this exercise because you did not judge. Non-judgment approach to learning gives the best progress.



Po and crazy aunt at software development office

Convergent thinking: Our experiences help us to solve familiar problems. We use logical thinking to find a suitable solution in an efficient way. Unfortunately, our experiences are limited. They are not sufficient to solve all possible problems. When we lack relevant experience, they can instead become a barrier that prevents us from thinking outside the box.

Divergent thinking: With creative thinking, you generate ideas that are not based on your experiences. You don’t judge ideas while you generate them. Then when you have enough good ideas, you use your logical thinking to categorize, judge and prioritize them. But how can you generate ideas that are free from your experiences?

Po: provocative operation

Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking technique includes the concept Po. A Po is an idea which moves thinking into new unknown territory. You make a statement and see what the consequences are. The syllable “po” is found in English words like suppose, possible, and hypothesis—words that point forward. De Bono says that provocation goes hand in hand with movement and that’s why Po also can mean provocative operation. With Po you release all the crazy ideas:

  • Po cups have holes in their bottom
  • Po customers will have yellow t-shirts
  • Po blogs don’t have letters

Instead of judging the value and realism in a Po statement, you look for what is interesting about it, what is different in it and what this idea might lead to. Perhaps the crazy idea is a stepping stone to something new and successful.

Atelierista: the crazy aunt

Reggio Emilia is an Italian pedagogy for preschools. Every Reggio preschool has a centrally located place called Atelier. It is a place for experimentation and discovery. What makes Atelier so unique in child pedagogy is the person who works there: the Atelierista—a practicing artist. She has no training in pedagogy; she does not even work as a teacher. Think of her as the crazy aunt. She does things in a way that you really wasn’t taught to do.

“Creativity seems to emerge from multiple experiences, coupled with a well-supported development of human resources, including a sense of freedom to venture beyond the known”, wrote Reggio’s initial idea blacksmith Loris Malaguzzi. What workplaces can see the value in hiring people without any clear relation to the services or products produced—someone who is at the office only to inspire and create new ideas?

Consider this statement. Is it possible in your workplace?

  • Po software development companies has an Atelier with a Atelierista—a practicing artist, without knowledge of software development. She shows us crazy ideas.

Bibliography from Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

There are many references in Pomodoro Technique Illustrated. Below is a list of the books in the bibliography linked to Amazon. In a future post I will also put links to the referred articles and web sites.

How many of these have you read? Do you have any recommended reading for me?

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

The Now List

(This is an excerpt from the book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated)

In 1933 Hedwig von Restorff performed a set of memory experiments. Her conclusion was that an isolated item, in a list of otherwise similar items, would be better remembered. If I read a shopping list with one
item highlighted in azure blue, it’s more likely that I remember the highlighted item than any of the others. This is now identified as The
Von Restorff effect

The Now List is not another artifact in Pomodoro Technique® (created by Francesco Cirillo). It’s my name for a concept: what I give my attention to right now. The cardinality of my Now List is binary. Either I focus on 1 activity or 0 activities. It can
never be 2, 3, 4 or any other number of activities. Before I wind up the clock, I choose one single activity. My challenge during a 25 minute Pomodoro is to not give another activity attention for a minute or two.

The Von Restorff effect tells me that I can provoke my memory to store things that I highlight. I may use a highlighter felt-tip pen to mark the current activity on the To Do Today sheet. Or I can explicitly write the
activity title on a slip of paper and put it in front of me.

The Now List

The Now List

Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Screen timer for Pomodoro Technique®

Personally, I prefer an analog kitchen timer for Pomodoro Technique® (created by Francesco Cirillo). As I wrote in my book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated it will support an established pattern of gestures and reflexes.

However, since both individuals and the environments we work in differ, there are also screen timers. Many are targeted for Mac OS X, such as Renzo Borgatti’s Pomodori and Guillaume Cerquant’s TimeBoxed. Viktor Nordling’s Pomodairo on the other hand, is developed in Flex in order to reach both Linux, Windows, and OS X with Adobe’s desktop application runtime AIR. In addition to these three there are many other screen timers.

Below is a wish list for a screen timer. Some of these features are already available in Renzo’s, Guillaume’s, and Viktor’s timers.

  • Countdown instead of counting up time
  • Default 25 minutes, but configurable length
  • Title of each Pomodoro is saved in a file for statistical analysis
  • Configurable ring signal and volume, or alternatively, the clock goes on top of the screen when the time runs out
  • Title of the interruption is saved in a file for statistical analysis
  • Activity Inventory where new titles can be added both during and after a Pomodoro
  • Void Pomodori without saving to a file
  • Automatic counting up of time during the break – without timebox or ringing
  • P2P communication between team members’ screen timers:
    • See the title of your friends present Pomodoro
    • Delayed messaging to friend – appears in the recipient’s timer when it rings

If you have a developed a screen timer, please tell us about it in the Pomodoro Technique google group or in a comment to this blog post.

Pomodoro Timer

Pomodoro Timer

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Pomodoro Technique Illustrated -- New book from The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC

Colophon of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated

Recurrently, I’m asked about what tools I used to create the book Pomodoro Technique Illustrated. A colophon is a brief description describing production notes relevant to a edition of a book.

Here’s the Colophon of Pomodoro Technique Illustrated:

I made the drawings in an A6, top spiral, 80 sheets pad from Esselte. The pad is Nordic Swan environmentally labeled and the sheets has 5×5 mm squares, no holes, and wood free 60 gr/m2 paper.

I did the pencil drawings with a BIC Matic mechanical pencil with 0.7 mm HB leads. Then I added water color from a Color & Co paint set filled with 6 tempera blocks in Size 2 (Ø 57 mm and altitude 19 mm) and in the following colors: Gold Yellow, Carmine, Ultramarine, Brilliant Green, Black and White. Finally, I scanned them with a HP Photosmart 1200 Photo Scanner in 300 dpi, 24-bit color.

The spiral pad, the mechanical pencil, the watercolor paint set and the photo scanner are all inexpensive, simple tools. I’m convinced that the content, the ideas and the way something is explained is more important than the quality, the sophistication, and the price of the tools.

In the running text, I use Goudy Old Style, a serif typeface originally created by Frederic W. Goudy in 1916. Headlines have Franklin Gothic, a sans-serif typeface designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1902 and probably named after Benjamin Franklin.

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