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February 20, 2009


I've been playing tennis since I was a kid and "The Inner Game of Tennis" really opened my eyes. I love that you mention this book in "Pragmatic Thinking and Learning" as well.

There are certainly many examples in sports about not overthinking. My favorite (and this happens to me every time I play tennis) is when a first serve comes at me at (literally) 100 mph, but I know from the ball's trajectory that it will land out. I hit a return anyway because the ball is coming so fast that the movement is automatic. But in that split second where my brain realizes that the ball is out -- and so the shot doesn't count -- it does not place any importance on the shot and it shuts off. This inevitably results in a beautifully hit return, because the brain gets out of the way and lets the body react naturally.

That's when everything breaks down. The brain sees the shot and says "wow, what a great shot! And now I'm looking at a second serve, which will be slower, so I can definitely hit as good a shot, or even better!" You know the rest -- the brain starts shouting "you can hit a great return! Get on that ball and whack it!", you tense up, the balls comes slower (a curse in disguise, because that gives you even more time to overthink about it), and you miss the return. You walk across the court in disbelief: how could you miss what was supposed to be an easier shot?

Sometimes I'm able to play a game where I find that perfect balance you talk about, and my brain stays out of the way. The joy I get from that natural feeling of just hitting shots "without even thinking about it" is close to euphoria, AKA "The Zone".

Cheers Andy.

I'm a runner. In one of my most memorable races; I had just returned from an injury and was not in the best shape. But I decided to repeat one single word throughout the race: "effort". As I chanted "effort" in my brain, I ran an incredible race and missed out on a personal best time.

Nice one Frederic. Anyway good post Adny.

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  • Andy Hunt is co-founder of The Pragmatic Programmers, LLC, and is well known as a programmer, author, and publisher. His email signature, "/\ndy", dates back to the paleolithic days of uucp and ihnp4.

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