Use It or Lose It

In the wild, doing whatever it takes to conserve energy is a crucial survival mechanism. But in a world where all our needs are met, it makes us very lazy and fragile.

We all know this, but our solution is usually to dedicate time to “train” our body and brain. Much of the training is domain dependent. (Head nod to Nassim Taleb on this concept.) It only makes us better at that specific task. For example, brain-training games only make us better at that game. Bicep curls make us better at curling weight with perfect grips that you would rarely encounter in the real world.

Domain independent activities, on the other hand, make us more resilient across many fields. For example, squats and other heavyweight compound movements, translate to other activities like wheelbarrowing dirt around your garden. Practicing mathematical proofs teaches us how to break down complex things into their fundamental parts; something useful when planning complex work projects.

It makes sense then to focus our dedicated training to domain independent activities. Then use our everyday lives to integrate domain dependent training. Even better, the holy grail is to integrate domain independent activities into our everyday lives.

Arguably “useless” activities that you do for the sake of doing them are exempt from this philosophy, e.g., playing the piano.

Below is just a quick example of seemingly mundane domain independent and dependent activities that make us more resilient (and, to some degree, antifragile) with little adjustment.

  • Set all passwords to letters and special characters that you struggle to type without looking instead to ASDFJKL-laden characters
    Benefits/other domains: improve keyboard navigation and finger dexterity
  • In the moment, memorize the 4 digit bulk food “walnuts” code instead of writing it on the twisty label
    Benefits/other domains: improve ability to chunk information, less time in bulk food aisle, practice keeping multiple things in your head
  • Build a mental model of the city in your head instead of relying on your phone GPS
    Benefits/other domains: less phone reliance, improve hippocampus health, spatial memory, and situational awareness
  • Take the stairs everywhere. I can’t think of a more effective way of keeping you young.
    Benefits/other domains: get places quicker, improve cardio health, mood, and hiking endurance
  • Shovel snow by hand instead of using a snow blower
    Benefits/other domains: save money, improve cardio and muscular health, increase cold adaptation
  • Carry a grocery basket instead of pushing a cart
    Benefits/other domains: improve arm and grip strength, less time in grocery store
  • Use a fork with your non-dominant hand
    Benefits/other domains: increase weak hand dexterity, appreciate our fine motor skills
  • Use a map and compass while hiking instead of a phone app
    Benefits/other domains: improve presence and situational awareness, emergency navigation, less phone reliance
  • Absorb beautiful moments with your senses instead of taking photos/videos
    Benefits/other domains: improve appreciation, presence, and situational awareness

What are more examples of what you can do through your everyday lives that make you a better you?

Use It or Lose It

Why is your Value

We were walking down the fairway on a sun-filled morning with the ocean screaming into the cliffs to our right. The old man struggling to walk along next to me hesitantly asked, “so what do you do for work that you can afford to play this course at your age?”

At $700 for the privilege, it was a mostly valid question. I’d teased out of him earlier in the morning that this was his bucket list dream for decades and he and his wife were spending 3 nights in the attached lodge for $600 a night.

I ignored the work part of the question, which I thought irrelevant, and said, “Easy! I’m staying in the hostel for the $75 a week rate. You can’t beat a week-long trip to Carmel and a round at Pebble Beach for 800 bucks!”

I could feel the air pressure change from his sudden deflated opinion of me.  Disappointed that I wasn’t some prodigy venture capitalist but rather some dirtbag golfer, we didn’t say much after that.

We both pitied each other. He delayed playing the course for when he was out of his prime because he believed he had to spend over $3000 for the honor of playing the course—and sleeping next to it. Because that is. Just. What. You. Do. But he and I knew he was there for the golf, not the turn-down service.

If people really questioned what they value in things, they would see that things are more attainable than they really think.

Do you value the second home and its accoutrements deep in the woods? Or the solitude and feeling of living like a pioneer in the midst of a winter blizzard? AirBnb can give you the latter, which in most cases is what you truly value, at a life-altering discount.

If you quietly sit in a chair, take a walk, or an extra long shower—with no distractions—and keep asking yourself why you want something until you no longer can break it down further, you’ll get to the core value that you desire. Throw away all the superfluous baggage that society says you need and instead live a life full of your values.

Why is your Value

Book notes: Where Good Ideas Come From

by Steven Johnson

Seven Patterns


Ideas are works of bricolage.

First-order combinations build on each other. New combinations users new combinations into the adjacent possible.

When ideas are “ahead of their time”, the first-order ingredients are not completely in place. E.g., Babbage’s Analytical Engine.

The trick is to get more spare parts on the table to use as first-order ingredients.


Networks to be effective: 1) need to have sheer size 2) must be very plastic and adaptable.

Carbon-life is so likely because abundance of molecules and the number of configurations that molecules can connect to it.

Must be at the edge of chaos: the fertile zone between too much order and too much anarchy

Information spillover: when sharing a culture in a high-density environment ideas tend to flow from mind to mind.

Talking shop: Most important ideas emerge during regular lab meetings, where researchers huddle around a conference table and informally present and discuss their latest work.

Work environments need to straddle balance between chaos and order. Modular office space is ideal.


Secret to hunch cultivation is to WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN.

The commonplace book is a fine line between order and chaos. You don’t want too much organization. Categories build barriers between disparate ideas.

In the past, reading and writing were inseparable activities. Reading was cross-referenced with other books.


The more disorganized your brain is, the smarter you are.

The electric noise of the chaos mode allows the brain to experiment with new links between neurons that ould otherwise fail to connect in more orderly settings. The phase-lock mode is where the brain executes an established plan or habit. The chaos mode is where the brain assimilates new information, explores strategies for responding to a changed situation. Chaos mode is a kind of background dreaming: a wash of noise that makes new connections possible.

Serendipity needs unlikely collision and discoveries, but it also needs something to anchor those discoveries.


  • Go for a walk, take long showers, or soak in tubs
  • Batch read from varied collections in a condensed amount of time to assimilate new ideas
  • Avoid the Filter Bubble
  • Make a Commonplace Book


Penicillin from mold due to science experiment mistake.

The errors of the great mind exceed in number those of the less vigorous one.

Sheer quantity ultimately leads to quality.

Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.

Good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.

DNA mutation introduces noise and opens up the adjacent possible. There’s a small but stable error rate in DNA transcoding that is an optimal balance between too much mutation and too much stability.

Mutation rate in human germ cells is roughly one in thirty million base pairs. This means genetic inheritance from parents to child comes with roughly 150 mutations.

Stress causes more mutation to occur. More mutations when life is a struggle may give just the advantage needed to survive. But is tempered by sex.


Gutenberg press was made possible by the wine press—borrowing a mature technology from an entirely different field, and putting to work to solve an unrelated problem.

Examptation: an organism develops a trait optimized for a specific use, but then the trait gets hijacked for a completely different function.


  • symmetrical feathers provide insulation. Assymetrical feathers act as an airfoil. A feather adapted for warmth is now exapted for flight
  • vacuum tube adapted to make signals louder, exapted to turn those signals into information
  • hyperlinks adapted for navigation, exapted for assessing quality via PageRank
  • narrative writing devices like stream of consciousness adapted for specific use, exapted as a new genre
  • skeuomorphism: desktop with pieces of paper exapted as graphical interface in computers

All decisive events in the history of scientific thought can be described in terms of mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines.

Concepts from one domain migrate to another as a kind of structuring metaphor, thereby unlocking some secret door that had long been hidden from view.

Cities are environments that are ripe for exaptation, because they cultivate specialized skills and interests, and they create a liquid network where information can leak out of those subcultures, and influence their neighbors in surprising ways.

Third place, a connective environment distinct from the more insular world of home or office. Coffeehouses. Breeding ground for cross-fertilization.

Diverse fields of expertise, horizontal social networks are three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks.

Weak Ties Across Disparate Fields

A new technology developed in one idea-space can migrate over to another idea-space through these long-distance connections; in that new environment, the technology may turn out to have unanticipated properties, or may trigger a connection that leads to a new breakthrough.

Apple’s concurrent or parallel production: all the groups—design, manufacturing, engineering, sales—meet continuously through the product-development cycle, brainstorming, trading ideas and solutions, strategizing over the most pressing issues, and generally keeping the conversation open to a diverse group of perspectives.

Have lots of hobbies

Ben Franklin was a dilettante in many fields.

One project takes center stage for a series of hours or days, yet the other projects linger in the margins of consciousness throughout. That cognitive overlap is what makes this mode so innovative. The current project can exapt ideas from the projects at the margins. Allow the mind to move through multiple boxes. Moving from box to box forces the mind to approach intellectual roadblocks from new angles, or to borrow tools from one discipline to solve problems in another.


The platform builders and ecosystem engineers do not just open a door in the adjacent possible. They build an entire new floor.

Example: advent of GPS (by tracking Sputnik) has allowed Web 2.0 mashups; leading to APIs.

The Web is a layers upon layers of platforms.

Genres supply a set of implicit rules that have enough coherence that traditionalists can safely play inside them, and more adventurous artists can confound our expectations by playing with them. Genres are the platforms and paradigms of the creative world.

THE FOURTH QUADRANT (Non-Market/Network)

It is in the nature of good ideas to stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them. This means is fundamentally a network affair.

Matrix based on Market/Non-Market and Individual/Network

The more the government thinks of itself as an open platform instead of a centralized bureaucracy, the better it will be for all of us, citizens and activists and entrepreneurs alike.

E.g., initiative.

All the patterns of innovation—liquid networks, slow hunches, serendipity, noise, exaptation, emergent platforms—do best in open environments where ideas flow in unregulated channels.

When you introduce financial rewards into a system, barricades and secrecy emerge, making it harder for the open patterns of innovation to work their magic.

Universities have ivory-tower isolation from the real world, but most of the paradigmatic ideas in science and technology have roots in academic research.

Fourth-quadrant innovation creates a new open platform that commercial entities can then build upon, either by repackaging and refining the original breakthrough, or by developing emergent innovations on top of the underlying platform.

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. —Thomas Jefferson

The natural state of ideas is flow and spillover and connection.

In summary: Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, reinvent.

Book notes: Where Good Ideas Come From

Book notes: Algorithms to Live By

by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths

Optimal Stopping

37% Rule / The Secretary Problem / Marriage Problem
The optimal stopping rule prescribes always rejecting the first 37% of applicants after the interview and then stopping at the first applicant who is better than every applicant interviewed so far (or continuing to the last applicant if this never occurs). You will get the best candidate 37% of the time following this algorithm.

Merge Sort and Binary Search


Least Recently Used (LRU) Caching adaptations in the real world

  • Noguchi Filing System
  • Valet stand for most often used clothing
  • Library front book display area

Computational Kindness / Load (don’t make me think!)

  • Car parking starting from closest to store – first available space is the best (instead of using 37% rule)
  • Pick a few restaurants to choose from
  • Choose a few date/times for meetings
  • Bus stop with next bus arrival time sign
  • Block vs Spin: Restaurant wait-list vs open seating policy

pp. 259-261


  • Washing clothes: shortest washing times at the start, and shortest drying times at the end

Bayes’s Rule

Laplace’s law – estimate probability of future event based on previous results. The expectation is the number of previous wins plus one, divided by the number of attempts plus two:

(w)ins + 1

(n)umber of attempts + 2

Example: you flip heads 4 times out of 7 attempts. So 4 + 1 divided by 7 + 2 equals 5/9 or 56% chance. The more previous attempts, the more accurate the prediction.

This can be used to calculate the chance that the bus is late, baseball team will win, or things with much more previous results like chance baby is boy or girl or the sun will rise.

Copernican Principle or Mediocrity Principle (Bayes’ Rule without priors) – unless we know better (from priors) we can expect to have shown up precisely halfway into the the duration of any given phenomenon.

E.g., USA will most likely last another 250 years or so; Google until 2032; 7 days since last accident on the job, 7 days until next accident; bear activity in campground 10 days ago, bear again in 10 days. Looking at serial number on tram, double the number to make best estimate of number of trams

  • Normal distribution curve – lifespan of humans
  • Use Average Rule

  • Power-law distribution curve – average mean income in US
  • Use Multiplicative Rule

  • Erlang distribution curve – amount of time politicians stay in office
  • Use Additive Rule


Occam’s Razor – all things being equal, the simplest possible hypothesis is probably the correct one

Regularization solves the problem when things aren’t completely equal.

Regularization – introduce an additional term to your calculations that penalizes more complex solutions

Early Stopping is a form or regularization that forces you to stop thinking so much by limiting the number of variables that over-complicate things

E.g., Use a thick pen when designing something on paper at first so you don’t put in unnecessary details.

Darwin’s pro / con list got too detailed with too many pros and cons. He could have settled for just a few of the most important ones and made a good decision there.

How to stop a pro/con list? Perhaps by the of the page.


The perfect is the enemy of the good. —Voltaire

Constraint Relaxation – remove some of the problem’s constraints and set about solving the problem you wish you had. Then, after making a certain amount of headway, try to add the constraints back in.

For example, in the traveling salesman problem, allow salesman visit same town more than once or let him retrace his steps.

Relax constraints to get a good enough solution for solving life’s most vexing questions:

  • What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
  • What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • What would you do if all jobs paid the same?
  • What would you do ifyou could not fail?

Continuous Relaxation – most are discrete optimization problmes. No smooth continuum among its solutions. No shades of gray. Possible solution is to convert discrete to a continuous optimization. Instead of sending 100 invitations, send 50 to those with most connections who will everyone else. You turn whole numbers into fractions and do lots of rounding.

Lagrangian Relaxation – an optimization problems has two parts: Rules and Scorekeeping. Take some of the problem’s constraints and bake them into the scoring system instead. That is, we take the impossible and downgrade it to costly. Allows you to color outside the lines at some cost.

E.g., sports scheduling, overfilling wedding tables,


Three Tradeoffs: time, space, and CERTAINTY

Bloom filters – comes up with an answer which saves time and space but trades off error probablility

E.g., check to see if URL already one of 70 trillion cached URLs before caching. Bloom filter will give fast result with a 2% to 3% chance that it’s wrong


Exponential Backoff – increasing the average delay after every successive failure. maximum delay length forms an exponential progression

Game Theory

Recursion – part of bluffing; you know that they know that you know; but make sure to play only one level above your opponent

Book notes: Algorithms to Live By

Book notes: Smarter Faster Better

by Charles Duhigg


Snap out of situations where you get cognitive tunnel vision. Assess the problem and put in a mental model that makes sense for the situation.

Example: Qantas Flight 32 – so many engines and flight controls were failing that it was overwhelming. Instead of continuing with practiced scenarios and fixes, he scrapped everything and changed his mental model to a small prop Cessna. He just needed to get the plane to stall just as it touched the ground.


Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis

Reefs, forests, etc are teeming with life due to fluctuating disturbances (i.e., lightning strike, spring floods (riparian zones), medium-sized waves, etc).

Somewhat related:

The most vibrant things are at the edge. Where two disparate things meet. The meadow and the forest.

Formula to the Creative Process:

  1. Use previous experiences – how did you feel during these experiences
  2. Creative desperation – time crunches make us flexible enough to seize something new
  3. Maintain some distance – force ourselves to critique what we’ve already done. Look at it from a completely different perspective. Disturbances are essential, and we retain clear eyes by embracing destruction and upheaval as long it’s the right size.

Absorbing Data

Mental Scaffolding / Filing

Example of choosing wine by year, color, varietal, price.

Creating Disfluency

Force yourself to manipulate the raw data and come up with meaningful trends. Don’t rely on fancy programs that does all the heavy lifting for you. Use spreadsheets.

Write things down by hand. The harder it is the better. Come up with your own sentences INSTEAD of copying verbatim. Draw things out.

This is mentioned elsewhere as “desirable difficulties.” Write things by hand. Don’t copy and paste. Make flashcards.

Book notes: Smarter Faster Better

Book notes: The Inner Game of Tennis

by Timothy Gallwey

The four basic skills in the Inner Game

  1. Letting go of judgments
  2. Art of creating images
  3. Letting it happen
  4. Concentration

Must be consciously unconsciously doing the task at hand.

The player who is “unconscious” has a mind so concentrated, so focused that it is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing, and the unconscious or atumatic functions are working without interference from thoughts.

The art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to.

The Two Selves

Self 1 (the Teller) and Self 2 (the Doer) are two separate persons.

Self 1 tightens the cheek muscles and purses the lips when hitting a backhand in attempted concentration. But that isn’t needed to hit a backhand.

Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though it embodies all the potential you have developed up to that moment and is far more competent to control the muscle system than Self 1.

Getting it together mentally involves several internal skills that overcome “trying too hard”:

  1. learning how to get the clearest possible picture of your desired outcomes
  2. learning how to trust Self 2 to perform at its best and learn from both successes and failures
  3. learning to see “nonjudgmentally”—to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening

The above skills are subsidiary to the master skill: the art of relaxed concentration.

Quieting Self 1

Embrace childlikeness again.

Don’t generalize. Instead of judging a single event as “another bad backhand,” it starts thinking, “You have a terrible backhand.”

First the mind judges the event, then groups events, then identifies with the combined event and finally judges itself. They end up becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.

Judgment begins when the serve is labeled “bad” and causes interference with one’s playing when a reaction of anger, frustration, or discouragement follows. Judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions and then to tightness, trying too hard, self-condemnation, etc. This process can be slowed by using descriptive but nonjudgmental words to describe the events you see.

The first step is to see your strokes as they are. They must be perceived clearly. Without personal judgment.

When the mind is free of any thought or judgment, it is still and acts like a mirror.

Awareness of What Is

In tennis you must know where the ball is and where the racket head is.

You watch the ball but you must feel where you racket head is. Feeling it gives you the knowledge of where it is. Knowing where it should be isn’t feeling where it is. Knowing what your racket didn’t do isn’t feeling where it is. Feeling where it is is knowing where it is.

Don’t rely on reminder phrases to repeat good results. Eventually it will stop working. Instead observe the racket with detachment and interest. You will feel what it is actually doing and your awareness increases. Then, without any effort to correct, you will discover that the swing begun to develop a natural rhythm.

Self 1 is always looking for approval and wanting to avoid disapproval, this subtle ego-mind sees a compliment as a potential criticism.

When we “unlearn” judgment we discover, usually with some surprise, that we don’t need the motivation of a reformer to change “our bad” habits.

Acknowledgment of one’s own or another’s strengths and efforts can facilitate natural learning, whereas judgments interfere. What’s the difference? Acknowledgment of and respect of one’s capabilities support trust in Self 2. Self 1’s judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.

Trusting Self 2

Self 2 inner intelligence learns with childlike ease. Respect it.

“Trying too hard” is what happens when Self 1 doesn’t trust Self 2. This results in using too many muscles and mental distraction and lack of concentration.

Trusting your body in tennis means letting your body hit the ball.

Letting it happen is not making it happen. Nor trying or controlling. Those are Self 1 verbs. They produce tight muscles, rigid swings, awkward movements, gritted teeth and tense cheek muscles. Resulting in mishit balls and frustration.

Swinging a golf club hard usually involves tensing your muscles. But go at a calm speed and let the club swing and the ball ends up going the same distance with half the effort. Do not identify with your swing. You are not your bad swing.

When first learning to swing let it learn, then once your body knows how just let it happen. Self 2 when adapt and learn from bad swings.

So the beginner’s secret is: allow the natural learning process to take place and to forget about stroke-by-stroke self-instructions.

First, WATCH. Absorb visually the image in front of you. This image completely bypasses the ego-mind, and seems to be fed directly to the body. Then you feel how it is to imitate those images. Then do.

Three ways to communicate with Self 2

Sensory imagery is Self 2’s native tongue.

1. Ask for Results

Don’t try to hit the ball. Just ask Self 2 to do it and let it happen. Don’t make any conscious effort to correct. Simply let go and see what happens.

Give Self 2 a clear visual image of the results you desire.

2. Asking for Form

First you must give Self 2 a very clear image of what you are asking it to do. This can be done by holding your racking in front of you in a proper follow-through position and looking at it with undivided attention for several seconds. You may feel foolish, BUT it is vital to give Self 2 an image to imitate.

Then before hitting balls, swing the racket several times, letting the racket stay flat and allowing your self to experience how it feels to swing in this new way. Once you start to hit balls, it is important not to try and keep your racket flat. You have asked Self 2 to keep it flat, so let it happen! Self 1’s only role is to be still and observe the results in a detached manner. Very important to not consciously try to keep the racket flat.

3. Asking for Qualities

Play the role of a pro. Adopt professional mannerisms and swing the racket with supreme self-assurance. Above all, your face must express no self-doubt.

Of the four styles of tennis (defensive, aggressive, all-about-style, hustler) choose to adopt the style that is most unlike the one you previously adopted. This will greatly increase a player’s range.

Discovering Technique

Instructions are relative and need to be expressed in your own experiential terms.

The best use of technical knowledge is to communicate a hint toward a desired destination. The hint can be delivered verbally or demonstrated in action, but it is best seen as an approximation of a desirable goal to be discovered.

Changing Habits

Groove theory of habits: Instead of digging your way out of old deeply-entrenched grooves/habits, start new ones!

It is the resisting of an old habit that puts you in that trench. Starting a new pattern is easy when done with childlike disregard for imagined difficulties.

Making a Change

  1. Nonjudgmental Observation
  2. Just observe the habit that you want to change without making any adjustments. Notice all aspects of it. After 5 minutes of observing you will notice what change might make most sense. Let yourself feel the change most desired, then observe a few more times.

  3. Picture the Desired Outcome
  4. Picture your serve with more power. Perhaps watch the motion of someone with more power. Don’t overanalyze. Just absorb and try to feel what he feels. Then imagine yourself hitting the ball with power, using the stroke natural to you. In your mind’s eye, picture yourself serving, filling in as much visual and tactile detail as possible.

  5. Trust Self 2
  6. Begin serving but don’t make any conscious effort to control the stroke. Resist temptation to hit the ball harder. Simple let your serve begin to serve itself. Having asked for more power, just let it happen. Keep Self 1 out of it. Be patient and trust the process. Letting it happen doesn’t mean going limp; it means letting Self 2 use only the muscles necessary for the job. Be willing to allow Self 2 to make changes withing changes, until a natural groove is formed.

  7. Nonjudgmental Observation of Change and Results
  8. Watch the results calmly and experience the process. If you feel you want to help, DON’T! By so doing, concentration is best achieved. Important to still have lack of concern of where ball is going. Serve until you have reason to believe that a groove has been established. To test the groove, serve a few balls solely attending to the ball. If the serve is serving itself, then a groove has been started and used. Don’t intellectualize it.

Self 1 wants to return the next day so that it thinks it deserves the credit. It’s ego satisfaction.

Concentration: Learning to Focus

While performing well under the relaxed concentration of Self 2, Self 1 wants to gain credit. Self 1 thinks about how it did it, make a formula out of it and thus bring it into Self 1’s domain where it can feel in control.

Death knell: “I’ve found the secret to the serve.”

You must let it go. But it is hard. How to do it?

To still the mind one must learn to put it somewhere. It cannot just be let go; it must be focused. As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. Practice is needed to learn this art.

In tennis, the ball is the most practical object to focus on.

The focused mind only picks up on those aspects of a situation that are needed to accomplish the task at hand. It is not distracted by other thoughts or external events, it is totally engrossed in whatever is relevant in the here and now.

1. Watching the ball

The most effective way to deepen concentration through sight is to focus on something subtle, not easily perceived. Notice the seams of a ball as it spins. Things slow down. The mind forgets to try too hard.

To prevent boredom of seam-watching, be endlessly curious. Be an empty cup.

Bounce-hit exercise. Say “bounce” when ball bounces off ground, and “hit” when ball hits racket.

Notice the flight of the ball before and after each hit.

Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. Not staring or forcing focus. No squinting or straining.

2. Listening to the ball

Listen for the sweet spot. The crack.

Practice of listening to the ball is best used during practice. Then during a match you’ll automatically listen for the right sound.

3. Feeling

Must know where the ball and racket is. The critical time to know the position of the racket is when it is behind you.

The greatest attention should be placed on the feel of your arm and hand at the moment just before they swing forward to meet the ball.

Become aware of rhythm.

Focus on the feel of the ball at impact. Notice subtle differences.

It’s almost impossible to feel or see anything well if you are thinking about how you should be moving. Forget shoulds and experience is.

Notice these three senses one at a time and at your own rhythm.


Attention is focused consciousness.

Must learn to to focus awareness in the now. The greatest lapses in concentration come when we allow our minds to project what is about to happen or to dwell on what has already happened.

Alertness is a measure of how many nows you are alert to in a given period.

The critical time is between points! The mind leaves its focus on the ball and is free to wander. Focus on the the breath between points to prevent leaving the now.

Getting into the zone is a gift you receive by giving your effort.

Our desire that things be different from what they are pulls our minds into an unreal world, and consequently we are less able to appreciate what the present has to offer. You must resolve these conflicting desires to attain a concentrated state.

Games People Play

Three main games with sub-games. They all have their aim, motive, and external and internal obstacles. (see p. 94 for details):

  1. Good-o

    Aim: To achieve excellence

    Motive: To prove oneself “good”

    • Perfect-o
    • Compete-o
    • Image-o
  2. Friends-o

    Aim: To make or keep friends

    Motive: Desire for friendship

    • Status-o
    • Togetherness-o
    • Wife-o
  3. Health-o–Fun-o

    Aim: Mental or physical health or pleasure

    Motive: Health and/or fun

    • Health-o
    • Fun-o
    • Learn-o

Most end up playing a version of Good-o. We live in an achievement-oriented society where people tend to be measured by their competence.

The value of a human being cannot be measured by performance or by another arbitrary measurement.

What’s the worst that can happen? What’s the best that can happen? What do I want to happen?

The need to prove yourself is based on insecurity and self-doubt.

The basic meaning of winning:

Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.

In competition, the duty of your opponent is to create the greatest possible difficulties for you. He is your friend. True competition is identical with true cooperation. No person is defeated. All players benefit by their efforts to overcome their obstacles.

This attitude in action: instead of hoping your opponent is going to double-fault, you actually wish that he’ll get his first serve in.

Thank him for the fight he put up.

Play your competitor’s weak backhand so he improves.

Play every point to win. Don’t worry about winning or losing the match, but rather whether or not I am making the maximum effort during every point.

Maximum effort does not mean Self 1 over-trying. It means concentration, determination, and trusting your body to “let it happen.” Competition and cooperation become one.

It’s the process, not the results

For the player of the Inner Game, it is the moment-by-moment effort to let go and to stay centered in the here-and-now action which offers the real winning and losing, and this game never ends.

All great things are achieved by great effort, but first decide if the reward on the other side is worth the effort.

The Inner Game off the Court

Several inner skills, chiefly the art of letting go of self-judgments, letting Self 2 do the hitting, recognizing and trusting the natural learning process, and above all gaining some practical experience in the art of relaxed concentration.

At first you learn to focus to improve your tennis, BUT then you practice tennis to improve your focus. It’s a shift of mindset away from the external to the internal.

There’s the outer game played against the obstacles presented by an external opponent and played for external prizes; the Inner Game, played against internal mental and emotional obstacles for the reward of knowledge and expression of one’s true potential. Both will happen at same time, which one will you give priority?

Building Inner Stability

Perhaps the most indispensable tool for humans is the ability to remain calm in the midst of rapid and unsettling changes.

Inner stability is achieved by acquiring the ability to see the true nature of what is happening and to respond appropriately.

Instability is result of Self 1 distorting the perception of the event. Then taking misguided action which leads to further undermining our inner balance. A vicious cycle.

The key to handling stress is to build your Self 2’s stability. The stronger it gets, the more it will take to throw you off balance, and the quicker you can regain your balance.

The cause of most stress is attachment. Self 1 gets so dependent upon things, situations, people, and concepts within its experience that when change occurs, it feels threatened.

Freedom from stress involves being able to let go of anything, and know that one will still be all right.

First step to inner stability is to acknowledge that there is an inner self that has inherent needs of its own. Self 2 wants to enjoy, to learn, to understand, appreciate, go for it, rest, be healthy, survive, etc. A certain contentment occurs when in sync with this self. Watch out for self 1 requests disguised as Inner Self 2 requests.

No self-improvement: the cornerstone of stability is to know that there is nothing wrong with the essential human being.

The second step to Inner Stability is FOCUS. Focus of attention in the present moment. Don’t dwell on the past, either on mistakes or glories; don’t get caught up in future fears and dreams.

The ability to focus the mind is the ability to not let it run away with you. It does NOT mean not to think. But be the one who directs your own thinking.

Stability grows a you learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.

“Abandon” is a good word to describe what happens to a tennis player who feels he has nothing to lose. He stops caring about the outcome and plays all out. It is letting go of the concerns of Self 1. It is caring, yet not caring; it is effort, but effortless.

There is no WINNING the Inner Game. That’s a Self 1 goal. This is a lifelong endeavor where there is no top of the mountain. It’s just the process; the journey. No external credit.

Book notes: The Inner Game of Tennis

Book notes: Essentialism: Expect the Unexpected

The Nonessentialist tends to always assume a best-case scenario. Chronically underestimating how long something will really take.

The Essentialist looks ahead and plans. Prepares for different contingencies. Expects the unexpected. Creates a buffer for the unforeseen, thus giving wiggle room when things come up.

Use the good times to create a buffer for the bad.

Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.
—Lao Tzu

Ways to create buffers:

  • use extreme preparation – prepare for anything and everything that can possibly go wrong

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. —Lee Child

  • add 50% to your time estimate – avoid planning fallacy
    • Planning fallacy – tendency to underestimate how long a task will take, even when they have actually done the task before
    • Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.

Ask these five questions about an important project:

  1. What risks do you face on this project?
  2. What is the worst-case scenario?
  3. What would the social effects of this be?
  4. What would the financial impact of this be?
  5. How can you invest to reduce risks or strengthen financial or social resilience?

That fifth question points you to buffers.

From: Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Ch. 15 on Buffers – p. 175

Book notes: Essentialism: Expect the Unexpected