In their latest episode of the VALUE: After Hours Podcast, Brewster, Taylor, and Carlisle discuss The Inner Game – Managing Your Negative Mindset. Here’s an excerpt from the episode:
Jake: Okay. Let’s change gears now and talk about the Inner Game of Tennis. This is W Timothy Gallwey’s book. And it’s the classic guide to the mental side of peak performance. If there’s anything you want to be a peak performance, I think it’s interesting to look at books like this. Basically, this is just trying to talk about mindset. The inner game is one of the mind, right? It’s played against obstacles like lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt, and self-condemnation, which is one that’s really painful. I think a lot of people have negative self-talk like that.
We’re all trying to overcome all these habits of mind which inhibit excellence in performance. He has this quote in here that– People would say, “I’m my own worst enemy. I usually beat myself.” That sounds very Ben Graham to me, doesn’t it, like, “Investors are their own worst enemies.” The more that I learn about this entire game, the more that I think that is true. And it really is you against yourself in this and that just managing your own mind is the hardest thing of it, and also the place where there’s the most advantage to be had.
When you hear about a player who is playing near their peak, they’re often described as being in the zone, playing out of their mind, in the groove, unconscious. There’s all these ideas about the mind somehow not being very active when it comes to this. You’re not over trying. I wonder if we can think about doing the same thing when it comes to investing. Inside all of us, there exists this relationship between the self-one, which is the conscious teller like you saying like, “Okay, get your back hand, get your arm up here.” You’re giving yourself this self-talk and then the self, two, which is the actual doer inside the body that’s making the body move.
There’s this dialogue that exists. Mastering the inner game is really about improving that relationship between the self-one, the talker, and the self-two, which is the doer. Children are actually great at learning, maybe largely because they don’t have this developed negative judgmental inner critic that a lot of us have developed over time that probably inhibits our ability to learn and grow. That beginner’s mindset, part of that is that lack of a self-critic, which is a powerful idea to think about. Really the end goal is about achieving the art of relaxed concentration, which I think is actually a really interesting term. Quieting the mind, less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering, distraction, all those things are the things that are going to hold you back.
Letting go of judgment doesn’t mean ignoring the errors that you make. It just means seeing the events as they really are and not attaching emotions to them. I think what happens a lot of times is maybe the market goes against us and we’re like, “Ah, I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that? I knew better.” That’s being very judgmental and it’s inhibiting your ability to actually learn.
So, here’s an actual instance. Gallwey was helping a student with his backhand and this guy was taking his racket too high on his backhand swing. I don’t really even know what that really means, whatever. But over and over again he was doing that. He was trying to tell him to like, “You’re doing this,” and the guy’s like, he doesn’t know he’s doing it and it’s just like he’s unaware of it. So, Gallwey got him to hit like do an air backhand into a mirror a few times. Right away, it fixed it for him like it corrected it, that self-awareness. It was a non-judgmental awareness about what was actually happening. His mind was able to see it now and it fixed it right away.
So, this is actually explains why I’m kind of a maniac when it comes to wanting to uncover all the metadata about my own investment process is that I really view that as looking in the mirror as much as I can to just see, where could I be going wrong, what am I doing right? Just having that nonjudgmental awareness and generating as much awareness as I can about myself, I think is a real advantage to this.
So, interestingly enough, all this is in the tennis world is happening at the biophysics level. When you try to control muscles to perform a particular task like say, you’re trying to hit a hard serve. You inevitably use muscles that aren’t needed as part of that trying to control it. In fact, not only does that waste energy, but it also even can tighten muscles that interfere with the muscles that are trying to perform the task. And so, impeding the force of the swing at the end of the day, you’re actually less powerful because there’s muscles that are inhibiting the action that the muscles are trying to take. That’s why you could say that you feel like you’re playing tight is actual literally biophysically your muscles are counteracting each other. And I think we do that all the time mentally when we’re learning. Exploring our own inner game, we often are playing tight. So, he breaks the inner game. [crosstalk]
Bill: Do you ever worry that being so into the metadata might actually create that tightness in your own mind?
Jake: That’s a good question. I think it could, if I assign too much judgment to it. But as long as it’s more of just being non-judgmental, and less emotional about it, and just being observational, I think lessens the chances of that happening.
He breaks down the inner game of learning into four steps. Number one, observe your existing behavior nonjudgmentally, which we just talked about. Number two, picture the desired outcome. Number three, let it happen and trust that self to the doer. Number four, non-judgmental calm observation of the results leading to continuing observation and learning. So, this is just a process like we’re just trying to get better all the time. And then he goes into a lot of the mindset about, like the best way to quiet the mind isn’t to tell it to shut up, or argue with it, or criticize it for criticizing you. It’s to learn to focus it and that’s when it gets quiet.
Being in the present is what brings calmness and focusing on the here and now is where that calmness can come from. A lot of the stuff is like, you see it in Buddhism or really any religion which is, I think comes out in humanity as a bit of an OS hack that lets you to actually accomplish things. There’s an underappreciated aspect, I think often to religion. Well, it actually solves a lot of problems and that’s why it’s probably stuck around for so long. Anyway, so this natural focus is where it can happen most, where the mind is interested. So, I think that’s one of the things that makes it such an advantage to have a passion for whatever it is that you’re going after is that that helps you to focus more naturally and not have to force it so much. That is like such a key advantage, especially the focus over a longer duration, that’s what passion really is, I think.
Anyway, I think you could take all this stuff for you improving your tennis game, or your golf swing, or swinging up a pitch, if you’re a baseball player. I think it also can help in the investment world of keeping some of these same concepts in mind to improve your inner game and your inner dialogue.
Tobias: Interesting, JT.
Bill: I listen to this podcast, Chasing Scratch. It’s a golf podcast, and I just shared two episodes with a buddy. One is called Safety First and the other is Gaining Strokes with Mark Brody. They’re in Season 4, I think, 2021. Anyway, what I found interesting and what may sort of be a decent tangent to what you’re saying is, the mindset that those guys have had to approach getting better at golf and talking about avoiding double bogey, you’re not going to go out on the golf course and make a nine and think you’re going to make it up with four birdies.
Bill: You play well by not having huge errors.
Bill: I’ve thought that has a lot to do with investing. It’s interesting. Part of I think what makes their podcast great is they have a self-deprecating humor, which I can totally relate to, but I wonder if them saying it out loud, like put something in their mind that they think that they’re not as good at– They’re the ones that I got this thought. Tiger Woods, when he was going through swing changes, he’d always say, “I’m close.” He’d never be like, “Boy, my game’s gone.” I think the way that you talk to yourself matters a lot.
So, yeah, I think that’s all true. I think it is really interesting how when you’re playing well– When I’m playing my best golf, I’m just thinking about what I need to go do and then I’m doing it. It is like a flow state. It’s not worrying about the process. It is the process to get yourself to the position where you don’t have to think about it. But when you’re executing, it just happens.
Yeah. So, I don’t know, creating some sort of a pre-shot or a pre-investment routine, if only there was a software product that might be able to help people do such a thing, Jake.
Jake: Yeah, true enough.
Bill: It can get you in that zone, and working through, and let your subconscious creativity take over.
Jake: I think we can actually trigger some of this stuff with our environment. And so, being very mindful about your environment and where you maybe even have carved out a place, if you can, that is for your deep work, for like, “Here’s where I go and I do my investment stuff, where I’m going to focus.” And maybe even tapping into a particular smell like a candle or something I think could even trigger that. Give yourself these clues like, “Hey, now is the time to do the serious work.” I think that the body follows along to those type of environmental cues.
Bill: I’m going to call you Jake Robbins from now on. Tony’s younger– [crosstalk].
Jake: Make a move. Say yes.
Bill: That’s right. That’s exactly right. Yeah. But I think there’s merit in that. One of the things that I think he’s really good at is repackaging really good ideas. I don’t think Tony came up with that much, but I think he’s really good at selling smart stuff.
Jake: I don’t think he would take umbrage with that either. I think he’s fine with it. Whatever works for somebody is what he’s interested in.
Bill: Yeah. The make a move thing really is. Walk into the office. All right, whatever. Whatever gets you ready.
Tobias: You do that?
Bill: No, I don’t do that. No. But that’s [crosstalk] terrible investor.
Tobias: So, he do that?
Bill: He does some move before he goes on stage all the time. That’s my version of it, but it may not even be anything close to that.
Tobias: Buffett’s got the sign, “Invest like a champion today.” Do you think that’s why he’s putting up the big numbers?
Bill: It’s got to be. I can’t see any other reason. What are you doing?
Tobias: I need to get one of those signs.
Jake: I have one.
Bill: Sorry that when I called– [crosstalk]
Tobias: Do you have one?
Jake: Oh, yeah. I have a– [crosstalk]
Bill: Bloomstran gave him out.
Jake: Yeah. I have a smaller one that’s in one office and I had a bigger one at another office. [laughs]
Tobias: I need to get one.
Jake: Hey, man.
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