In the 1970s, a tennis coach named W. Timothy Gallwey was helping players improve their games.
Over time, his students started to improve—a lot.
It was curious. Some of them had not played very long. One woman had not been physically active for over 20 years.
If you have ever played tennis (I tried a couple of times, years ago), you know it’s a challenging game. You have to run all over the court, anticipate where the ball will travel, and whack it strategically in a specific direction very quickly. It requires eye-hand coordination and a lot of concentration.
I had a hard time. I could never hit the ball. I got discouraged quickly.
But if Gallwey had worked with me, the story might have been different. Because he noticed something very interesting: The harder his students tried to correct their swings and their serves, the less able they were to improve them.
It didn’t matter how much they learned. It didn’t matter whether they had played for years or had never held a racket.
Gallwey, who’s now in his 80s has written several books on performance, would likely tell me that the reason I was having such a hard time hitting the ball was this:
I was trying too hard.
In his book, The Inner Game of Tennis, Gallwey explains the connection between proficiency and confidence:
You learn. You observe. Then: “You trust in the competence of your body and its brain, and you let it swing the racket.”
Success comes after we allow ourselves to relax and subconsciously draw from that internal knowledge and just…swing.
To put it another way, the most frustrating problem is this:
We know what we do, and yet we are not doing what we know.
Gallwey went on to adapt his philosophy for business, and he started a consulting company that teaches how to tap into one’s instincts to achieve success. And it makes a lot of sense. It makes sense for you if you’re searching for a job as well.
The Fault Isn’t Entirely Ours
We are taught at a young age that success comes from repeated effort. We aren’t succeeding because we aren’t working hard enough. Concentrate. Focus on the things you’re doing wrong. Fix them!
In our professional lives, we see lots of so-called experts showing us “the right way” to do something.
There are videos, workshops, how-to books, podcasts. There is no shortage of instruction on how to succeed in business, ramp up your marketing, make thousands per month while working part time at home. Focus on these things! Correct your mistakes!
Lots of us spend energy taking trying to apply to our work the rules and actions someone else has dictated to get the same results.
Trouble is, we are ignoring our own instincts.
We are shutting out what we feel inclined to do and trying replace it with a bunch of stuff that works for someone else, but doesn’t necessarily reflect our own values and our own singular talents.
Of course, it’s true that knowledge is necessary to succeed. You can’t practice medicine without learning anatomy. But, as Gallwey says, there’s a point when we have to trust ourselves.
We know more than we think we do. We have internalized the lessons. The surgeon doesn’t continuously stop during an operation to consult a textbook.
If you’re job searching, stop for a second…
You may be reading this while you are contemplating a career change. Your mind may be moving furiously through the possibilities as you read the job boards and then try to fashion yourself into that ideal person that job ad is asking you to be.
You might be memorizing answers to tricky interview questions and practicing them until they sound like your own; fanatically watching videos about employment trends; copying sample resumes that worked for someone else.
But actually, you already do know how to get a job.
- You have naturally networked throughout your life.
- You have naturally offered help to solve problems.
- You also have gotten a job already.
So, I suggest that you do something a little different this time:
Stop working so hard.
Instead, start trusting your gut and your experience.
Here are some ways to succeed by letting your expertise and experience; all those years of doing things and getting results take over:
1. Relax. Stop overthinking.
Spend some time quietly paying attention what you’re feeling. Frustrated? Relax and bring your attention to the breath. Let thoughts and images scroll past your mental window without judgment. Let them become neutral. (This can take repetition.)
2. De-fuse the negativity.
Write down your self-defeating thoughts and doubts. Now pretend you are an outside person (maybe a friend) looking at this list. Write down the questions you might ask.
- Does the statement magnify the negative details of the situation and filter out the positive?
- Is this a black-or-white statement, with no shades of gray or middle ground?
- Is the statement a generalized conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence?
For instance, instead of saying to yourself: “I’m too old for that job,” say instead, “I have a lot of experience, and I can explain why and how I can I help that employer in that role.”
3. Stop focusing on what you’re doing wrong.
It will hijack all your other thoughts. Allow your intuitive brain to help you out. Focus elsewhere.
Instead of obsessing about giving “right” answers to an interviewer, focus on:
- How great it feels to be considered for the opportunity
- How much you are enjoying meeting new people in your field.
- The excitement about the chance to showcase your accomplishments.
4. Just do the thing.
You might be surprised.
If you let yourself dwell on fears, doubts, and delusions, you will overlook your advantages. Instead, welcome the situation. Let your internal knowledge emerge and help automatically.
And you just might hit that ball over the net the first time.