In Part 2 of this series on creative process, we’ve touched on methods for getting out of the way of one’s impulses and abilities.
Here is an interesting analog from tennis, a notoriously mental game. In his classic book of instruction, The Inner Game of Tennis, renowned tennis instructor Tim Gallwey outlines a practice called Bounce Hit:
The mind has difficulty focusing on a single object for an extended period of time. Let’s face it: as interesting as a tennis ball may be for some, it is not going to easily capture the restless mind, so habituated to distractions of every kind . . .
So the question arises as to how to maintain focus for extended periods of time. The best way is to allow yourself to get interested in the ball. How do you do this? By not thinking you already know all about it, no matter how many thousands of balls you have seen in your life. Not assuming you already know how is a powerful principle of focus.
One thing you don’t know about the ball is exactly when it is going to bounce and when it is going to hit either your racket or your opponents. Perhaps the most simple and effective means of focus I found was a very simple exercise I called ‘Bounce Hit.’
The instructions I gave were very simple. ‘Say the word bounce out loud the instant you see the ball hit the court and the word hit the instant the ball makes contact with the racket—either racket.’ . . . As the student said ‘bounce . . . hit . . . bounce . . . hit . . . bounce . . . hit . . . bounce,’ not only would it keep his eyes focused on four very key positions of the ball during each exchange, but the hearing of the rhythm and cadence of the bouncing and hitting of the ball seemed to hold the attention for longer periods of time.
The results were the same as with any effective focus. The exercise would give the player better feedback from the ball and, at the same time, help clear his mind of distractions. It’s hard to be saying ‘bounce-hit’ and at the same time overinstructing yourself, trying too hard or worrying about the score.
W. Timothy Gallwey — The Inner Game of Tennis, pp. 85-86
Note the resonance with artistic techniques such as Sanford Meisner’s Repetition Exercise that employ a procedure to direct the mind elsewhere, so that our impulses can arise naturally, not artificially.
Lest we view these techniques as relevant only to beginners, watch the video below, in which I swear we can hear Novak Djokovic employing the “bounce-hit” technique in a point against Roger Federer in the 2014 Wimbledon finals. (Djokovic won the point and the match.)
Thank you for reading.