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The Inner Game

The Inner Game
The Inner Game
The Inner Game

What are you really capable of? And what holds you back from achieving it? Competing against your own mental obstacles is the ‘Inner Game’.

Although many people in the world of work have never heard of the Inner Game, nor of Timothy Gallwey, its founder, this big idea has been extremely influential.

Because Gallwey and the ideas behind the Inner Game are very much the immediate progenitors of modern performance coaching. It it is hard to over-estimate the impact that has had on management and organisational life.

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Coaching in the Workplace

Coaching

CoachingIf coaching in the workplace seemed like no more than a trendy idea put about by a few business gurus and trainers in the 1990s, think again.

The upward rise of the trend has stabilised. And today, over 25 years from the publication of John Whitmore’s ‘Coaching for Performance’, the discipline is in rude health.

From my perspective, coaching is here to stay.

Continue reading Coaching in the Workplace

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Timothy Gallwey: Inner Game

What better way to start a new year than with a management thinker who showed us how to perform better in all walks of life: Timothy Gallwey, founder of the Inner Game.

A Happy New Year to all of our readers.

Timothy Gallwey is best known for his Inner Game books about tennis and golf. They transformed the approach of a million weekend sports enthusiasts. But these were no limp self-help manuals. They were equally lauded by sports performers at the pinnacle of their sports internationally. And they remain so today.

And it was not just sports people who found power in Gallwey’s advice. Quickly, business seized his ideas and called on Gallwey to show them how to play the inner game of work. In so doing, Gallwey became the progenitor of business coaching, and therefore of executive coaching and its domestic relative, life coaching.

Timothy Gallwey
Timothy Gallwey

Short Biography

Timothy Gallwey was born in 1938,in San Francisco. He attended Harvard Business School, majoring in English Literature. But his academic work sat alongside his tennis playing and in 1968, he was captain of the Harvard tennis team.

His direction remained academic until 1971, when he took a sabbatical, during which he acted as a tennis coach. It was on the court that he started to realise how impoverished were the traditional approaches he was using. Telling the sports person what to do would distract them from all else. And it would introduce new anxieties to their play.

Gallwey started experimenting with new ways improve tennis performance. Instead of telling a player to watch the ball, he asked them to vocalise sounds at the moments when the ball struck the ground or the racket. Of course, this required them to watch the ball too. Later, he shifted his instruction to noticing where the ball landed,or where it struck the racket face. Gradually, Gallwey developed the principles he still teaches, as do many coaches the world over*.

During the early 1970s, Gallwey also learned meditation, which he suggests improved his game and influenced his thinking. That thinking came together in what was to become a million selling book, The Inner Game of Tennis (1974). It remains a best seller today. This was followed by Inner Skiing (1977), The Inner Game of Golf (1981), and The Inner Game of Music (1986).

But it was not to be long before weekend tennis players and golfers in the upper ranks of business started to wonder if Gallwey’s coaching principles could apply to the workplace. By the late 1970s, he was a much in demand speaker and through the 1980s, he spent more time advising business on using inner game principles to boost management performance.

Also in the 1980s, Inner Game coaching was in full flow in the UK. There, Inner Game sports coaches like Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore started to see the wider application of the principles too. They articulated what is perhaps the best known management coaching model, the GROW model, and took their sports experience into business* too.

It was not until 1999 that Gallwey relieved business people of the need to read about tennis or golf, to gain business performance insights. The Inner Game of Work took inner game principles and all Gallwey had learned from his consulting experience, and consolidated it into a marvellous book.

The Principles of the Inner Game

At its heart, the ideas of the Inner Game are simple. I shall present what I consider to be the core:

  • One big idea
  • One important conclusion
  • One simple solution

Gallwey’s Big Idea

Gallwey’s big idea is this. When we are focused on achieving something that is important to us, there is a constant dialogue in our head. And, motivated by self doubt and fear of failure, one part of our mind provides a constant and undermining commentary. It issues instructions and deals out rebukes. It warns and it threatens. It praises (rarely) and chastises us for our failings.

Who is this part of us addressing? It’s the part of us that would otherwise get on and perform. Gallwey calls these to selves,

  • Self 1: which is logical, critical, fearful and dogmatic
  • Self 2: which is instinctive and contains your know-how

If this all sounds familiar, compare it to today’s psychological concept of System 1 and System 2,   popularised so powerfully by Daniel Kahneman in his wonderful book, Thinking: Fast and Slow.

Gallwey’s Important Conclusion

If you have an instinctive self that is capable of doing stuff and figuring out how to do it well, then why do we take so long to learn and become excellent. Gallwey says that Self 1 gets in the way. Its constant directions, critiques and berating interfere with our performance. Gal;wey characterises this in a simple formulation:

Performance  =  Potential  –  Interference

Consequently, the Inner Game is all about removing that interference from Self 1, and allowing our performance to rise to the level of our potential.

Gallwey’s Simple Solution

Gallwey’s solution is simple and (I can say from experience) highly effective. If we can focus you awareness on what is happening, that focus will still Self 1’s voice long enough for Self 2 to gain insights into how to modify our behaviour.

Gallwey calls non-judgmental observation and the role of a coach is not to tell you what to do, but to direct your attention. This directed focus allows Self 2 to learn, and Self 1 to think it is occupied with the noticing.

Gallwey’s insight is to transform coaching to a process that centres on awareness raising. The skill of a coach is first, to direct attention to the most pertinent events, and second to reinforce Self 2 in its quest to act on what you learn.

Gallwey’s Legacy

The R of the GROW Model is Reality. Giving you enough time to fully understand what is going on is the single most valuable role of a coach. And when you have articulated your Options, a good coach will cycle back to Reality, to help you test those options out. Gallwey does not use the GROW model explicitly. It isn’t his model. But it grew from his thinking.

And, while we are on Gallwey’s legacy, let’s cycle back to his experience of the early 1970s – he learned to meditate. And I am convinced that this impacted on his practice by placing awareness at the centre of his approach to coaching.

Let’s just remember what the flavour of the year was two or three years ago, in the world of personal development: mindfulness. Emerging from meditative practices, what is mindfulness all about? Focused awareness.

Timothy Gallwey in his own Words

Here is a 12 minute interview with Timothy Gallwey, filmed in 2012


 

* Including me. I was privileged to be taught coaching by Sir John Whitmore and David Hemmery and to have attended a masterclass and an informal dinner with Timothy Gallwey.

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Who is getting in your way?

Do you ever find yourself held back by doubt about your capabilities?  Have you ever known the right thing to do, with absolute certainty, but lacked the courage to suppress the voice of caution in your head?  Did you ever want to get on with things but find yourself over-analysing every detail – almost against your will?

Me too.

Split Personality

It is almost as if there are two people inside your head, competing for control: an inner you, who knows the truth, and some sort of gate-keeper, trying to protect you from disappointment; even harm.

Timothy Gallwey has names for these two characters: Self 1 and Self 2.

Self 1 and Self 2

Self 1 is the critical argumentative voice in your head, which is giving instructions, offering warnings, and expressing doubts to Self 2, the inner you.  Self 1 is the interference that stops you from achieving your true potential.  There are other sources of interference, but Gallwey sums his whole attitude to coaching up in a simple equation:

Performance = potential – interference

The Father of Modern Coaching

Timothy GallweyI regard Gallwey as the originator of our modern ideas of coaching: be it management, executive, performance, life or any other form.  It was he who took coaching out of the sports context and gave a really solid base to some of the ideas that now dominate coaching.

Overcoming Self 1

Self 1 is a know-it-all who does not trust Self 2 and therefore tries to control it. Self 2 represents all that we are and all that we can be – our present and future capabilities, our unlimited potential.  Our best performance comes when we can quiet Self 1 and let Self 2 take control. Self 1 distorts our perception and interferes with our results.

Based on his observations that “should” and “shouldn’t” instructions get in the way of learning, and that learning takes place within the learner, Gallwey developed three principles for coaching.

  1. Non-judgemental awareness is curative
    The clearer your perception is, the better you can adapt yourself to the situation.  The role of a coach is to raise our awareness, and to help us to perceive without judging.
  2. Trust Self 2
    Your intuition is powerful, and your potential is immense.  The coach’s role is to help us to listen to Self 2 and hear its wisdom.
  3. Leave learning choices to the learner
    The fundamental difference between coaching and other forms of learning support like mentoring, training or teaching, is that the coach will help you to find your own solutions, rather than give solutions to you.

How can you get Self 1 out of your way?

All that Self 1 is, is a voice in your head.  It may sound simplistic, but you need to pay more more attention to Self 2.  Teach Self 2 to be more assertive and listen to it more carefully.  Find counter arguments to Self 1’s assertions and demand a higher standard of proof, when all Self 1 does is criticise.

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