About the presenter: Winton Bates is a semi-retired economist. He and his wife now live in Vincentia, a coastal village in New South Wales, Australia where they have built a new home. At the moment, his main leisure interest, apart from Toastmasters, is establishing a garden. He has plans to play golf regularly (more than once a year) at some stage.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 2006.

Winning the Inner Game

by Winton Bates
from Australia

"Performance equals potential minus interferences": Tim Gallwey

Tim Gallwey suggests that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be obtained in playing any game without giving attention to the inner game - the game that takes place in the mind of the player.

I have found Tim Gallwey's "Inner Game" books to be helpful in dealing with personal performance problems that most people would not consider to have anything to do with playing games. I think his sporting analogies help me to see my problems in perspective. This article is about my own experience in applying inner game concepts.

Personal background

I am now 61 years old. In most respects my life has been happy. However, I have had some problems. As a child I developed a severe stutter. In many situations I was unable to say more that a few words without blocking. My speech improved greatly during my teen years and these improvements were largely maintained. I was reasonably fluent in most situations but I often blocked at those moments when I was trying hardest to speak fluently. As far as possible I avoided public speaking.

When I was about 30 years old a muscle spasm began to occur on the right side of my face. According to neurological advice this hemi-facial spasm (HFS) has a physical cause (compression of the facial nerve) and is not related to stuttering. At the time it developed, however, it felt just like having to learn to live with stuttering all over again. The spasm was there nearly all the time, whether I was talking or not, and even when I was alone. I felt as though I was falling apart.

What followed, over about 30 years, was a long search for inner harmony. I sought help from a lot of different people and tried a long list of things - including relaxation, yoga, biofeedback, pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies, micro-surgery, botox, the Alexander technique, meditation and NLP. Some of these things helped a little.

Over the last few years I have found some things that have helped a lot in improving my fluency and my attitude to HFS. These include practice of fluent speech, as proposed by Don Mowrer, and the cognitive approach proposed by Michael Hall and Bob Bodenhamer. Looking back now, however, Tim Gallwey's inner game books seem to me to have had the greatest influence.

Inner game basics

Tim Gallwey's books about the inner game of tennis, skiing, music and work were published over the period from 1972 to 2000. Gallwey presents findings based on his own experience.

Main points

  • Every activity involves an outer game and an inner game - the inner game is played in the arena of our minds.
  • Performance equals potential minus interferences. Self 1 (the part of us that makes judgments and issues instructions) tends to interfere with the ability of Self 2 (our natural self) to perform according to potential. In other words we have a tendency to struggle with ourselves.
  • Many of the sources of interference have to do with internal communication and the judgments we make about ourselves based on our past performance. For example, we tend to interfere with our natural learning ability when we:
  • We can avoid self-interference by giving our conscious minds things to do. For example:
  • If we learn to harness our natural ability and to trust ourselves we can achieve a lot more in everything we do than when we struggle with ourselves.

    Relying on instinct

    One of the most important lessons I have learned from Tim Gallwey's books is the impossibility of achieving skilled performance in physical activities by attempting to control muscular activity by conscious mental effort. In my view this quote about the golf swing illustrates the point magnificently:

    "The golf swing is a most complicated combination of muscular actions, too complex by far to be controlled by objective conscious mental [Self 1] effort. Consequently, we must rely a good deal upon the instinctive [Self 2] reactions acquired by long practice. It has been my experience that the more completely we can depend upon this instinct - the more thoroughly we can divest the subjective mind of conscious control - the more perfectly can we execute our shots ..." ("The Inner Game of Golf", p 42).

    Substitute the word "speech" for "the golf swing" and the statement remains equally true.

    Listening to the ball

    When reading The inner game of tennis I became excited about something Tim Gallwey wrote about the benefits of listening to the ball:

    "One day when I was practicing this form of concentration while serving, I began hitting the ball unusually well. I could hear a sharp crack instead of the usual sound at the moment of impact. It sounded terrific and the ball had more speed and accuracy. After I realized how well I was serving, I resisted the temptation to figure out why, and simply asked my body to do what ever was necessary to reproduce that 'crack'. I held the sound in my memory and to my amazement my body reproduced it time and again" (p 82).

    That started bells ringing for me. It occurred to me that when I blocked I was never thinking about what sound I want to produce. If I was thinking about speech my thoughts were more likely to be about the possibility that I might not produce the sounds I wanted to produce. In terms of the tennis analogy this would have to be like holding an image in mind of where I do not want the ball to go and telling my body not to hit it there. It is not hard to guess where the ball would be likely to go.

    I felt the urge to develop a strong sense of what I wanted to sound like when I spoke so could access that memory whenever I wanted it. In fact, I went further than this to get a good picture in mind of what it felt like, looked like and sounded like for me to be having fun speaking fluently in situations that I would previously have regarded as stressful. The results were so amazing that I felt encouraged to join Toastmasters in order to confront my fear of public speaking.

    Recalling the exhilaration

    I was impressed by what Tim Gallwey wrote about recalling the exhilaration in The inner game of golf:

    "At some point you have to let go and trust [yourself] under pressure. It always feels a bit risky when we let go, but to do so under pressure feels downright dangerous. It is also more exhilarating. The only way I can make myself let go is by recalling the exhilaration of taking the risk of truly trusting myself. Of course, there are occasional poor results, but mostly I experience these when I chicken out at the last minute and allow Self 1 to take over control of the swing." (p113)

    An early memory of "exhilaration" is a childhood memory of riding my bike down a hill and over a ramp. I used this as an anchor in facing a particular fear related to speaking. As a result of previous experiences of blocking I had developed a phobia for meetings that begin with introductions around the table. I hated the feeling of tension building up as I waited my turn to say a few words about who I was, who I represented, why I was there etc.

    The memory of riding my bike over the ramp worked well enough, in the sense that it enabled me to avoid blocking. But I felt excessively hyped up as I was speaking and probably came across that way to other people.

    I now like to recall the exhilaration of previous experiences of letting go while speaking. My anchor is the memory of allowing myself to speak in the way I want to speak. I now know what that sounds like and feels like.

    Associating with the easy

    In The inner game of golf Tim Gallwey suggests that just before playing a ball it helps to imagine doing something easy like throwing a ball, so you can say to yourself "this is easy" (pp 67-70). Gallwey includes a substantial discussion of how to choose an appropriate anchor to use, but I need not go into that.

    It occurred to me that an appropriate gesture to make prior to speaking is to open my hand and move it away from me, accompanied by the thought "this is easy". This gesture has become part of what I do when I have the intention to trust myself while speaking.

    Circumventing self doubt

    During my teen years I discovered that I was fluent whenever I had my mind full of positive thoughts about myself and other people. This helped me greatly at the time but it didn't seem to provide me with a basis for complete recovery.

    Why not? Looking back, I think the main problem was the interpretation I was placing on the remaining disfluency. Any stumble, no matter how small, seemed to have great significance. It meant that I had not tried hard enough to keep my mind full of positive thoughts. But the harder I tried to be positive the more self-doubt seemed to intrude. After a while I stopped trying to fill my mind with positive thoughts and just focussed on what I wanted to say. That seemed to work better, but self doubt always seemed to be lurking in the background waiting for me to become self-conscious about speaking.

    Tim Gallwey has some perceptive things to say about positive thinking and self doubt in The inner game of golf. He suggests that:

    " ...when we try to develop self-confidence by positive thinking - 'I'm going to hit a great golf shot, I'm going to hit a great golf shot' - we are disguising a deeper self doubt. Anyone who tries to talk himself into something does so because at heart he doesn't really believe it" (p. 181).

    After further discussion, Gallwey suggests: "What is needed is not to fight negative programming but to simply circumvent it" (p 182).

    Gallwey goes on to suggest that programming can be circumvented through "what if" thinking. He describes he asked a golfer with an awkward golf swing: "How would you like to be able to swing?" When the golfer started to explain, Gallwey said: "No, don't tell me, show me". The golfer was immediately able to demonstrate a better swing. After some further coaching he realised that he was able to choose to swing the club the way he would like to be able to swing it (p 183).

    Similarly, when I have practiced speeches using a tape recorder I demonstrated to myself how I would like to be able to speak. And when listening to myself I have realised that I can choose to speak the way I would like to be able to speak.

    Welcoming the yips

    "Yips" is a term used by golfers to describe involuntary muscle movements - freezing, jerking and tremors - while putting. Anyone who has read much about stuttering would be struck by parallels between research on yips and stuttering. Some people argue that "yips" is a physiological problem and is distinguishable from "choking", which is a psychological problem.

    Tim Gallwey writes:

    "If when addressing the ball you start remembering previous yips, you're only increasing your chances of yipping this time. Even a lot of practice swings won't help" (The inner game of golf, p 142).

    When I read that I thought, Yes, I know all about the yips - even though I had never heard the term used before. I recalled moments when I was speaking where I would see particular words coming and remember previous times when I blocked on similar sounding words. I knew only too well that when I started remembering previous yips I was only increasing my chances of yipping. How could I resist the yips?

    Gallwey's advice:

    "Don't resist. Resisting doubt strengthens it; I've seen it happen not just in people's games but in their lives. Better than resisting is ignoring, and the best way to ignore doubt is to become absorbed in something else."

    That seems like good advice: focus your conscious mind on what you intend to say and how you intend to sound as well as on things like eye contact and gesture - and allow your unconscious mind to take care of the details of articulation without interference. That is how the speaking process is meant to work. I can do that most of the time.

    But, what do if fear of the yips keeps coming back into your mind?

    Gallwey suggests:

    "If you can't find any exercise strong enough to keep the yips from barking at your door, as a last resort you can do what I did: welcome them."..."Welcoming yips, I say to them say to them, Okay if you want to yip, go ahead and yip; I'd like to see how you do it. Yip as much as you like - I'll be right here watching and feeling exactly what happens. In effect I'm saying you can't scare me." (p 143).

    Welcoming the yips seemed to me to be very challenging. How could I possibly welcome doubts about my ability to use my powers of speech?

    When I thought about it, however, I decided that I could welcome those thoughts because I could trust myself to respond appropriately to them. It is better to bring doubts into the open and reject them explicitly rather than to leave them lingering around in the back of my mind.

    Expressing qualities

    I began thinking that it was desirable for me to have an explicit speech goal in mind to avoid falling back into the trap of setting up "trying not to stutter" as my speech goal. The goal I came up with was "unrestrained self-expression". What this meant to me was not only being aware of my power of speech as a personal resource but also having the intention of revealing my self to others through my speech. I don't have to have this goal at the front of my mind in order to speak fluently. But it is marvelous to remember those times when I have been willing to let my guard down and open up.

    Tim Gallwey's discussion of expressing qualities seemed relevant to me in considering what unrestrained self-expression might involve. In The inner game of golf Gallwey suggests that we recognize that some of the desired quality we want in whatever we are doing is already there within us. It is just a matter of giving expression to that quality.

    Tim Gallwey's suggests that once you have chosen what quality you want to bring to a particular experience it is a good idea to search your memory for an image that expresses it and to "hold the image rather than the word in your mind as you swing" (p 186).

    I must admit that I have sometimes found it hard to decide what qualities I should express. With some help from Tim Gallwey, however, I have discovered how this indecisiveness or tentativeness can also stem from interference with potential. In the final chapter of The inner game of work Gallwey suggests that many of us have become disconnected from our "core desires" because we have been brought up to believe that these desires should be repressed. He urges that if you are drowning in an ocean of "have to", then you should rise up and overthrow the "internal master" who is the source of those commands (p 228). I have found that my purpose becomes clearer to me when I ask myself what qualities I would display if I had already taken the next step toward realizing my potential.

    Summing up

    Tim Gallwey's books have helped me to see my problems in perspective. Recognizing that tennis players and golfers experience similar problems of self-interference has helped me to think constructively about solutions.

    Tim Gallwey's books have reinforced several lessons for me:

    Tim Gallwey's books taught me that performance equals potential minus interferences. But they have also helped me to understand that the purpose of the game is actually realization of potential - liberation - rather than improvement of performance.


    Gallwey, W Timothy, 1975, The inner game of tennis, Pan Books, London.

    Gallwey, W Timothy, 1981, The inner game of golf, Pan Books, London.

    Gallwey, W Timothy, 2000, The inner game of work, Texere, New York, London.

    You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2006.

    July 1, 2006
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