The idea is to let the body do what it is capable of doing. But that’s hard because your mind is always there saying, “I want to do better.  I want to do better.”
–Tim Gallwey

There is a tendency in training to break a process down into its component parts.  The intent is to teach the process in manageable segments.  This approach ensures each segment is easy for the learner to comprehend.  It also helps the instructor check for understanding before moving to the next segment.

The downside of this approach is that it assumes the learner will be able to put all these segments together correctly and perform complex tasks at a high level.  It also distracts from the larger purpose, to improve performance.

Tim Gallwey takes a different view.  He believes we have the capacity to self correct in realtime and can make the necessary modifications to learn with minimal direction.  You can the idea of the video below in 3 minutes.  If you aren’t intrigued by the message or the groovy 70s fashion stop watching.  I think you will be (why else would I post this).

If you watched the whole video its clear this works with tennis.  The question is, “can this work at work?”  Mr. Gallwey would answer “Yes.”  Apparently others agree.  He has written books on this topic, speaks at conferences and consults with companies, such as Apple and Coca-Cola.

Below is an summary of the inner game from Mr. Gallwey’s website (emphasis mine).

In every human endeavor there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions. The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential.

In simple terms the game can be summarized in a formula: Performance = potential-interference, P=p-i. According to this formula, performance can be enhanced either by growing “p” potential or by decreasing “i,” interference.

It is impossible to achieve mastery or satisfaction in any endeavor without first developing some degree of mastery of the relatively neglected skills of the inner game. Most of us have experienced days when our self-interference was at a minimum. Whether on a sports field, at work, or in some creative effort, we have all had moments in which our actions flowed from us with a kind of effortless excellence. Athletes have called this state, “playing in the zone.” Generally at these times our mind is quiet and focused. But whatever it’s called, when we’re there, we excel, we learn, and we enjoy ourselves. Unfortunately most of us have also experienced times when everything we do seems difficult. With minds filled with self-criticism, hesitation, and over-analysis, our actions were awkward, mis-timed, and ineffective. Obviously we all would prefer to have more of the first and less of the second.

In the video above it is clear the potential of the players is limited.  However, by reducing interference even the least capable and confident person learned to play fairly quickly.

In summary, according to Mr. Gallwey, what are the characteristics of performance?

  • Mastery over fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, limiting assumptions
  • A quiet mind
  • Enjoyment

What interferes with performance?

  • Self criticism
  • Hesitation
  • Over analysis