Winning the Inner Game

by Winton Bates

“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.

Michael Hall writes:

“Tim Gallwey’s inner game books are about “ the Frames of Mind that enrich and support mastery and those that undermine and sabotage peak performance. What Gallwey, as a sports coach discovered in his work was the Inner Game that is so obviously a set of meta-states that provide the key state of mind for performance and excellence”.

I have found Tim Gallwey’s 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 keep going back to these books for inspiration.

Why? I think it is partly because sporting metaphors pervade our language and thinking. For example, people do not have to have a strong interest in sport to know what it means to be told to “ keep your eyes on the ball”. We don’t even have to be able to see a ball to know what that means.

But there is also a more fundamental reason. I think sporting analogies help me to see my problems in perspective. When I acknowledge that a problem that I experience is similar to something that, for example, a golfer might describe as “choking” or “yips”, it no longer seems to be so bewildering and uniquely threatening. When considering whether the advice that Gallwey gives to golfers or tennis players might be relevant to me I am thinking constructively about possible solutions.

Gallwey’s Self 1/ Self 2 model provides a simple way to consider how self-interference can adversely affect many aspects of performance. As I discuss later, however, Gallwey’s terminology has some limitations.

This article is about my own experience over the last couple of years in applying inner game concepts. I begin by describing some aspects of my personal history. Then I briefly discuss the inner game basics before describing aspects of Gallwey’s writings that have been particularly helpful to me. This is followed by discussion of Gallwey’s concepts of Self 1 and Self2, and Michael Hall’s concept of frame games.

Personal background

I am now 60 years old. Some people say that I am semi-retired, but I don’t feel anywhere near my “use by” date. From my own perspective I am just enjoying more leisure. In most respects my life has been happy. I am married and have three grown up children who are making a success of their lives. I have had an interesting and successful work career as an economist working within government in Australia and New Zealand and as a private consultant.

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 rather than psychological 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. But 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 to restore inner harmony. I sought help from a lot of different people and tried a long list of things - including relaxation therapy, yoga, biofeedback, pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies, micro-surgery, botox, the Alexander technique, meditation and NLP. Some of these things helped a little.

Since I found Neuro-Semantics (NS) – and Tim Gallwey’s inner game books – in 2002 there has been a substantial improvement in many aspects of my life, including fluency and my attitude to HFS. It would not be possible to calculate what proportion of improvement is attributable to my study of Gallwey’s books rather than to other important influences, including the NS matrix model. The way I see it, Gallwey’s books have reinforced many of the things that I have learned through NS.

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

My experience in playing the inner game

I was introduced to Gallwey’s inner game books soon after I joined the “neurosemanticsofstuttering” email list in 2002. Some members of the list had read some of Tim Gallwey’s inner game books at the suggestion of John Harrison, a recovered stutterer and active participant on this list. Harrison regards The inner game of tennis among the ten books that he has found most helpful (Harrison, 2002, p 316). 

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.

The mention of practice is also relevant. Practice of fluent speech, by reading aloud to myself, helped me to reassure myself that I could trust myself when speaking. When practice was first suggested to me (by Don Mowrer) I tried it without any expectation that it would be much help. But I found that I liked doing it and that it had carry-over benefits in terms of greater fluency in speaking in more stressful situations. I still sometimes read aloud to myself when I feel the need to reassurance that I have the capacity to speak with normal fluency.

Listening to the ball

In October 2002, 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

One of my earliest experiences in NLP, over five years ago, was to use a childhood memory of the exhilaration 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 speak without blocking. But I felt excessively hyped up as I was speaking and probably came across that way to other people.

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)

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 when I read this in November 2002 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 allowed self doubt to enter my mind. I had not tried hard enough to convince myself that I could speak fluently. But the harder I tried to be positive the more self-doubt seemed to intrude into my thinking. 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.

I have also received a lot of help from Neuro-Semantics (NS) in dealing with self-doubt. One of the most important lessons I have learned is to accept that the state I am experiencing at any moment is just whatever I am experiencing. If I feel self-doubt, then I can ask myself what specific doubt do I have? Is this an idea that I wish to confirm or disconfirm? I have been greatly helped by the “Meta-Yes/Meta-No” pattern, developed by Bob Bodenhamer and Michael Hall. If the suggestion comes to my mind that I am not able to say a particular word I don’t have to beat myself up for allowing that thought to enter my mind. All I need to do is to reject it with all the emotion that I felt when I rejected the most repulsive thought that anyone has ever suggested to me. I also affirm my capacity to say any word, any time, anywhere with all the positive emotion that I felt the first time I did the “Meta-Yes/ Meta-No” pattern.

Welcoming the yips

I didn’t know what “yips” were until I typed the word into a search engine and read some articles on the internet. “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 a couple of years ago 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. So, when the yips come around I try to remember the old tune yippidee doo da, yippidee aye. (I’m sorry about that. Some things that go on in my mind would probably be better kept private.)

Expressing qualities

In November 2002 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. As John Harrison and others have explained "trying not to stutter" involves an inherent conflict of intention.

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 marvellous 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 recognise 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 have tried that and I know it works. Unfortunately, I did not follow through this idea of expressing qualities as conscientiously as I should have at the time.

I was strongly reminded about expressing qualities in August 2004 when I read Beca Lewis’s book, Living in Grace. As I read that book I immediately got back the awareness that, no matter how things might appear on the surface, all the inner harmony, peace of mind and every other quality I have searched for is here with me right now. This is a frame of mind that is available to me whenever I open my mind to it.

Identity frames and frame games

Tim Gallwey’s views about Self 1 and Self 2 evolved over time. In The inner game of tennis, Self 1 was described as “the conscious teller” and Self 2 was described as “the unconscious, automatic doer” (p 18). At the end of this book he also mentions the possibility of discovering Self 3, “the very source of all our potential” (p 128).

In The inner game of golf, Self 2 is identified as “the total human organism, the natural entity”. Self 1 is identified as “the source of our interference with our natural selves” Self 1 “does not actually have a physical existence”. It was recognised to be “a composite of different ego-personalities that would surface at different times”. The aim of the inner game was seen to be “to decrease the Self 1 interferences that prevent Self 2 from expressing himself fully” (pp 33-34).

In The inner game of work, Self 1 is described as “an invented self or mental construct” while “Self 2 is the self we were born with, the created self (p 116). In this book Gallwey acknowledges explicitly “the part of Self 2 that is capable of conscious and purposeful thought” (p 119).

While clearly an admirer of Tim Gallwey’s contributions, Michael Hall suggests that the Self 1/ Self 2 model is “very clumsy and awkward both conceptually and linguistically”(Hall, 2003). I agree.

Gallwey’s key ideas can be conveyed more simply using Hall’s conceptual framework. Hall argues that we cannot not play games:

“With every mood, attitude, behaviour, skill, role, ritual, etc that we experience, we play out some game. The question now becomes, ‘What game are you playing?’ And when we ask that, it will do us well to also ask, “Does the game enhance our lives and empower us for living more effectively?’

Hall goes on to explain that “our games are determined by our mental and emotional frames”. “The frames involve our ideas, thoughts, beliefs, understandings, decisions, learnings, etc. To play any game, you have to operate from a certain frame of mind” (Hall, 2000, p 9).

Some frames permit natural self expression and some interfere. It is as simple as that.

Some of the frame games that Michael Hall describes are similar to inner games described by Tim Gallwey. One example is the ‘self-acceptance frame game’. Hall suggests that to play this game “begin from the idea and feeling that your dignity and human worth are unconditionally given. There is nothing to prove, nothing to earn, nothing to become.” (p 243).

When I am playing the self-acceptance game I keep coming back to something Tim Gallwey wrote:

"What I really am precedes any thoughts I may have has about myself. ... When I acknowledge this self, I can give it credit for every quality, feeling, thought, urge, and behavior that is truly genuine and excellent. I have no trouble acknowledging the magnificence, kindness and power of whatever created such beings. At those times ... I am content to be myself and have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else". ("Inner game of work", p 117).

I think that is what natural self expression is about. It is about being myself - and having nothing to prove to myself or anyone else.

Summing up

Tim Gallwey’s books have helped me to see my problems in perspective. Recognising 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 realisation of potential – liberation - rather than improvement of performance. The name of the game is unrestrained self expression.


Bodenhamer, Bobby G ‘The Meta – YES and NO Pattern', Anchor Point, June 1998.

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.

Hall, L Michael, 2000, Frame Games, Neuro-Semantics, Grand Junction, CO, USA.

Hall, L Michael, 2003, ‘Meta-States and the Inner Game’, Anchor Point, February.

Harrison, John, 2002, How to conquer your fears of speaking before people, National Stuttering Association, USA.

Lewis, Beca, 2002, Living in Grace, Perception Publishing, Encinitas, CA, USA.

About Winton Bates

Winton Bates is 60 years old. He is married with three grown-up children.

He lives with his wife in Canberra, Australia. They have plans to move to the coast (Vincentia, New South Wales) at some stage during 2005, after building a new house there.

Winton is an economist. He worked for 26 years in the Australian civil service in agencies involved in economic research. He held a senior management position for about 10 of those years before resigning in 1993 to take up a two year contract with the New Zealand civil service. After that, Winton fulfilled a long-standing ambition to become an economic consultant.

Most of Winton's work over recent years has been on public policy issues related to economic growth. His current work revolves around changes in attitudes toward economic growth in high income countries. Contrary to assertions that people have an insatiable appetite for higher incomes, Winton's recent research suggests, on the basis of evidence from attitude surveys, that the priority that people give to economic growth tends to decline as incomes rise ('Is economic growth given too high a priority?', Policy, 20 (4), Summer 2004-05).

Winton's introduction to NLP occurred in the early 1990s at a work training session on negotiation skills. After that his interest was sporadic until he joined the "neurosematicsofstuttering" email list in 2002. Soon after that he attended one of Michael Hall's APG trainings (in Sydney, Australia). That was when he developed a serious interest in NS/NLP. He plans to do more NS training in the not too distant future.

Over the last year Winton's main leisure interest, apart from Toastmasters, has been establishment of a new garden on the site where he and his wife are planning to live. He has plans to play golf regularly (more than once a year) at some stage, but he could well end up giving other interests higher priority.

Winton Bates
Economic Consultant
67 Erldunda Circuit

Phone: 61 2 6254 7899
Mobile: 0411 234996


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