The Inner Game of Tennis

“Mankind has been so absorbed with overcoming external challenges that the essential need to focus on inner challenges has been neglected.”

- The Inner Game of Tennis, page 134

The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey is a book that is focused on how to develop the inner skills required to attain high performance. The author has written several books discussing and teaching his methodology for coaching and developing “the inner game.” The book discusses and teaches the principles through the metaphor of tennis, so if you play tennis or are a fan of the game, the examples will resonate clearly. If you aren’t familiar with tennis (I am not), don’t worry—the methodology and principles that are discusses can easily be applied to business, and all other areas of life.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Our Two Selves

"Harmony between the two selves exists when this mind is quiet and focused. Only then can peak performance be reached."
- The Inner Game of Tennis, page 14

In everything that we do we have two selves that we have to be aware of. Self One, is the name given to the conscious ego-mind. Self Two, is you and your potential (your natural capabilities).  Think of them as two separate people.  

To explain this using an example: Self One is the inner dialogue that is constantly going on in your head – “OK, Justin, hold your follow through on your shot.” Self Two is the part of you that executes that act of “following through on your shot.” Here is where we run into trouble—when consciously Self One is telling Self Two to perform the act, the conscious mind interferes with the execution of the task.

When we are consciously communicating from Self One to Self Two, we are not acting in the moment. After we are taught a skill, Self Two instinctively knows what to do. This is our unconscious mind, our nervous system taking over, reacting to whatever it is that we are doing. When our internal mind (Self One) is communicating to Self Two, it causes us to overthink and overanalyze the situation. If we fail in what we’re attempting to do, we just placed an enormous amount of stress and tension on ourselves, causing our results to be less than we hoped.  

Being aware of both of our inner selves and knowing the role that each plays in our performance is the first piece that we must be aware of as we strive to operate in a peak state.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Letting Go of Judgements

"The first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad."
- The Inner Game of Tennis, page 15

As we start down the path of having Self One and Self Two work in perfect harmony, there’s a clear principle that we need to do right off the bat. We need to learn to not judge the result of what we are doing as we practice and learn new skills. As we discussed above, by judging ourselves and thinking we’ve failed, we’re doing significant damage to our inner self inhibiting us to learn and grow.  

Gallwey writes, “When we “unlearn” judgement we discover, usually with some surprise, that we don’t need the motivation of a reformer to change our “bad” habits” (31). By letting go of judgement early on in the learning process, we allow Self Two to begin to learn in a way that allows for natural learning. It also allows for a certain level of trust to build between Self One and Self Two. There is no shame in not being able to accurately serve a tennis ball the first (hundred or more) time you try: practice and repetition are crucial to learning a new skill. When you embrace the learning process, you allow your natural ability to take over.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

The Meaning of Winning

"Winning is overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, but the value in winning is only as great as the value of the goal reached."
- The Inner Game of Tennis, page 120

This idea is the simple concept of “the journey” vs. “the destination.” Often, and with good reason, we are so focused on the outcome that we’re after that we fail to take notice of and appreciate the value of our journey to that outcome. This can result in us losing sight of all of the important lessons and learnings that happened along the way. What we all find out at some point in life that the target that we aim for in a lot of ways is out of our control. The journey is what is controllable.  

I love this from Gallwey, “the difference between being concerned about winning and being concerned about making the effort to win may seem subtle, but in the effect there is a great difference. When I’m concerned only about winning, I’m caring about something that I can’t wholly control” (122). To sum it up, “the process can be more rewarding than the victory itself” (120), so don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

The reality today is that we face extreme amount of external pressure. No matter what our job is, we have to produce a certain standard amidst the 100 other things that we have to face on a daily basis. Mastering your two selves, letting go of moral judgements, and embracing the journey instead of the destination, will help to meet the challenges of the 21st century workplace.


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Justin Gasbarre

ABOUT Justin Gasbarre

I am a Sales Professional who's passionate about helping and serving others. I currently work as an Enterprise Client Partner with FranklinCovey and consult with executives, business unit leaders, and human resources professionals to help them build their organizational talent...
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