The Voices In Your Head

They're saying things--some good, some bad. Timothy Gallwey teaches people to listen to the right ones.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Chuck Nathan calls it a mini-disaster avoided. A warehouse manager at Amtext Inc., the Miami college-textbook wholesaler Nathan founded in 1985, had overlooked a key variable in a decision that was going to cost the 55-person company big money. At the last minute, a member of a departmental team Nathan set up noticed the error...and the day was saved. "Just that one decision is going to make a significant difference in the company's profitability [over] the next couple of years," says the 48-year-old entrepreneur.

Chalk another one up to "the inner game," a concept developed and popularized by writer and trainer Timothy Gallwey. Nathan credits the successful save to the department's ability to work effectively and team-building training his managers received a year earlier from Gallwey. The idea behind the inner game is pretty simple: By removing inner obstacles such as self-monitoring, you can dramatically improve your ability to focus, learn and perform. Gallwey has written a series of books and conducted many speeches and seminars on applying the idea to sports, business and other areas.

Since publishing the first in the series, The Inner Game of Tennis (Random House), 25 years ago and embarking on a fruitful career as a business consultant, Gallwey's client list has grown to include companies small and large, including Apple, AT&T, Coca-Cola and IBM.

Applying the inner game can help entrepreneurs improve employee retention, boost productivity and effectiveness, and encourage faster and better learning of important skills, says Gallwey. Nathan agrees with all that, but also includes the benefits of better financial performance and heightened personal enjoyment of work. "As the CEO of the company, I've got to be focused on the bottom line and productivity," says Nathan, "but I also want to enjoy what I'm doing."

Gallwey's Philosophy

Gallwey's work with corporations began soon after his coaching and his book on tennis made him well-known as a teacher with a unique approach that produced remarkable results. AT&T hired him to teach telephone operators how to be more courteous, and Gallwey responded with a training program, "The Inner Game of Operating," used for nearly the entire Ma Bell system.

"Learning" and "coaching" have become mainstream buzzwords today, along with "team-building" and other concepts relating to knowledge workers. Gallwey says public interest in the inner-game approach, which relates to those trends, has grown "1,000 percent" since he developed it in the early 1970s. Since that time, he's gained a blue-chip client list and sold more than one million copies of his books on the inner games of golf, skiing, tennis and a hefty number of other topics, without so much as a corporate brochure for The Inner Game Corp., his own consulting firm located in Agoura Hills, California.

One of Gallwey's premises is that inside each person are two selves. Self 1 is the critical, fearful, self-doubting voice; for example, the one inside the head of a salesperson that repeats instructions such as: "Stress the benefits. Meet her objections. Don't blow it! Now-close!" Those hectoring admonishments, Gallwey says, hinder the accomplishment of the job by Self 2, which encompasses all the inner resources, potential and actual, of the individual. If you can get Self 1 to be quiet, Gallwey says, Self 2 will not only get the job done better, but also learn effectively sans lectures and instructions.

Getting Self 1 out of the way so Self 2 can learn and act is actually a fairly straightforward process. One trick is to focus your attention, but not on your performance. That just causes stress and mucks up Self 2. Instead, focus on a critical variable relating to the performance. For instance, Gallwey teaches tennis players to focus on the way an approaching ball is spinning. He tells phone operators to focus on the amount of tension in voices of callers to directory assistance. He taught a symphony tuba player to play better by focusing not on the sound of the notes but on the way the player's tongue felt during a practice session.

Another part of the process involves being clear about what game you're playing. This means, among other things, knowing why you're playing (or working). For instance, you can either play to win or to have fun. Either reason is fine, Gallwey says, but it's important to keep that goal in mind. As an example of how this can be applied at work, he points to the well-known effectiveness of 5-year-old children trying to sell their parents on something. Children, says Gallwey, thanks to a clear focus on exactly what is desired and a sensitivity to the hot buttons of their sales prospects-the parents-offer a model of attentiveness, trust-building, flexibility and persistence that professional salespeople would do well to emulate.

Making It Work for Your Company

The inner game is not a philosophy for general management, Gallwey says. Nor is it suited to motivating sales people or helping businesses in crisis. But, he says, "if you need better performance out of people, if you need people to be learners, if you need people to work better in teams, it's appropriate."

No matter what you're trying to use the inner game for, you can hinder its effectiveness if you force it. For instance, don't mandate that all employees have to receive and apply the training, Gallwey says. He recommends that participation in training be entirely optional and that no one should suffer in performance reviews or otherwise for failing to take or apply the training.

You can also do it wrong by spending too much money on it, as Gallwey's large corporate clients are wont to do. Instead of hosting a several-days-long seminar that costs $2,000 per person, he suggests, entrepreneurs should recommend employees read one of his books and subsidize its purchase. That approach will cost you about $10 per person and may yield adequate benefits, he says.

The phrase "inner game" and some of its concepts have been widely appropriated by other authors, speakers and consultants. Gallwey refers to these interlopers, as well as the broader current interest in workplace psychology and spirituality, as "generic inner game." You can go wrong with generic inner games that are too deeply psychological, New Age-type spiritual or simply too complex, he warns.

Gallwey doesn't worry about overemphasizing the inner side of things, however. "Most corporations have only been playing the outer game," he says. "Recently, it's become more balanced, but we're still nowhere near giving the inner game its due."

Nathan, who thinks the $100,000 he's put into inner-game training to be money well-spent, adds that playing the inner game well will translate into a better score in the outer game. "It's not just a feel-good thing," he says. "It has practical business results, too."

Mark Henricks writes about business, technology and investing from Austin, Texas. His latest book is Mastering Home Networking (Sybex).

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