Why the Inner Game Is So Important to Elite Performance

Some people get really stressed and fatigued when they try to up their game to a higher level of performance. Many times, the prevailing thought they have is “try harder.” But, trying harder is often not the answer. One thing to keep in mind is that the feelings of frustration come as a result of unsatisfied primary feelings, which tells us that what we are doing to satisfy our needs is not working and so we should actually choose another option instead of the one that is frustrating us. This will happen when we simply think that trying harder is the answer. If left unchecked, the feelings of frustration will soon turn to aggression which will not yield your desired results and may actually alienate others around you.

Let’s say the time is drawing near for you to deliver on something you promised. Right up to the moment, you have felt pretty good about your abilities. At the last few hours or minutes, something changes in your thinking which changes the way you feel. A wave of doubt and disbelief about yourself and your abilities floods in. You have a sudden urge to cancel or run away. As hard as you may try to pull yourself out of these thoughts and feelings of insecurity and doubt, something tells you that you have already misfired, bungled, screwed up or lost the opportunity to win.

On the other hand, perhaps you have been in a similar situation where you knew you were going to succeed way before you even started. Feelings of confidence and control are abundant. Your mind has a steely focus without distraction and all your obstacles either perceived or real, melted like ice cream in a hot July sun. You felt like your capacities and abilities were boundless and even some came to the surface you never knew you had.

The whole thought process of winning or losing in your mind beforehand is what tennis coach W. Timothy Gallwey coined “The Inner Game.” This concept was introduced in the 1970s when people primarily viewed sports performance as purely physical. Athletes focused on having the best physical attributes rather than having the best mindsets. Today, this combination of physiology is the thing that is of the utmost importance. We began to recognize that physical performance was not the full picture. The Inner Game is fought between your own self-defeating tendencies, not the actual opponent or circumstances.

The Outer Game is the prospect, the client, the audience, the opposing team, whatever the circumstances are that in which you must perform. The Inner Game is played inside you against your focus, doubts, fears, nerves and so on. The Inner Game is played to overcome all your mind habits which inhibit the best version of yourself conducting performance. Here’s where I want to tie this back to where we started in this article. A major component of losing the inner game within ourselves is trying too hard and interfering with our own natural abilities and capabilities.

The Inner Game is conducted by our self-talk. We are always internally talking to ourselves and giving ourselves instructions. Inside we have two selves. Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is our conscious self and Self 2 is our subconscious self. If both of our selves are locked together in harmony and positive, the outer game tends to go well. But is Self 1 gets judgmental and critical, trying to instruct Self 2 in what it should have done or what it had done in the past or what someone has said to us in the past, the outer game starts to fall apart before we even get close to playing it. We lose before we even get started. We are trying too hard!

Compounding this issue is that the most common advice you will receive from some well-meaning person is to work harder, put more effort into it, pay more attention to what you are doing. In short… do more intensely focused hard work! Let me ask you a question, when you are doing your best work, is that what you are experiencing? Hard work? No, most people say they feel “in the flow” and the work becomes “effortless.” You feel “in the zone,” not hard work. So, why do we think making it a drudgery is the answer? Who knows, but it’s become one of those things we say, which has little validity as far as increased performance levels.

Certainly, there are always going to be external obstacles for us as performers. Readers who follow this blog are more interested in getting into the elite class of performance, so it would stand to reason you would also have corresponding elite level resistance and obstacles in your way both externally and most importantly, internally. It is going to serve us very well to pay heed to more than just the external. We must develop in order to overcome the instinct internally to get into our own way. We must face the challenge of becoming more comfortable with trusting ourselves and our innate abilities to be able to get into the zone of elite performance more easily and readily.

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