People Development

our inner game

Sean Spurgin

“What lies behind us and what lies before us, are two tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –  R. W. Emerson

What’s under the surface?

‘There is always an inner game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure in the outer game.’ – Tim Gallwey

Tim Gallwey, as a professional tennis coach, realised that many of his teaching instructions were conflicting with the ‘self-dialogue’ of the individual and, in turn, this was interfering with learning and performance.  When he looked into this, he found that there was a lot going on in the mind of his tennis students that was preventing true focus of attention.  He then began to explore ways to focus the mind of the player.  Gallwey focused on particular themes such as overcoming fear, achieving concentration or breaking bad habits. 

What are the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ games?

Gallwey describes there being two ‘arenas of engagement’: the outer and the inner.

  • The outer game is played in 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 beliefs or assumptions – interferences that block performance.
  • The inner game is played to overcome the self-imposed beliefs or obstacles that prevent an individual or team from accessing their full potential. In simple terms the game can be summarised in a formula:

Regardless of whether we believe it or not, we have put barriers, limiting beliefs or ‘interference’, in the way of achieving our full potential; a glass ceiling. Some people call it ‘baggage’. It sits in the back of our unconscious mind as a belief that has a whole bag of emotions attached to it.

These may have been:

  • As the result of some event that happened as a child or a result of something we were told when we were younger
  • As a result of a piece of feedback given in the wrong way in the work environment or a result of a significant emotional event

Opinions: We form an opinion following an experience, and thereon in, we look for evidence to back this up in our own mind, building it up into something that resembles nothing like reality. A second person’s view of the same event could be completely different.

Beliefs: We have formed a belief in our unconscious mind about ourselves, others and events and hold it to be true. A negative belief can form prejudices against situations and people.

These drivers can be seen by others in our behaviours. It’s only when the views of others conflict with our own that this ‘threatens’ our beliefs. Confirmation from others that they have seen things, in the same way, will go some way to reinforcing our beliefs. The reality is that we could both be wrong.

Quick test – Have you ever met someone and immediately felt that you wouldn’t get on, only to get to know them and find that they are great to spend time with? Why did you feel that initially? How did you establish reality?

When we form beliefs, we take them on with the information we have to hand at the time. Over time we may seek to cling to old beliefs that do nothing to serve us in the current time. We have a choice over whether we choose to believe these to be true for who we are now. To do this we need to separate the logic from the emotion We can use what’s called either a ‘paradigm shift’ or ‘reframe’ to make this happen. (Both phrases used interchangeably in psychology of beliefs).

Try this – for each belief, you need to consider:

  • Why did I choose to accept this belief as the true version of reality? (Using logical, ‘at cause’ language).
  • How has this belief served me?
  • What paradigm shift/reframing achieves this? (What do you believe – the logic)
  • How has making the choice to change this belief right now helped you to move forward? (Answer in current tense as if decision has been made).

Taking this forward, we need to be incredibly honest with ourselves.

We may have had plenty of feedback on key barriers over time. Each time we get the feedback, we have a coping mechanism that deals with this.

Consider the example:

  • “James, I’ve had to ask you to focus on Jade’s behaviour towards change and her performance before.”
  • Internal response (What we think): “I just want to avoid conflict. She’s a difficult person to manage and never accepts feedback.”
  • External response (What we say): “I’m working with Jade, she is making some progress………I’m going to review where she is at the end of the month”

Self-awareness is critical to breakthrough performance. Whenever we give a reason for not achieving or doing something, we need to make a very conscious effort to test our internal and external language.

The skill is being able to recognise limiting or negative beliefs, and being able to challenge them. This applies to your own beliefs and those of your people. What are your beliefs about operating effectively in a behaviours-led environment? What about the people on your team? How are these beliefs impacting their engagement or ability to perform?

Try this:

Consider your team members – who has a limiting belief about themselves that is holding them back? Ask their permission to have a conversation about this, privately. Use the questions below to guide the discussion (not as a script – make sure you are listening deeply and responding to what they say, not just asking the next question)

  1. Is what you’re saying really true?
  2. What evidence is there to support your view?
  3. How does this way of thinking/view impact on the way you behave?
  4. If you believed the opposite view, would it impact your behaviour positively?
  5. What else could be happening?
  6. What are the advantages/disadvantages of thinking this way?
  7. Are we using ‘extreme’ language to support our thinking?
  8. Where are we on the accountability ladder?
  9. What ideas do we have to change/influence the situation?
  10. What is the benefit of focusing on things we cannot change?

Consider yourself – do you have any limiting or negative beliefs? Use the same questions to self-coach and change your mindset

Spotting limiting beliefs Now you’ve practised using the questions, look out for opportunities to use them in the future. If you hear any of your team speaking negatively about stuff or demonstrating limiting beliefs, use the questions to shift and reframe their mindsets