Book Review: The Inner Game of Work

In the late 1980’s, studying music in under-grad, many of us were disciples of The Inner Game as espoused in the books The Inner Game of Music and/or its predecessor The Inner Game of Tennis.

Two of my favorite concepts from those works still impact me today:

The equation p=P-i
Product (or performance) = Potential minus interference.

We never work to our full potential. However, one way to get closer is to identify the interference, then limit or eliminate it. This process can be internal or external.

One of the most insidious sources of interference is negative self-talk generated by “trying too hard.”

Which brings my to my second favorite concept:


The Inner Game balances Awareness, Choice, and Trust. But Awareness was the one that really hit me. It works like this:

When you’re trying to improve any element of your tennis game (Gallwey), or your tuba playing (me), instead of trying to fix your mistakes, simply be aware of them.

Two examples, one from the book and one from my own experience.

Instead of thinking, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit it with the center of your racket!!!!!”
Just observe, “To what extent did I get that ball to the center of my racket?”

Instead of thinking, “I’ve GOT to fill my lungs with more air and breathe deeply into my diaphragm for optimal tuba tone quality.”
Just observe, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how deep was that breath?”

Thus, Gallwey’s point is that by simply being aware of what we’re working on, will will improve through the process of observation alone.

Those two bits of information have served me well, and I’ve actually not returned to those books since the 90s.

Which means I missed that in 2000, Gallwey wrote the book, “The Inner Game of Work.” Recently, a colleague brought it up, and we promptly read it for our book club. I’ve recorded a video to talk about it a bit more.

Some Bullet Points:

  • Basic model is Awareness, Trust, & Choice
  • In times of change, the basic model can be beneficial
  • Reducing boredom is essential to increasing productivity
  • Balance performance with learning and enjoyment
  • Flow—the challenge must be just beyond the capacity

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