This is a book summary of The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey (Amazon):
Premium Companion Post:
For a video intro to W. Timothy Gallwey, check out:
- All content in quotation marks is from the author unless otherwise stated.
- All content is organized into my own themes (not the author’s chapters).
- Due to my interests, I’ve only included notes about mental mastery (not anything about tennis).
- Emphasis has been added in bold for readability/skimmability.
Book Summary Contents: Click a link here to jump to a section below
- About the Book
- Outer Game & Inner Game
- Self 1 & Self 2
- Relationship between the Selves
- Natural Learning
- Nonjudgmental Awareness & Focus
- Effortless Concentration & Consciousness
- Peak Performance & “Winning”
The Mental Side of Peak Performance: The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey (Book Summary)
About the book The Inner Game of Tennis
“How to develop the inner skills, without which high performance is impossible, is the subject of The Inner Game of Tennis.”
- “It is the thesis of this book that neither mastery nor satisfaction can be found in the playing of any game without giving some attention to the relatively neglected skills of the inner game.”
- “Focus of attention in the present moment, the only one you can really live in, is at the heart of this book and at the heart of the art of doing anything well.”
- “I believe the areas of business, health, education and human relationships will evolve in the understanding of human development and the inner skills they require. We will become better learners and more independent thinkers.”
Outer Game & Inner Game
“Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game.”
The Outer Game:
- “The outer game is played against an external opponent to overcome external obstacles, and to reach an external goal.”
The Inner Game:
- “The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard. He aims at the kind of spontaneous performance which occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at one with the body, which finds its own surprising ways to surpass its own limits again and again.”
- “We are still just at the beginning of a profound and long-needed rebalancing process between outer and inner. This is not me-ism. It is a process of self-discovery that naturally makes its own contribution to the whole as we learn to make the basic contribution to ourselves.”
Self 1 & Self 2
“One day I asked myself an important question—Who was talking to whom? Who was scolding and who being scolded? ‘I’m talking to myself,’ say most people. But just who is this ‘I’ and who the ‘myself’? … Obviously, the ‘I’ and the ‘myself’ are separate entities or there would be no conversation, so one could say that within each player there are two ‘selves.’ One, the ‘I,’ seems to give instructions; the other, ‘myself,’ seems to perform the action. Then ‘I’ returns with an evaluation of the action.”
Self 1 (The Teller):
- The conscious ego-mind.
- Likes the feeling of control it gets from doing it by the book.
- Always looking for approval and wanting to avoid disapproval.
- Sees a compliment as a potential criticism.
- Wants to take responsibility for making things ‘better.’
- Wants the credit for playing an important role in things.
- Worries and suffers a lot when things don’t go its way.
- Sense of self-respect rides on how well he performs in relation to others.
- Gets so dependent upon things, situations, people and concepts within its experience that when change occurs or seems about to occur, it feels threatened.
Self 2 (The Doer):
- The unconscious mind, nervous system, body.
- Likes the feeling of flow.
- Natural capabilities.
- Evolves every chance it gets.
- Hears everything, never forgets anything.
- Actions are based on information it has stored in its memory of past actions of itself or of the observed actions of others.
- Refines and extends the information in its memory bank as one practices.
- Native tongue is imagery: sensory images (a picture is worth a thousand words).
- Movements are learned through visual and feeling images.
- Getting the clearest possible image of your desired outcomes is a most useful method for communicating.
- Endowed by birth, regardless of where that birth took place, with an instinct to fulfill its nature.
- Wants to enjoy, to learn, to understand, appreciate, go for it, rest, be healthy, survive, be free to be what it is, express itself and make its unique contribution.
The author’s realization of the two selves is exactly what Eckhart Tolle describes as his own spiritual awakening experience: “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle (Book Summary)
Relationship between the Selves
“Self 2 will never be allowed to express spontaneity and excellence when Self 1 is playing some heavy ulterior game involving its self-image. Yet as one recognizes the games of Self 1, a degree of freedom can be achieved … There is always a part of us that remains immune to the contamination of Self 1.”
The Dysfunctional Relationship:
Distortion vicious cycle:
- “Self 1 tends to distort its perception of the event, prompting us to take misguided actions, which in turn leads to circumstances that further undermine our inner balance—the basic Self 1 vicious cycle.”
Lack of trust:
- “Self 1 does not trust Self 2, even though it embodies all the potential you have developed up to that moment and is far more competent to control the muscle system than Self 1.”
- “As long as Self 1 is either too ignorant or too proud to acknowledge the capabilities of Self 2, true self-confidence will be hard to come by. It is Self 1’s mistrust of Self 2 which causes both the interference called ‘trying too hard’ and that of too much self-instruction. The first results in using too many muscles, the second in mental distraction and lack of concentration.”
Overthinking & trying too hard:
- “It is the constant ‘thinking’ activity of Self 1, the ego-mind, which causes interference with the natural capabilities of Self 2.”
- “By thinking too much and trying too hard, Self 1 has produced tension and muscle conflict in the body. He is responsible for the error, but he heaps the blame on Self 2 and then, by condemning it further, undermines his own confidence in Self 2.”
- “Self 1 likes the idea of playing in the zone, especially the results that usually occur. So Self 1 will try to grasp onto almost anything that promises to take you to what everyone agrees is a wonderful place. But there is one catch; the only way to get there is to leave Self 1 behind. So as long as you let Self 1 be the one that takes you there, it will be there too and you will not be able to go into the zone.”
The New Relationship:
New communication & attitude:
- “Within each player the kind of relationship that exists between Self 1 and Self 2 is the prime factor in determining one’s ability to translate his knowledge of technique into effective action. In other words, the key to better anything lies in improving the relationship between the conscious teller, Self 1, and the natural capabilities of Self 2.”
- “For many of us, a new relationship needs to be forged with Self 2. And building new relationships involves new ways of communicating. If the former relationship was characterized by criticism and control, the symptoms of mistrust, then the more desired relationship is one of respect and trust. If so, this change can start with a change of attitude. If you observe Self 1, in its critical posture, it looks down at Self 2 and diminishes it (in its own eyes) with its disparaging thoughts. The other possibility is to learn to look up to Self 2. This is the attitude of respect based on true recognition of its natural intelligence and capabilities. Another word for this attitude is humility, a feeling that happens naturally in the presence of something or someone you admire. As you find your way to an attitude that slopes upward toward Self 2 with respect, the feelings and thoughts that accompany the controlling and critical attitude fade and the sincerity of Self 2 emerges. With an attitude of respect, you learn to speak in the language of the respected person.”
Less self-judgment, more trust:
- “Clearly, the new relationship to be established with ourselves must be based on the maxim ‘Trust thyself.'”
- “Bringing a greater harmony between ego-mind and body—that is, between Self 1 and Self 2—was to let go of self-judgment. Only when Self 1 stops sitting in judgment over Self 2 and its actions can he become aware of who and what Self 2 is and appreciate the processes by which it works. As this step occurs, trust is developed, and eventually the basic but elusive ingredient for all top performance emerges—self-confidence.”
- “As trust increases, Self 1 quiets, Self 2 becomes more conscious and more present, enjoyment increases and the gifts are being given.”
Letting it happen:
- “Having requested your body to perform a certain action, give it the freedom to do it. The body is trusted, without the conscious control of mind … Effort is initiated by Self 2, but there is no trying by Self 1. Letting it happen doesn’t mean going limp; it means letting Self 2 use only the muscles necessary for the job. Nothing is forced. Continue the process. Be willing to allow Self 2 to make changes within changes, until a natural groove is formed.”
- “When Self 1 is absent and Self 2 is present, always feels good, and allows a more vivid consciousness and usually great excellence in performance.”
- “Freedom from stress happens in proportion to our responsiveness to our true selves, allowing every moment possible to be an opportunity for Self 2 to be what it is and enjoy the process. As far as I can see, this is a lifelong learning process.”
“By the word ‘learning’ I do not mean the collection of information, but the realization of something which actually changes one’s behavior—either external behavior, such as a tennis stroke, or internal behavior, such as a pattern of thought.”
- “To me it makes sense to build any system of instruction upon the best possible understanding of natural learning, the learning process you were born with. The less instruction interferes with the process of learning built into your very DNA, the more effective your progress is going to be. Said another way, the less fear and doubt are embedded in the instructional process, the easier it will be to take the natural steps of learning.”
- “To discover this natural learning process, it is necessary to let go of the old process of correcting faults; that is, it is necessary to let go of judgment and see what happens.”
- “To see things as they are, we must take off our judgmental glasses, whether they’re dark or rose-tinted. This action unlocks a process of natural development which is as surprising as it is beautiful.”
- “Acknowledgment of one’s own or another’s strengths, efforts, accomplishments, etc., can facilitate natural learning, whereas judgments interfere. What is the difference? Acknowledgment of and respect for one’s capabilities support trust in Self 2. Self 1’s judgments, on the other hand, attempt to manipulate and undermine that trust.”
- “If we let ourselves lose touch with our ability to feel our actions, by relying too heavily on instructions, we can seriously compromise our access to our natural learning processes and our potential to perform.”
- “Natural learning is and always will be from the inside out, not vice versa. You are the learner and it is your individual, internal learning process that ultimately governs your learning.”
- “Bottom line: there is no substitute for learning from experience. However, even though we have the ability to learn naturally, many of us have forgotten. And many of us have lost touch with feel. We may need to learn how to feel again and learn how to learn again.”
Usual Way of Learning:
- Step 1: Criticize or Judge Past Behavior
- Step 2: Tell Yourself to Change, Instructing with Word Commands Repeatedly
- Step 3: Try Hard; Make Yourself Do It Right
- Step 4: Critical Judgment About Results Leading to a Self 1 Vicious Cycle
Inner Game Way of Learning:
- Step 1: Observe Existing Behavior Nonjudgmentally
- Step 2: Picture Desired Outcome
- Step 3: Let It Happen! Trust Self 2
- Step 4: Nonjudgmental, Calm Observation of the Results Leading to Continuing Observation and Learning
Nonjudgmental Awareness & Focus
“The art of letting go of the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or bad.”
What is judgment?
- “Judgments are our personal, ego reactions to the sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts within our experience.”
- “What I mean by ‘judgment’ is the act of assigning a negative or positive value to an event. In effect it is saying that some events within your experience are good and you like them, and other events in your experience are bad and you don’t like them.”
- “Neither the ‘goodness’ nor ‘badness’ ascribed to the event by the players is an attribute … Rather, they are evaluations added to the event in the minds of the players according to their individual reactions.”
- “Clearly, positive and negative evaluations are relative to each other. It is impossible to judge one event as positive without seeing other events as not positive or as negative. There is no way to stop just the negative side of the judgmental process.”
How judgment works:
- “It is the initial act of judgment which provokes a thinking process.”
- “First the mind judges the event, then groups events, then identifies with the combined event and finally judges itself. As a result, what usually happens is that these self-judgments become self-fulfilling prophecies. That is, they are communications from Self 1 about Self 2 which, after being repeated often enough, become rigidified into expectations or even convictions about Self 2. Then Self 2 begins to live up to these expectations.”
- “Once the judgmental mind establishes a self-identity based on its negative judgments, the role-playing continues to hide the true potential of Self 2 until the hypnotic spell is broken. In short, you start to become what you think.”
- “Judgment results in tightness, and tightness interferes with the fluidity required for accurate and quick movement.”
- “If the judgment process could be stopped with the naming of the event as bad, and there were no further ego reactions, then the interference would be minimal. But judgmental labels usually lead to emotional reactions and then to tightness, trying too hard, self-condemnation, etc. This process can be slowed by using descriptive but nonjudgmental words to describe the events you see.”
Letting go of judgment:
- “Letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them.”
- “By ending judgment, you do not avoid seeing what is. Ending judgment means you neither add nor subtract from the facts before your eyes. Things appear as they are—undistorted. In this way, the mind becomes more calm.”
- “Learning to see ‘nonjudgmentally’—that is, to see what is happening rather than merely noticing how well or how badly it is happening. This overcomes ‘trying too hard.'”
- “You should free yourself from any emotional reaction to success or failure; simply know your goal and take objective interest in the results.”
- “When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, focused play.”
- “My experience over the years is that the best way to quiet the mind is not by telling it to shut up, or by arguing with it, or criticizing it for criticizing you. Fighting the mind does not work. What works best is learning to focus it.”
- “As one achieves focus, the mind quiets. As the mind is kept in the present, it becomes calm. Focus means keeping the mind now and here.”
- “Focus is not achieved by staring hard at something. It is not trying to force focus, nor does it mean thinking hard about something. Natural focus occurs when the mind is interested. When this occurs, the mind is drawn irresistibly toward the object (or subject) of interest. It is effortless and relaxed, not tense and overly controlled.”
- “One thing that can be said about focus is that it is always here and now—that is, in present time and present space.”
- “You become more aware of what is going on as you learn to keep your attention in the now.”
- “It is also necessary to learn to focus awareness in the now. This simply means tuning in to what is happening in the present. The greatest lapses in concentration come when we allow our minds to project what is about to happen or to dwell on what has already happened. How easily the mind absorbs itself in the world of ‘what if’s.”
- “Remember: it is almost impossible to feel or see anything well if you are thinking about how you should be moving. Forget should’s and experience is.”
Effortless Concentration & Consciousness
“The ability to approach this state is the goal of the Inner Game.”
Relaxed, effortless concentration:
- “The master skill, without which nothing of value is ever achieved: the art of relaxed concentration.”
- “The skill of mastering the art of effortless concentration is invaluable in whatever you set your mind to.”
- “Relaxed concentration is the supreme art because no art can be achieved without it, while with it, much can be achieved.”
- “Clearly, to play unconsciously does not mean to play without consciousness. That would be quite difficult! In fact, someone playing ‘out of his mind’ is more aware of the ball, the court and, when necessary, his opponent. But he is not aware of giving himself a lot of instructions, thinking about how to hit the ball, how to correct past mistakes or how to repeat what he just did. He is conscious, but not thinking, not over-trying.”
- “Perhaps a better way to describe the player who is ‘unconscious’ is by saying that his mind is so concentrated, so focused, that it is still. It becomes one with what the body is doing, and the unconscious or automatic functions are working without interference from thoughts. The concentrated mind has no room for thinking how well the body is doing, much less of the how-to’s of the doing. When a player is in this state, there is little to interfere with the full expression of his potential to perform, learn and enjoy.”
- “The instant I try to make myself relax, true relaxation vanishes, and in its place is a strange phenomenon called ‘trying to relax.’ Relaxation happens only when allowed, not as a result of ‘trying’ or ‘making.’ Self 1 should not be expected to give up its control all at once; it begins to find its proper role only as one progresses in the art of relaxed concentration.”
- “Though the player knows his goal, he is not emotionally involved in achieving it and is therefore able to watch the results calmly and experience the process. By so doing, concentration is best achieved, as is learning at its highest rate of speed; making new changes is only necessary when results do not conform to the image given. Otherwise only continuing observation of the behavior undergoing change is necessary. Watch it change; don’t do the changing. The process is an incredibly simple one. The important thing is to experience it. Don’t intellectualize it. See what it feels like to ask yourself to do something and let it happen without any conscious trying.”
- “It is consciousness which makes possible awareness of the sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts which compose what we call ‘experience.’ It is self-evident that one cannot experience anything outside of consciousness. Consciousness is that which makes all things and events knowable. Without consciousness eyes could not see, ears could not hear, and mind could not think. Consciousness is like a pure light energy whose power is to make events knowable, just as an electric light makes objects visible. Consciousness could be called the light of lights because it is by its light that all other lights become visible.”
- “All that ever happens to us, all that we ever do, is known to us through the light energy of what is called consciousness.”
- “When attention is allowed to focus, it comes to know that place. Attention is focused consciousness, and consciousness is that power of knowing.”
- “The light of consciousness can be focused either externally to objects available to the senses or internally to thoughts or feelings. And attention can be focused in a broad or narrow beam. Broad focus would be an attempt to see as much of the forest at one time as possible. Narrow focus would be directing attention to something very specific like the veins on a particular leaf on a particular twig of a branch.”
- “The wisdom of building inner stability in such times seems to me to be an obvious requirement for successful living.”
- “The cornerstone of stability is to know that there is nothing wrong with the essential human being.”
- “Stability grows as I learn to accept what I cannot control and take control of what I can.”
Peak Performance & “Winning”
“Such moments have been called ‘peak experiences’ by the humanistic psychologist Dr. Abraham Maslow.”
- “Researching the common characteristics of persons having such experiences, Maslow reports the following descriptive phrases: ‘He feels more integrated’ (the two selves are one), ‘feels at one with the experience,’ ‘is relatively egoless’ (quiet mind), ‘feels at the peak of his powers,’ ‘fully functioning,’ ‘is in the groove,’ ‘effortless,’ ‘free of blocks, inhibitions, cautions, fears, doubts, controls, reservations, self-criticisms, brakes,’ ‘he is spontaneous and more creative,’ ‘is most here-now,’ ‘is non-striving, non-needing, non-wishing … he just is.'”
- “During such experiences, the mind does not act like a separate entity telling you what you should do or criticizing how you do it. It is quiet; you are ‘together,’ and the action flows as free as a river.”
- “In short, ‘getting it together’ requires slowing the mind. Quieting the mind means less thinking, calculating, judging, worrying, fearing, hoping, trying, regretting, controlling, jittering or distracting. The mind is still when it is totally here and now in perfect oneness with the action and the actor.”
- “Harmony between the two selves exists when this mind is quiet and focused. Only then can peak performance be reached.”
- “Peak performance is a function of a still mind.”
Competition & 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. Reaching the goal itself may not be as valuable as the experience that can come in making a supreme effort to overcome the obstacles involved. The process can be more rewarding than the victory itself.”
- “Competition then becomes an interesting device in which each player, by making his maximum effort to win, gives the other the opportunity he desires to reach new levels of self-awareness.”
- “I arrived at the startling conclusion that true competition is identical with true cooperation. Each player tries his hardest to defeat the other, but in this use of competition it isn’t the other person we are defeating; it is simply a matter of overcoming the obstacles he presents. In true competition no person is defeated. Both players benefit by their efforts to overcome the obstacles presented by the other.”
- “Maximum effort does not mean the super-exertion of Self 1. It means concentration, determination and trusting your body to ‘let it happen.’ It means maximum physical and mental effort. Again competition and cooperation become one.”
- “For the player of the Inner Game, it is the moment-by-moment effort to let go and to stay centered in the here-and-now action which offers the real winning and losing, and this game never ends.”
You May Also Enjoy:
- See all book summaries
- 25 Psychological Tendencies from “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment” by Charlie Munger (Speech Summary)
- 🔒 The Mental Mastery Cheatsheet: 500+ Cognitive Concepts Curated (Biases, Fallacies, Effects, Illusions, Heuristics, Mental Models, & More)
Leave a Reply