How a Shift in Mindset Can Improve Your Performance

Deborah De Vita | 7/31/2020

OK, I admit it. My golf game can best be described as “shoot and chuckle”. And, my tennis game …… well, I won’t go there! But what I have learned from my times on the fairway or on the tennis court is this – your “Inner” game in sports and life affects your “Outer” experience. Sports trainer/coach Timothy Gallwey (author of best sellers, The Inner Game of Tennis and The Inner Game of Golf) suggests… 

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.

This is the game that takes place in the mind… played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, nervousness, self-doubt and self-condemnation…


Do you often wonder why you play well one day and so poorly the rest, or why you clutch during competition, or blow easy shots? And, why does it take so long to break a bad habit and learn a new one? Successes in the inner game may not add more trophies to your trophy case, but they bring valuable rewards which are more permanent, and which can contribute significantly to your success on the fairway/court as well as in life.

Here is the distinction between the Inner Game and the Outer Game. Your Outer Game consists of your day-to-day actions, mechanics and tasks that you take to achieve an outcome or desired result. These are the “how to’s”, the “doing” aspects.

And then there’s the Inner Game. The Inner Game is the “being” aspect. It comprises your emotional state. Conversely, it is also your sense of nervousness, anxiety, lack of self-esteem, being scared or experiencing fear, and so on.

Author Gallwey calls these Self 1 and Self 2. Self 1 is the conscious teller, and, self 2 is the doer. The key to better tennis/golf/sport/life lies in improving the relationship between these two selves.

Self 1 thought he knew all about how to play and was supervising Self 2, the one who had to hit the ball.

Performance = Self 2 (potential) minus Self 1 (interference)

Recognizing these two sides of each of us, we are challenged to trust in our Self 2. This will help you to put Self 1 in the background and let Self 2 take the reins to improved scores and a balanced and more purposeful life.

Think about the frame of mind of a player who is “hot” or “playing in the zone.” Is she thinking about how to hit each shot? Is he thinking at all? Listen to the phrases commonly used to describe a player at his/her best: “He’s out of his mind”; “She’s playing over her head”; “He’s unconscious”; “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” The common factor in each of these descriptions is that Self 1 is not so active. The best athletes know that their peak performance never comes when they are thinking about it.

Fighting your mind does not work. What works best is learning to focus it.

Whether you want to experience a level of peak performance at your game or to achieve your key desired results in life, you must not be so caught up with your internal mind chatter. You must be fully in the moment. In life coaching, I call that being in the “present.”

As a life coach, the approach that I use with my clients is unique because, as in sports coaching, the focus is on what happens between the “hits”, in this case, between the coaching meetings.

Learning how to play your sport better or learning how to navigate obstacles and challenges in your life isn’t about having more and more information, but rather it is the creation of a pattern of thought. It’s when you form a new belief, create new positive habits, get out of a negative groove! And, the way to get out of a groove is to start a new positive habit.

Learn to quiet your mind. Let go of the inclination to judge yourself and your performance as either good or bad, be it in sports or life. Letting go of this judging process is a basic key to the Inner Game. When you learn to become less judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, focused play and life.

This is a trap that you fall into. You judge yourself. “I’m a loser”, “I’m too lazy”, “I suck at xyz”, and so on. These are all judgments. Author Gallwey suggests if you say to yourself “I’m a bad server”, then you are setting a certain expectation for yourself and you begin playing the role of a bad server. If you say to yourself “I can’t reach my desired results in life” then you will not achieve them. You start to become what you think.

For anyone working on the “mechanics” of their sport or finding ways to create more balance and/or accomplishment in their life, it is a matter of “caring, yet not caring, effort yet effortless. This concept presented is applicable beyond purely motor/movement skills of a sport.

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