The Inner Game of Work by W. Timothy Gallwey Book Review

The Inner Game of Work by W. Timothy Gallwey Book Review

When you’re trying to learn something new or excel at something you’re familiar with, there’s a predictable process that we all default to. First, we’ll track down or listen to a set of instructions, then we’ll set goals to achieve them, then we’ll just sort of have at it. We’ll fail or fall short of expectations and get frustrated. Then we’ll either put our heads down and keep at it – and keep failing or succeeding by brute force or give up saying we’re not “talented” enough.

Every bit of research into learning & performance has shown that that is the wrong way all around. Timothy Gallwey was on the leading edge in the 1970s on the shift in academic understanding about learning and performance. He actually quit academia to apply coaching principles as a tennis coach. Here’s an amazing video showing him introducing a better way of learning to his students.

The Inner Game of Work is basically Gallwey taking the exact same principles and applying them to everyday work-life.

Usually at work, we (or our boss) will say I need to do X then we’ll just go off and do it however makes the most sense – telling ourselves “you have to achieve X, you have to achieve X” without ever thinking how to get there or what body of actions actually would add up to that goal. And even if we do break the goal down into milestones, we’ll overcompensate towards those milestones which throws off our whole performance.

The best example he gave was public speaking. Imagine you set a goal to “become a better public speaker.” You go off and just practice. The extra preparation may help, but you’ll still be pretty aimless and unsure of what you need to do.

So you break it down into “eliminate umms.” Now you have something to practice towards. The problem is that now focusing on eliminating the umms takes up all your focus while speaking, thus causing you to lose your train of thought which…creates yet another problem.

Gallwey’s main point is to spend time looking for key variables that would make up good performance, and simply watch them. Don’t focus on doing X or Y – just track them. Have someone count your umms or time your pauses while speaking. Don’t force changes, just allow your subconscious to make adjustments for you.

Another great example was time management – don’t set out to spend X time on this task, then Y time on this task and build in Z time for breaks. Instead, just track your time, watch the results and overtime let your regular workflow sync with better use of your time. Usually the problem is that we have a poor sense of how long tasks take – not a time management problem.

What I Liked

Unlike too many spin-off books, this one actually had good applications and specific examples. It had plenty of fluff for sure, but overall I think taking his hugely successful Inner Game of Tennis and applying it specifically to work-life was worthwhile.

The book is conversational in tone, and fits with the whole ethos of not simply creating lists to execute on. It’s about taking your time figuring out what actually matters, then measuring that.

He provides a really handy chart of examples on Page 77. If you are curious about the book, but don’t feel like reading it, then find it at the library and copy that chart down. Every book should have something similar.

What I Didn’t Like

This book was 256 pages, and could totally have been less than 200. It’s got plenty of fluff that you can skip over.

I wish he could have had a wider diversity of anecdotes & examples. The real life examples he gave all came from his consulting work with AT&T in the late 1970s. A bit more diversity would have made the book even more interesting and given it a bit more credibility.


Set goals for sure, but don’t try to directly perform towards them. Figure out what variables will actually contribute, then simply measure those.

Share via...

Similar Posts