Winning the Inner Game

There is a far more natural and effective process for learning and performing than most of us realize. It is similar to the way we all learned to walk and talk as young children. As we get older, however we find that it is not so easy.

In sports, we often wonder why we play so well one day and so poorly the next, why we choke during competition or miss easy shots, and why it is so hard to break a bad habit or learn a new one. Much the same is true at work. Our goals can become buried under endless emails and to-do lists, we can get easily distracted and focus on unimportant things, and far too often we can get down on ourselves (and others) when performance doesn’t measure up to our expectations. We all would like to achieve greater personal effectiveness in our sports, work and in the rest of our lives. Following are a few important ideas to help you on your journey.

Getting In Our Own Way

If it’s true that we all have a tremendous amount of potential that is difficult to manifest, then it is equally true that all of us have habits of self-interference that get in the way of achieving what we truly desire. Lapses in concentration, fear, doubt, self-judgment and narrow ways of thinking can prevent us from achieving our best. This can be expressed in a simple formula:
Performance = Potential minus Interference

  • Remember your best day at work (or tennis or golf). What qualities best describe the experience?
  • Remember your worst day at work. What qualities best describe that experience?
  • What are the blocks to your potential coming out? How do you get in your own way?

Listening to Your Self-Talk

Perhaps the easiest way to understand how we get in our own way is to listen to the way we talk to ourselves. Most of us have a constantly running inner dialogue that only quiets down in moments when we are fully concentrated. But we hardly ever ask: “Who is talking to whom?” When we pay attention to our self-talk it seems as if we have two selves—the self that tells us what to do and criticizes us when we make mistakes and the self it is talking to that must carry out the action. One of the keys to long term happiness and success then is to learn to develop a nurturing inner voice that supports our efforts and doesn’t always try to consciously control our actions.

  • How do you talk to yourself when you practice and play?
  • Do you constantly tell yourself what to do and judge yourself?
  • Where did this voice come from?
  • How does it “know” what it knows?
  • What is the voice of your authentic self?

Reaching Your Full Potential

Most of us have far more potential than we realize. Understanding how to develop our potential and overcome the inner obstacles that interfere with our learning, performance and fulfillment is critical to creating and sustaining high levels of success in any activity.

People not only need to learn how to improve their physical skills-they also need to learn how to develop their mental and emotional skills as well. In short, people need to become Mentally FIT. For leaders, managers and coaches to be truly effective they need to know how to facilitate this process.

Mentally FIT for Work

Focus of attention is the key to perception, the process by which we take in information and know our world, and perception is the key to learning and performance. Phil Jackson, seven-time NBA Championship coach says “Awareness is everything.” Since most of us are not fully aware of our mental, emotional, and physical habits, bringing attention to a situation typically elicits natural learning and change by “uncovering” what was formerly hidden. It allows us to see the essential facts of a situation distinct from our intentions, assumptions, and interpretations. Elite athletes have long known that learning how to focus and maintaining that focus is critical to high levels of performance.

  • Are you easily distracted at work? What takes you away from the here and now?
  • What do you think might be different at work if you were 10% more focused?

Intentions has to do with the choices we make about our actions, attitudes, and goals. Learning and performance can be improved enormously by simply getting really clear about what we want. But this is more difficult than it seems because of the inner games people play. A balance between external results and the actual process that achieves the result is critical for high performance. Too much attachment to “kissing the trophy”, that is focusing on outcome can cause performance anxiety which creates fear and doubt. Too little attention to goals and we get easily distracted or don’t do the important things we need to be successful.

  • Do you have clear professional and personal goals?
  • Are they written down?
  • How strong is your commitment to reaching these goals?
  • What limiting beliefs do you have about them that are keeping you from starting or achieving them?

Imagination. Albert Einstein said, “imagination is more important than knowledge.” Creative imagination is often called for to help us envision our future, think out of the box, and face the paradoxes life often puts in front of us. One definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Many of us have long-standing habits that interfere with getting what we want. Sometimes seeing the world with “new eyes” is more important than anything else we might do.

Challenge: Approach your work this week in an entirely new way. Change up your routines, try new things and do it differently than you have in the past and notice what happens.

Trust. Trust is the feeling you have about your chances for success, your self-assessment of your abilities and talent, and your sense of self-worthiness. Creating an environment of high trust and respect for you is critical for optimal learning and performance. When people feel safe they can be challenged to perform beyond their comfort zone. Self-trust brings life to technique!

  • Where does self-trust come from?
  • How safe is it for you to make mistakes?
  • Do you feel challenged at work or pressured?