The Inner Game of Tennis

#book author
Timothy Gallwey

The central premise of the Inner Game of Tennis is that there are two selves. Self 1 is the thinking, judgmental self who consciously controls our actions. Self 2, in contrast, is our intuition.

Self 2 is naturally capable and embodies our childlike ability to learn through natural feedback loops. It rarely needs improvement.

When people struggle to perform under pressure, talk about “choking”, or find that the harder they try, the worse perform, they are letting their first self interfere with the natural abilities of the second. They try to learn a skill by identifying flaws in their performance and then trying to correct for them.

Instead, it is far more effective to practice what Gallwey refers to as nonjudgmental awareness.

Nonjudgmental awareness:

Imagine you’re trying to become a better public speaker. Instead of looking for flaws in your ability (“I speak to quickly and stumble over my words”), simply notice, without judgment, the sensations associated with speaking (e.g. “I feel my throat tightening and my heart racing”). Now, instead of trying to deliberately correct for this, bring forth a clear mental picture of what smooth speaking looks like, and allow your body to follow.

When you toss the ball up, focus your attention on its seams, then let the serve serve itself.

The key here is that by visualizing what optimal performance looks like instead of trying to manually correct for poor performance, you defer learning to your second self who improves much more naturally.

Summary in 3 sentences

  1. We all have two selves: Self 1, the conscious and judgmental self who tries, and Self 2, the unconscious self who learns by intuition.
  2. When performing a challenging task, we do our best when we allow Self 2 to learn and perform unconsciously instead of trying to control our actions.
  3. Instead of focusing on identifying flaws in your technique and trying to improve them, simply notice the sensations associated with the activity and visualize what it’s like to perform flawlessly.


This book eloquently describes a phenomenon which affects us all but which is so often misunderstood and under-appreciated. I specifically like how the author described the mastery of the Inner Game as a worthy pursuit in of itself, and how true contentment arises from playing with abandon.

How the Book Changed Me

I have always struggled to perform under pressure. When my ability to perform a difficult task is tested, I tend to crumble. While this book did not cure my weaknesses, it did explain to me their cause and what I can strive to achieve.

Top 3 Highlights


Referenced By

Learning by Intuition
Performing Under Pressure