The Inner Game of Leaders: Battle of the Two Selves

In his books on the Inner Game, author Tim Gallwey introduces the idea of “Self 1” and “Self 2.” These “selves” exist in everyone, and respond differently to all interactions.

Self 1 is the “big ego”—the know-it-all. Self 1 is judgmental, concerned with winning, being right, and showing off.

Self 2 is the wise one—the real human being with inherent potential. Self 2 has the ability to learn, grow, and enjoy life.

Self 1 doesn’t trust. It acts from a place of insecurity and fear because it’s always judging itself and others, while focusing on being right and winning. Self 1 uses pressure and high standards to get the most out of itself and others. Because Self 1 doesn’t trust its natural abilities, it’s critical of itself and highly stressed.

When we act from Self 2, we are receptive and neutral. We observe and listen without any preconceived ideas. We are relaxed, focused, and able to take in information and use it intelligently. We trust ourselves to make appropriate decisions. We extend trust to others because we act from a place of security and safety.

When I coach leaders, these two selves become very obvious when the executives share their inner thoughts.

The Critical Voice

Can you guess which “self” interferes with high performance? From sports and music to work and relationships, Self 1’s inherent stress and anxiety prevent a high-performance result. When we worry and have no confidence in ourselves, we think about too many things at once and tighten up. You can’t succeed under those conditions. That which we fear (failure) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with each failure creating ever-greater anxiety.

It’s a vicious cycle—one that the inner game urges us to circumvent. Doing so involves nothing more than observing nonjudgmentally. At first, don’t even try to change anything about your behavior. Just observe yourself talking, listening, and doing. Become acutely aware of your feelings and responses. Do nothing more but watch and learn.

You’ll soon see how Self 1 is active all the time, injecting nonstop opinions and criticisms. Self 1 distorts your reality because it has an agenda: maintaining control and appearing successful.

Once you quiet Self 1’s voice, Self 2’s voice becomes more prominent. It will know what to say in authentic ways that are much more effective and influential to others. Unlike Self 1, it doesn’t have an agenda.

Nonjudgmental Awareness

Author Tim Gallwey’s inner game is based on three principles:

  1. Awareness
  2. Trust
  3. Choice

Nonjudgmental awareness is curative, allowing you to trust yourself and others. The next time you need people to act, try communicating your message in a nonjudgmental way. Have trust in others. Let people choose what needs to be done to accomplish desired results.

I’d love to hear from you; you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.