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, whether we’re giving or receiving a message. 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, including the ability to learn, grow and enjoy life.

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 and use information. We trust ourselves to make appropriate decisions. We extend trust to others because we act from a place of security and safety.

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 natural abilities, it’s critical and stressed.

When coaching executives, I hear these two selves in evidence when clients share their inner thoughts.

The Critical Voice

Guess which “Self” interferes with high performance? In everything from sports and music to work and relationships, Self 1’s stress and anxiety prevent high-performance results. With worry and lost confidence, we think about too many things at once, we tighten up, and we miss the shot. That which we fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s a vicious cycle—one that the inner game urges us to circumvent. Doing so involves nothing more than observing nonjudgmentally. Don’t change anything for a while. Just observe yourself talking, listening and doing. Become acutely aware of feelings and responses. Nothing more. Just watch and learn.

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

Once you quiet Self 1’s voice, Self 2 becomes more authentic. It will know what to say in ways that are much more effective and influential to others. 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

First, nonjudgmental awareness is curative, allowing you to trust yourself and others. Awareness sets up the conditions for primary learning choices.

The next time you need people to act, communicate your message nonjudgmentally. Show 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 and Twitter.

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