Sunday, December 4, 2011

What is the inner game of stress?

‘The Inner Game of Stress’, by Timothy Gallwey (with Edward Hanzelik and John Horton) is the latest of a series of inner game books.Tim Gallwey has previously written books about the inner game involved in several sports, including tennis and golf, and the inner game of work - based on his experience as a coach and trainer. Hanzelik and Horton are medical practitioners who conduct stress seminars drawing on their understanding of the inner game as well as on their medical knowledge.

I think it would be fair to say that all of Gallwey’s books are to a large extent about avoiding the adverse effects of stress on our ability to function. This book is as much a pleasure to read as Tim Gallwey’s other inner game books. Gallwey is an expert in getting his message across by telling interesting stories based on his own personal experience. I have read all but one of his books. I wrote an article a few years ago describing how the books had helped me in dealing with a stress-related problem.

The main point in this book is that stress involves an inner game as well as external stressors. The inner game arises largely from trying to live with illusions about our own identities. It is as though an internal ‘Stress Maker’ has stolen our identities and substituted an illusion in order to create fear, doubt and confusion. The illusions woven by the ‘Stress Maker’ originate from the concepts, perceptions and expectations of other people.

The great strength of the inner game approach, it seems to me, is that it encourages the belief that each of us has a real identity (a natural self) that we, as individuals, are ultimately responsible for developing. Other people may see our identities as illusions that we have created in our own minds, but we should know better. We know intuitively how to be who and what we are when we recognize our inner resources and the opportunities for learning and enjoyment that are available in association with pursuit of our performance goals. We can learn to trust ourselves to function more successfully.

The book provides practical guidance on how to break the momentum of stress – how to stop and become aware of what you are trying to control and what you can control. It discusses the potential we have to liberate ourselves from illusions by re-assessing the meaning of experiences.

From what I have written, some readers might be concerned that the book might encourage people to become too self-centred – to question the social norms that were instilled in them during childhood and to pursue their own interests at the expense of other people. I think such concerns are misplaced. People don't question norms that they have internalized - adherence to such norms is a matter of self-respect rather than fear. The book recognizes that it is important for individuals to have deep relationships with others. One of the exercises in the book involves seeing problems in a relationship from the perspective of the other person – to understand what they may be thinking, feeling and wanting.

Much of the advice presented in the book is based on individual case studies rather than experiments involving large numbers of people. I don't think that is a huge problem as long as the readers who try the exercises suggested in the book approach them as though they are conducting little experiments of their own. That is consistent with one of the themes of the book, which is to encourage readers to become more aware of what they are doing at present and of the effects of doing things differently.

It is possible that this book, and Tim Gallwey’s other inner game books, may benefit some people more than others. On the basis of my own experience, all I can say is that the ideas in Tim Gallwey’s books have served me well.

Anyone interested in learning more about the effects of stress on the body should click here to see a useful interactive chart.


Theresa H Hall said...

I liked it when you said this:

"Anyhow, whatever I say or write other people have to make up their own minds about me. I don’t control other people’s thought processes."

Too many times I find I wonder or am overly concerned about another's perception of me. I shall recall this in order to put this concern into perspective. Thanks!

Winton Bates said...

Hi Theresa
I have even heard some people say that what other people are thinking of you is none of your business.