In his recent lecture in the UK, he called this approach,'not trial and error, but trial and correction’. To do it successfully, he says, you have somehow to deal with the inner voice that loves telling you what to do - while judging you as you do it, usually unfavourably. When you listen to the inner voice - 'Self 1' as Tim calls it - with its predictions and instructions, it can interfere with your performance. A preferable alternative is to have a go and see what happens,
Gallwey proposes an equation: “Performance equals Potential minus Interference". Thus we can aim to remove or get away from any interfering chatter in our heads, favouring quietness or calm as a route to improved performance and by releasing the powers of ‘Self 2’. 'Self 2' is that part of us that knows unconsciously what to do, and will do it well if allowed to do so.
When 'Self 1’ is talking unhelpfully to 'Self 2'. you can see it manifesting in over-tightening of the muscles. In sports, that typically leads to poorer timing of shots, visibly less elegance. When in doubt, in sport, socially or at work, we tend to tighten. We think the antidote is to relax, but ‘relax’ is a clumsy, blunt instruction. The older part of the brain looks after muscle coordination, and the brain doesn’t speak in English ('Relax!') to the hand. Linguistic instructions at best operate in a parallel universe to that of our chemistry and physiology. Even if we were capable of making a translation across those dimensions, that linguistic message - if it's to do any justice to the complexity of the operation - is going to struggle for accuracy and will end up being too long and too slow.
The brain speaks in neuro-chemicals. This is a profound insight, harnessed by Gallwey and also (amongst others), Applied Improvisers (AI), Solution-focused practitioners (SF) and exponents of the Alexander Technique (AT).
Working in theatre, Improvisation guru Keith Johnstone realised that if the aim is for an actor to appear natural on the stage, then trying too hard impedes rather than helps that actor. Hence his injunction to ‘be obvious’ or ‘be average’. An Alexander Technique trainer can’t teach you explicitly all the elements of walking - there are too many to hold in our limited consciousness, and we can't describe if fully or fast enough with our limited language. But she can assist you in directing your attention to greater awareness of certain critical variables, such as the degree of freedom in your neck muscles.
Similarly, smart sports players and solution-focused coaches prefer to practice not-knowing until the last moment what shot to play or question to ask. By delaying such decisions by an instant, you give yourself the maximum amount of topical information, at precisely the moment it’s most needed.
That’s the theory, and each of the fields I mention has its methods for turning theory to practice. My favourite contribution from Inner Game is that the best way to do this is by focusing on critical variables. Variables are elements that can change, have different values. Critical means the ones that matter in the topic under discussion.
We stiffen when we perceive pressure; pressure is one of the concepts that invites Self 1 to get involved, to the detriment of our Self 2 abilities. Pressure seems real to the commentator and even to the player, even though ‘pressure’ is a constructed concept with no visible reality. If you asked a player how they would play that shot if rallying or in a practice game, rather than in the heat of competition, they could show you - and it's better. It’s only a perception of ‘pressure’ that results in them not doing it in this match too.
It may be possible to fight Self 1 or ignore Self 1, and much energy goes into those efforts. Inner Game sidesteps brilliantly and says give Self 1 something useful to do, namely pay attention to relevant, useful aspects - that is, the critical variables. It’s the job of the coach sometimes to enable the performer (on the field, on the stage, in life) to bypass Self 1 and communicate with Self 2. You might, for example, ask your coachee ‘How would you like to do this task some day? OK, show me. And now choose between these different options'.
And if that’s all good - and I think it is - then the question for us is this: How do we go about discovering the critical variables in each of the arenas in which we wish to improve our performance?