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The Inner Game of Stress: Outsmart Life's Challenges and Fulfill Your Potential Hardcover – August 18, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

W. Timothy Gallwey has produced a series of bestselling Inner Game books, which set forth a new methodology for the development of personal and professional excellence in a variety of fields. For the last twenty years Gallwey has been introducing the Inner Game approach to corporations looking for better ways to manage change. He lives in Malibu, California.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Who Needs Stress? 

“I’m so stressed!” We hear it dozens of times a day. It’s said in different ways in different languages all over the world. Here where I live in California, stress is a way of life. We worry about the fires that are eating away at our natural beauty, or the earthquakes and floods swallowing homes. We worry about the price of gas that is choking our car- driven culture. We worry about our economic survival, layoffs, war, and health care. If you want to worry, you’ve come to the right century! 

That we are beset by both global and everyday stressors is obvious to most of us. The barrage of media messages we receive is like an assault—economic collapse, home foreclosures, terrorism, wars, loss of savings, starvation, bankruptcies, natural disasters, and failing health care systems. These messages accentuate the strain we feel from ordinary stressors, such as arguments with our spouses, difficulties raising our children, getting overburdened at work, struggling to pay the bills, health concerns, and so on. Unfortunately, stress feeds upon stress. The more stressed we are, the easier it is for the little things to upset us. Worry impairs our ability to think clearly and function productively, and that in turn stresses us out even more. In fact, we are so used to being stressed that we have come to think of it as a normal part of our lives. 

Yet stress is not normal. It is an imbalance experienced in the body when the stress system is chronically activated. The factors, or stressors, can be internal or external, but one thing is clear. The stress we feel is uncomfortable, interferes with our ability to function, and is generally harmful to our physical health. 

One of Edd Hanzelik’s patients once declared, “I think it would be very strange to be free of stress.” In fact, there can be a seductive energy to living a high- stress lifestyle. Some people even think that stress is good for you—that it motivates you and gives you a competitive edge. When I coach businesspeople, I see that attitude all the time: “You’ve got to be more aggressive than the competition to succeed. You’ve got to drive yourself. You’ve got to have a warrior mind- set.” In our society, we even admire people who live on adrenaline, with their buzzing BlackBerrys and eighteen- hour workdays. We consider it a badge of honor if someone can get by on four or five hours of sleep a night. 

We’re conditioned to view stress as necessary and inevitable, but the opposite is true. Our bodies seek homeostasis—balance. That is what’s natural, and that is what works. Likewise, our minds need to be in balance, not in turmoil. Priorities need to be clear, and that includes our own well- being. It’s a myth that we need stress to achieve high performance. In fact, studies show that chronic stress impairs our health, leads to serious disease, and impedes successful performance. 

When we do see individuals who are beset by great challenges, yet manage to keep their cool, we are impressed. While he was running for president, Barack Obama was dubbed by the media, “No Drama Obama,” and his calm demeanor gave increased hope to people around the world. Another outstanding example is Nelson Mandela. After spending twenty- seven years in a prison in South Africa, he emerged to form a government with those who had jailed him. He later said about this time, “For the political prisoners, determination and wisdom overcame fear and human frailty.” 

We all are in some ways imprisoned by the threats around us, or by our own personal situations. For some, illness is a prison. For others, grief, poverty or family struggles become paralyzing realities. The question then becomes, how can we access our own determination and wisdom, and not be overwhelmed by helplessness and hopelessness? Just as stress breeds more stress, hope and wisdom breed stability and well- being, no matter what comes at us from the outside. 


We can begin by acknowledging our own role in creating stress. I am reminded of an interview with a relatively unknown Brazilian tennis player named Gustavo Kuerten, who went on to win the French Open three times. Reporters, amazed that he was defeating more highly ranked players, asked, “How do you handle all that pressure?” His response was, “What pressure? It’s not like I handled the pressure. I didn’t feel it.” No one seemed to understand his response. The press kept asking, “How could you not feel pressure under these circumstances?” He said, “I had a wonderful time. I enjoyed playing these people. I enjoyed playing well. I don’t get it—what is it about this pressure?” 

Obviously, to the reporters, “pressure” was a reality that existed at higher levels of competition. But to Kuerten, it wasn’t a reality. What was real to him was that he had the opportunity to compete with the best players in the world and to enjoy playing well. He was playing in a mental state that reinforced enjoyment and a high level of performance. In such a state there is little room for stress to enter. 

Perhaps it should be added that Kuerten, after winning his first French Open in 1997, did not remain stress free. His growing popularity in Brazil, and the high expectations of others, did trigger for him something he perceived as pressure, and his tennis game suffered for several years. He didn’t win the Open again until 2000. 

This idea that we need pressure to succeed is imbedded in us from childhood. From about three years old, the pressure is on— walk faster, talk more, do better. It’s a constant theme throughout our lives. It never stops. In my experience, though, it’s when you stop pressuring yourself that you can be more successful. There is something innate in all of us that wants to improve. Yet when I coach executives, they have a hard time grasping that fact. The assumption of the boss is, “Unless I put the pressure on, the job won’t get done.” And the employees will say, “If I don’t look like I’m pushing the limits, the boss will think I’m not working hard.” This is an unproductive cycle.

It’s important here to make a distinction between pressure and challenge. When I feel I have a challenge in front of me that I accept as something I want to do my best with, I generally don’t get stressed, yet I can rise to the occasion. I am alert, and my abilities are accessible to me. Pressure, although we experience it on the inside, feels like something is pushing us from the outside. Living up to the expectations of others has replaced our own motivation to excel. With pressure comes fear of failure and inner conflict. With accepted challenge comes relaxed concentration, clarity of intention, and the ability to reach for one’s best. Both put us in a state of aroused attention. But an accepted challenge, though it may produce tiredness at the end, does not carry with it the harmful physical and mental by- products of stress. 

I once coached the sales teams of a fine East Coast consulting company. I explained to all the teams that sales performance was not the only “game” at play. The other challenges included what they learned in the process of selling and how much they enjoyed themselves. These, I suggested, were the three stable components of work: performance, learning, and enjoyment. 

I recommended that for the sake of the company’s success, as well as their own personal success, they try to balance these three work goals. What I did not know was that the lowest-ranking sales team took this to heart and decided that they were feeling so pressured to perform that they weren’t doing very well. The team leader, determined to redress the imbalance, told them, “For the next month, I want you to go out there and enjoy yourselves and learn as much as you can about the customer and how he views our product and how he views the competitor’s product.” His basic balancing message was, “Be curious and enjoy.” 

I heard about this a month later when it turned out that this team had come from last place to first place in sales. Obviously, when the pressure was taken off of performance, the challenge to perform remained, as demonstrated by their results. What they perhaps didn’t realize at the time was that the energy they had put into this non- pressured approach was the kind that could be replicated over and over, without the experience of burnout. 

The three components of work are interdependent. If, in the drive toward performance, the learning component is ignored, performance will inevitably fall or level out. Likewise, if enjoyment is missing from the work equation, both learning and performance will suffer. This holds true in all human activities. 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (August 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140006791X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400067916
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
One area of coaching that touches my heart and soul the most is Stress Management. I was happy to be able to read and review this book when asked by the authors. As you might imagine I have read a LOT on the topic and more often than not it is several thousand words of meaningless drivel. I was pleasantly surprised when I dug into the book and I had to actually turn on my brain.

The book is broken out into three sections:

Part One: The Game of Stress, goes into great detail about what exactly stress is, where it comes from, acknowledging and understanding your stress and our reactions to stress.

Part Two: Outsmarting Stress, teaches how to become aware of your stress, shows you strategies to move past stress and how to take control of your life and the stress.

Part Three: The Inner Game Toolbox, describes in detail eight tools to overcome stress.

Throughout the book there are dozens of real world examples of how people worked through their stress or used a particular strategy. As a reader I like to see how other people work similar situations, these were timely and relevant. Each new concept also had a corresponding exercise that lead to new insights about yourself and the stress in your life.

By far the most valuable part of the book is the Inner Toolbox. Eight strategies that can have a significant impact on your life. Each tool is described in a step-by-step manner, includes exercises to cement the understanding and real life stories to share how other people successfully used these tools.

The simplest and easiest tool is the "Stop" and the one that I loved the most was "being the CEO".

I would highly recommend this book for anyone that knows they have a stressed life and is ready to change it.
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A couple months ago, I wanted to quit my job. I hated everything about what I was doing, and even little things felt like a huge struggle for me. Then I read The Inner Game of Stress.

It changed my life. It's been nearly two months now, and I feel so much better about where I am and what I'm doing than I've felt since I started working full-time. The amazing thing is that nothing from the outside has changed in my life--I live in the same place, work at the same job, and am surrounded by the same people. Yet, the attitude shift I got from reading this book and doing all the activities in its pages has left me feeling like everything has changed.

I realize not everyone can use the same self-help type books and get the same messages. There have been many that even Oprah has endorsed that I didn't like at all. This one spoke to me, though. Gallwey's writing style makes the book easy to read, and the principles are ones that just make good sense. I also like how the book is broken down into sections to talk about what stress is and how it affects you before going into special sections on tools you can use to reduce the effects of stress--and even to eradicate it from some areas.

I recommend this book for anyone who is looking around and thinking, "Something has to change." Especially if you know--deep down--that what needs to change is your thinking.
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I admit, as I prepared to go to a first very important conference, I was really feelin' the stress. Had been for some months ahead of time. So I called on this book to help me sort that out, and you know what, it truly helped.

The Inner Game of Stress offers all kinds of tools to reset our perception of something being stressful - or not. To shut down that horrible Self 1, aka the Stress Maker, the voice that can (if we let it) keep up a constant barrage of negative, stress-inducing inner dialogue.

This book is one I am going to periodically reread. I was so nervous about that conference, certain that a single misstep would forever ruin any possible writing career. By re-envisioning it as one of many conferences I am sure to attend, and a tremendous opportunity, I actually had fun and a successful pitch. It won't be the first, nor the last time I will need to put the Stress Maker in her place, I am sure.
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This book helped me understand -- and, therefore, effectively deal with -- my work-related stress and chronic anxiety. It provided very practical tools and techniques for becoming a calmer, more centered and productive person. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone who has ever let life's intrinsic stresses get in the way of moving forward and thriving.
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Being a patient of one of the authors, I wanted to read this book. Although I never made time for golf or tennis in my life, I always made time for stress. Reading through, I balked a little at working through all the exercises, I admit. They are things I would rather tackle in a focused seminar, not during leisure reading time. Even still, the book is so rich with insight I managed to get away with it and, with just a single read, feel empowered by the understanding I have gained of the stress removing capabilities I already have!

Thanks Guys. This book goes on the "Tools for the 21st Century" shelf at our house.
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I have a multitude of books on this subject, but have never read one that gave me practical and useful tools like The Inner Game of Stress. It is a book to keep on hand to refer to and the exercises within the chapters can be done on an ongoing basis as a person's perceptions and stability unfolds. To maximize benefit from this reading one must have a sincere desire to grow and be honest with themselves.

This book should be implemented as mandatory reading for young adults in a class based on the book's tools. It would make a huge difference for the individuals and our society/world as a whole. I cannot imagine how different my path would have been had I had that opportunity at a young age. I am extremely grateful for it and recommend it to all my loved ones and friends.
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