Book Discussion: The Inner Game of Stress by Gallwey, Hanzelik, and Horton

Welcome to episode 90 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we discuss our review of The Inner Game of Stress.

Original Recording Date: 08-21-2020

Topics – The Inner Game of Stress by Tim Gallwey, Edd Hanzelik, and John Horton

0:58 – Setting the Stage

  • DM us on Twitter if you want a free copy of the book on Audible!
  • John liked the Kindle version in addition to just the audio version so he could see pictures, etc. Nick did audio only and took notes from time to time.
  • This started from a podcast John listened to called Against the Rules with Michael Lewis. Season 1 is about referees, and season 2 is about coaching. There was an episode about the coach in your head!82597 he found intriguing.
  • On the show they mentioned another book called The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey. Tim Gallwey was a well known coach at the time of its writing.
  • We found there were other books by Tim Gallwey and stumbled upon the one we’re discussing in this episode. With so many out there experiencing times of stress and burn out in our current world, we felt it would be appropriate to review the book on air.
  • For Inner Game of Stress, Tim paired with two medical doctors (Edd Hanzelik and John Horton). These doctors sought Tim out and used a mixture of medicine and inner game techniques to help treat patients feeling the physical effects of stress.

7:29 – Overview of the Book

  • Part 1 – The Game of Stress

    • Why Stress
      • This section discusses the physiological basis of stress, why it is necessary, the fight / flight / freeze reactions we can have, and what prolonged stress can do to the body.
    • Two Selves
      • Self 1 is the critical storyteller.
      • Self 2 operates in the moment and leverages our natural abilities.
    • Meet Your Stress Maker – Self 1
      • Learn how self 1 works, the stories it can tell you, etc.
    • Gearing up and Gearing Down
      • There were stories provided about the long-term effects of stress (gearing up) and the idea of gearing down (rest, recreation, reflection).
  • 11:10 – Part 2 – Outsmarting Stress

  • The Inner Game Learning Code

    • Awareness
      • This is a non-judgemental awareness of what reality is. The stories we tell ourselves are not always how things are. Awareness helps self 2 drive instead of self 1.
    • Choice
      • Conscious choice is important. Consider the why and reasoning behind choices and the intent rather than making them automatically.
    • Trust
      • Where will you place your trust? Will you trust that you have the tools to overcome your problems already without getting in your own way?
  • Tree of Stability

    • What brings you back away from the stress and allows self 2 to work?
  • Build a Personal Shield

    • This is a construct that describes the qualities / things that protect you from stress and push you toward stability.
  • Be the CEO of Your Life

    • Do we really act like we own all decisions we make? We are in control even though we do not feel that way at times.
  • The analogies / constructs are very useful, but you are free to use your own analogies.

  • 15:37 – Part 3 – The Inner Game Toolbox

    • These are tools you can actively leverage to help deal with stress.
    • Tool # 1 – STOP
      • In the moment when you feel stressed, stop for a second (does not have to be a long period of time). Think about what it is that is stressful and what you want from the situation. Think about how you should actually proceed.
      • John shares an example anecdote from the book.
    • Tool # 2 – Being the CEO
      • Tactically, if you define the mission of your life like a company, what would it be? What are your policies and values? What are your resources (inner and outer), and how are you going to use them? How many shares will you sell to others?
      • Disclaimer – we did not say it before now, but the book is not a dry list of suggestions. It contains stories about anonymized real patients who had problems with stress and used these tools with coaching from one of the authors.
      • Sometimes you need to buy the shares back that have been sold.
    • Tool # 3- The Three Control Questions
      • In self-reflection, consider these questions.
        • What don’t I control?
        • What am I currently trying to control?
        • What could I control that I’m not presently controlling?
      • Understand the things you are making active decisions about, unconscious decisions about, and what you could be making active decisions about.
      • This really goes back to awareness.
    • Tool # 4 – Trying on a New Attitude
      • This one sounded similar to John’s mention of a clearness committee in Episode 85.
      • Tell a group of people about your stress, and try to determine the attitude you have. Others suggest an attitude for you to try on, and you are required to try each one nonjudgementally. Choose the one that seems right / feels the best based on the situation.
      • Facing the situation with a different attitude can really help, and it’s helpful to have others suggest those attitudes.
        • In the moment, you can be blind to many things.
    • Tool # 5 – The Magic Pen
      • This is the idea of free writing the point where self 1 has run out of things to say and you get to what self 2 (or the non-judgemental observer) has to say.
      • This reminded John of Free Writing popularized as morning pages in The Artist’s Way.
        • Every morning, the creative should spend time writing without stopping. Fill three pages of content in a stream of consciousness exercise.
      • The magic pen is more about a focus on getting into the mindfulness state rather than mentally clearing your throat by writing.
    • Tool # 6 – Transpose
      • Try to imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes and answer the following questions.
        • What are you thinking?
        • What are you feeling?
        • What do you want?
      • This is a great exercise to help you show empathy. It can also give some insight into another person’s perspective.
      • If you assume the person does not have malicious intent, what could be going through their mind?
    • Tool # 7 – Redefine
      • Think about words used to define what is happening to you. Perhaps it can be defined in a different way to decrease stress.
      • A process, policy, or rule in your life could be based on conditions that no longer exist.
      • John shares a fun anecdote from the book.
      • To Nick, this is similar to "that’s how we’ve always done it" and speaks to the value of fresh eyes.
    • Tool # 8 – PLE Triangle
      • PLE represents performance, learning, and enjoyment.
      • All three are needed when making goals for yourself. Will that performance goal that allows learning and is enjoyable?
        • If so, it is a recipe for success.

28:44 – Summary Discussion

  • Is this a book that is worth reading to be better at handling stress?
    • Nick says yes. He likes the stories as well as the tools. His favorite tool is the control questions.
    • John thinks the book is useful. The analogies are powerful, but if they don’t happen to be something you click with, you could create your own analogies based on the same concept.
      • His favorite tool was the STOP tool. Being aware that you are stressed in the moment is challenging. Having the power to engineer a way to pause takes effort.
      • You will not be good at using the tools initially without practice.
      • John didn’t feel like the book was selling a series of seminars (just the ideas in the book).
    • Likely John and Nick will read some of the other books in the inner game series.
  • Are there situations other than career in which this book is worth reading?
    • John says yes. Keep in mind stress can come from work, personal life, extended family, friend group, or some other area. The source of stress is not important.
      • Career burnout and stress are finally being talked about in our industry, but remember the lessons here are not just career related.
    • Nick thinks the stories in the book allow you to see the ways stress effects people physically in different ways. He didn’t think about how degenerative that constant exposure to stress can be.
  • Do we believe the lessons in the book?
    • Nothing in the book is encouraging you to shy away from the stress. They encourage you to enter the stress on your own terms.
    • The author addresses the idea of people believing if you are not stressed, something is wrong. John associates this with "macho" and "toxic masculinity."
    • Nick mentioned the story about alpha males in animal observations being more susceptible to disease and the pack doing better without them.
      • Don’t be that guy!
    • Stress is needed if there is danger to keep you safe and keep you alert, but you don’t want it all the time.
      • Pay attention to your physical reactions.
      • Part of the philosophy of the inner game is being aware of what is happening without classifying things as good or bad.
    • The tactics in part 3 of the book seem to assume using awareness to your advantage.

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