A Simple Performance Equation That Might Change Your Life

Apr 17, 2019 / By Chris Holman
Print AAA
Add to My Archive
My Folder

My Notes
Sport psychology insight from renowned author Tim Gallwey can help us get out of our own way and start performing on a whole new level effortlessly.

Tim Gallwey is one of the world’s groundbreaking coaches. One of his contributions has been to create a simple and elegant formula that instructs how all of us can reach our full potential and bring out our true greatness and goodness:

Our Performance = Our Potential − Interference

Said another way, our performance is equivalent to our potential…minus the interference.

And here’s what’s revolutionary about this equation. For many of us, myself included, when we think about boosting our performance, we typically focus on addition, that is, adding new learning, new processes, new tools, and so forth.

Yet, Tim Gallwey flips our default method. According to Gallwey, our greatness already exists inside of us. We reach our full potential by subtraction of the interferences that degrade our inherent brilliance.

Timothy Gallwey

Tim Gallwey is a coach-philosopher. In his youth, he was a ranked tennis player and captain of the Harvard tennis team. He then became a tennis coach and author. You might know his first book, The Inner Game of Tennis. He went on to write other best-selling books, and founded an entire consultancy based upon his central principles. The Inner Game of Work is another standout book of his.

Gallwey is also responsible for a most remarkable display of his core precepts. In less than 30 minutes, he coaches a total novice (a woman named Molly) to play tennis. Molly has rarely held a racket before. She has been sedentary for the past 20 years and claims to be unathletic. Yet, in 30 minutes’ time, Gallwey instructs Molly to volley, backhand, serve…the whole package. “Instructs” is not the best word either. Gallwey never really tells Molly what to do. She virtually teaches herself.

You have to see Molly’s breakthrough to believe it…and you can do so right here, in this broadcast of the Reasoner Report.

Source: YouTube

The old-timers among us may remember Harry Reasoner of 60 Minutes fame. As Gallwey coaches Molly to hit the ball, you hear Reasoner’s amazement. Gallwey guides Molly, a “women of a certain age” wearing a 70’s-era, ground-length dress, to pick up the game effortlessly.

Our critical self

The beauty of Gallwey’s approach is that he greatly simplifies the learning process by introducing us to our two selves: “Self-1” and “Self-2.”

Figure 1: Self-1 Creates Fears and Doubts That Get in the Way of Self-2

Source: Tim Gallwey

Self-1 is often critical and controlling and is the voice in our heads that interferes with our performance by running a constant critical commentary. This commentary has usually come about from all the “shoulds,” “oughts” and rules that we have absorbed from parents, teachers, figures of authority, and in Tim’s case, tennis coaches.

The Self-1 critical voice creates fears and doubts and gets in the way of Self-2.

Self-2 is the natural “you” (the “you” as a child, often), which is creative, high performing and intuitively knows what to do. This judgmental dialogue between Self-1 and Self-2 interferes with our natural capacity to learn from experience. It’s like having a very negative monkey on your shoulder. The equation that Gallwey created (Performance = Potential – Interference) is his clear and luminous way to highlight what stops us.

If we can become self-aware enough to identify what the interference for us is—e.g. self-doubt, perfectionism, trying to impress, anger, boredom—then we have greater chance of releasing our learning potential and aiding performance.

The story of Matt M.

Matt M. is relatively new to the retail side of financial advisory. Prior to becoming an advisor, he worked on the marketing side of one of the nation’s most respected investment managers for high-net-worth investors. Matt has his MBA from one of the country’s top graduate schools, and also holds the CFA designation. Finally, Matt is a successful entrepreneur with a small startup in the food and beverage industry.

Despite having a CV that many advisors would long for, Matt has had significant self-doubt about his ability to bring value to his clients. Until recently, Matt’s “Self-1” sat on his shoulder like Long John Silver’s parrot, questioning many of his thoughts and actions. Yet, in a recent conversation with his coach, Matt realized that his tendency to overthink certain situations was holding him back. This was most evident in one-to-one conversations with prospects and clients, where Matt would often become tongue-tied as he tried to come up with the “perfect” question.

Going forward, Matt has committed himself to doing a much better job at simply being “present” during his client conversations. The new Matt will do his best to muzzle the annoying critiques of “Self-1,” allowing him to relax, trust his instincts, and just be his best self.

57,600 inner critics?

On average, guess how many thoughts pop into your head every day?

And guess how many of the thoughts are recycled narratives that return to your head again and again?

Finally, guess how much of this “self-talk” is negative?


  1. 80,000
  2. 90%
  3. 80%

So says clinical neuroscientist, celebrity psychiatrist, and author, Daniel G. Amen, MD.

If this is true, the math is crazy. Each day, our inner critic pops into our head with 57,000+ negative assertions. And pitilessly, many of these same declarations pound through our skull in waves of negativity and self-reproach:

  • “Why do I always do that?”
  • “I’ll never be as successful as he/she is.”
  • “I’m an idiot!”
  • “It is what it is. I can’t change.”

Note: Wait a minute. 57,000 negative “self-talk” events daily seems…well…hyperbolic. This can’t be true! That’s 3,600 appearances from our inner critic every hour. Really? No way! Or could this even possibly be true?

Regardless of the accuracy of the above numbers, everyone “self-talks” from time to time. And it can be good for you. Yet, continuous internal badgering can block our fulfillment and happiness.

So, how can we stop the inner critic from hijacking our true potential?

Important note: The interferences that get in our way are not always our inner critic. In some cases, the obstruction may be external, e.g. the distraction of the cell phone. Yet, how we respond to external distractions are choices that are internal to us and within the boundaries of our control. In other cases, interferences will require us to make a request of someone else. This, too, is an internal choice. In rare instances, our interferences are completely external and completely out of our control.

An exercise to find and quiet your inner critic

In order to challenge your enemy within, you first must be able to identify your internal critical voice. Once you’ve become aware of the negative influence, you can make a conscious effort to ignore and/or not act on its destructive voice.

Exercise Part 1: Take a piece of paper and divide the page in half by drawing a line down the middle from top to bottom. On the left side of the page, write down any negative statements that your inner critic has murmured recently, e.g., I am so lazy…

Exercise Part 2: Now take a deep breath. Exhale and expel the negativity. Then…adopt the second person perspective of a compassionate friend or objective observer. For each disparaging statement on the left side of the page, ask the following questions:

Objectively thinking, is the statement on the left side of the ledger an accurate description of what actually happened? For example:

  • Does the statement magnify the negative details of the situation and filter out the positive?
  • Is this a black-or-white statement, with no shades of gray or middle ground?
  • Is the statement a generalized conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence?
  • Does the statement jump to a conclusion that assumes a pre-ordained outcome?
  • Does the statement “catastrophize” the possible result, i.e. imagine the worst outcome?
  • Does the statement use ironclad words that assume that what has happened in the past…will always happen in the future?

Through this new prism, let’s head back to the example. “I am so lazy…” might become, “Yesterday, when I wanted to work out at the gym I didn’t because I forgot to plan ahead and prioritize my day.”

Achieving your hidden potential

Have you watched the “Molly” video yet? (If you haven’t, what are you waiting for? We’re talking about changing your life here!)

In her own words, here’s what Molly’s inner critic was telling her:

  • I will never hit the ball.
  • It won’t work for me.
  • It will be hopeless.

Yet, in the span of 30 minutes, Molly smashed each one of these false perceptions and changed her life. With Tim Gallwey’s guidance, she completely ignored the interferences that were obstructing her and began to realize her potential as an active, vital human being and tennis player.

I’m guessing that you might have an inner critic too…who whispers bitter thoughts into your ear.


  1. What made-up statements is your inner critic telling you?
    • “I will never be…?” Or…
    • “It won’t work for me…?” Or…
    • Something else?
  2. What other interferences are getting in your way?
  3. When you remove these interferences and self-deceptions, what is the limit to your potential?

When would you like to start this transformation?

Chris Holman is an executive coach with Horsesmouth. His career in financial services spans 35 years as a financial advisor, a national director of investments, and an executive coach. He is a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF), specializing in coaching financial advisors, especially through group coaching. He can be reached at cholman@horsesmouth.com.


Your screen name is: Horsesmouth Member

In 1924, Albert Einstein confided in a letter to his favorite sister, Maja, his disappointment with himself. The letter included this line, "Scientifically, I haven't achieved much lately..." 3 years prior, he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. In 1915, he had published he General Theory of Relativity. Of course, in 1905, Einstein's "miracle year", he had published a series of papers that transformed how we view the universe. Anyway, if one of the greatest minds in recent history thought this way about himself at various times...what does that say about the rest of us?
Mike and Ed...thank you. Coaches often encourage their clients to find their "inner greatness". That can sound like a coaching cliche. What's so beautiful about seeing Tim coach Molly is that you can see one part of Molly's "inner greatness" surface before our eyes. It's inspiring for me to see, and I'm glad that you might be motivated as well. Thank you again!
Love this!
Good stuff Chris, nice job.

This material is provided exclusively for use by Horsesmouth members and is subject to Horsesmouth Terms & Conditions and applicable copyright laws. Unauthorized use, reproduction or distribution of this material is a violation of federal law and punishable by civil and criminal penalty. This material is furnished “as is” without warranty of any kind. Its accuracy and completeness is not guaranteed and all warranties express or implied are hereby excluded.

© 2019 Horsesmouth, LLC. All Rights Reserved.