Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The flesh is willing, but the mind is weak

Back when I first started this blog, I considered myself a choker. I saw my pool game improving, but when it came down to finishing the important game, I couldn't do it. It wasn't surprising. I could look back in my life and think of so many experiences where I had the opportunity to live up to my potential, and didn't....moments where I grasped defeat from the jaws of victory or never got out of the gate. I would have never said this out loud, but deep down I KNEW I was a loser.

But pool was an opportunity to change that. I decided to change the perception that my ability to win or lose was somehow an inherent part of my character, and instead to approach it as a skill that could be learned. Its funny, now it seems so trite to say that, but at the time I really had to shift my thinking.

I got my hands on some great books (some that I've mentioned here), worked on some of their training programs to change perception and develop skills to handle pressure situations. I saw progress, but when I couldn't wait any longer, I bit the bullet, and shelled out more than I wanted to for the "Overcoming Contenderosis Self-Hypnosis" CD's. It was A LOT MORE than I was comfortable spending, especially since I thought I might be getting ripped off (Although an email from FastMikie helped me feel better about that. Nowadays you can buy the individual CD's separately at Bebob Publishing, but at the time you had to buy the entire set.) But I figured that having made the investment, I'd be more likely to put in the time to see if it worked.

Within a week, I began a 10-match winning streak. I felt invincible. But then the moment I lost, despite my efforts to contextualize it as normal and inevitable, it was like the bubble had been burst, and all my new found faith dispersed. I went on a losing streak.

But I stuck with the self-hypnosis and continued to seek out pressure situations. In retrospect, that initial success was just a placebo effect. I hadn't yet put the time in needed to build the "muscle memory" of my mind. After several months, I learned what it felt like to consciously relax deeply. I could listen to the beginning of the recording, or take a couple of deep breaths, and all the tension in my body would just melt. I could then skip ahead to listen to the very end and listen to "you're about to wake up. And when you do you will be fresh and alert, as if you have just slept." I'd open my eyes, and, sure enough, others would comment, "What happened? You look so refreshed."

It didn't work 100% of the time, but I could feel and see the difference in my performance from the studying, the self-hypnosis and getting experience in pressure situations. I started liking pressure. I felt that's when I played my best.

In the past year, I haven't spent much less time on the mental game. Partially, because I was happy with what I had learned, and partially because I was struggling with some bigger issues of motivation (fake it til you make it!). And, lets face it. Those self-hypnosis tapes start to get pretty boring after you've listened to them a zillion times. I figured I needed to take a break from it.

Now I'm finding motivation again and I'm not faking it. I care what happens in my matches. Of course, I still see myself as that same pressure player, but when I actually walk up to the table, it doesn't feel like it. I guess I thought that motivation was the real problem, and that once that barrier was removed, all my dormant mental skills would appear as soon as I really, really wanted them to. And now I'm realizing that is like thinking you will weigh fifteen pounds less just because you find the right dress.

I guess I will have to get back to work....

So, anyone have any mental game book recommendations? I'd like to re-read the ones on my shelf, but would like to pick up something new, too. I've got Pleasure of Small Motions, both James Loehr books on Mental Toughness, and Zen Golf by Joseph Parent (which is awesome...a great recommendation from Liz Ford).

And, I just want to say thanks to Caroming the Combination for his recent post on Thinking too much, and reminding me that the mental game takes practice.

[Also, if anyone is as crazy as me, and is interested in trying the Overcoming Contenderosis CD's I have some definite opinions about which ones are worth trying. Self-hypnosis isn't for everyone, but I was please with the results.]


Anonymous said...

I've read several books on the this very subject. Besides the obvious books that everyone has read there's also:

Choke (too scientific for me)
Mind Gym (recommended)
Golf is Not a Game of Perfect (recommended)

While it's great to have insight into why some people choke and why some do not - it basically always seems to boil down to confidence and being in the moment.

I think confidence is developed through practice so that you know what your strengths and weaknesses are and develop trust in your abilities.

Being in the moment...that's a little harder. What works for me is to remember to breath and to follow my shot routine which puts me in my comfort zone.

But what do I know, I'm a hack.


poolminnow said...

Thanks for the recommndations, J.

I remember reading an article when Choke came out. The subject sounded interesting, but it didn't seem like there was anything too surprising or interesting in the research, so I passed.

You may be just a hack, but of course, you know your own experience.

I'll check out the two books you recommended.

Michael Reddick said...

Another great article! Now I'm gonna have to go back and read every post in your blog. What have I been missing?!!!

Sounds like you are a real student of the game. I’m guessing you've built up quite a library of books and training materials. I thought it would be fun to get together and compare notes/materials and talk pool training sometime, so I tried to look up your bio information, but it appears that you have chosen to be just as anonymous and mysterious as the infamous poolriah. LOL! Maybe someday!