Changing Bad Habits

Joe Waldron

January 09


habits We all develop bad habits of one sort or another. In this article the concern is with habits that interfere with our ability to play pool. For present purposes we will review a sound fundamental approach and then see how one can get rid of their bad habits that are contrary to the new better approach we learned.


John has been playing pool for several years and has developed his own approach to the game. He has had a five handicap in his local league for several years and wants to improve his ability. To further this goal he attends Randy Goettlicher’s Pool School where he learns the Set, Pause, Finish (SPF) routine for setting up his shots. This routine is also presented by Mr. Goettlicher and Scott Lee on their DVD "Play Better Pool: Mastering the basics, Volume I" (2008). The approach essentially consists of determining the individual’s usual distance from the bridge hand to the cue ball and the usual follow through distance. The student pays particular attention to setting the bridge hand at the correct distance from the cue ball and having the rear forearm perpendicular to the cue. This is the individual’s Set position. After a few warm up strokes John is taught to Pause during the final stroke and always Finish with a specific follow through distance for his particular approach. At the Pool School John learns that this is a much better way to set up his pool playing and that his ability to consistently pocket balls improves by 30 percent. Other students make more or less progress but John has learned that, for him, this is the method he needed to master many years ago.


After returning from Pool School and reviewing the DVD, John finds that though he has been shown a better way to consistently make balls he often falls back on his old ways with an erratic bridge length, and he forgets to pause in tough competitive situations. John knows what he needs to do but it seems that his old bad habits return in difficult situations. The old bad habits usually result in shorter runs and lost matches.


Returning to old less successful habits is a common problem. Humans have a tendency to have multiple ways to solve a problem. Newer solutions are overlaid on top of older solutions and we return to older ways when newer ways do not work in some instance. As children we may find that we are successful by using physical strength to make others do what we want. Later we are punished for fighting and we find that shouting at people will get them to do as we want. When shouting is punished we learn to discuss the issue with others. As adults we tend to use the more successful "let’s talk" approach to get our way. When "talking" does not work we "shout." If shouting fails we "punch." We regress to older less successful approaches to a problem until we find one that works. This general tendency to regress to less successful but some what effective method for controlling the world around us is the way that humans function. The methods we use depend on what we have learned in the past and how successful we were with these methods. Incidentally, this is why some men beat their wives and why some wives talk, then cry, then throw a temper tantrum. It all depends on what has worked for us in the past.


When we learn to play pool we initially develop habits that have some success in helping us to pocket balls. That is why we develop the habit – it works – some of the time. Later we learn a new way but that way is not yet a strong habit, requires more concentration, and may not initially be successful as often as we would like because new ways are vulnerable to stress. When the activity becomes important and we are not having the success we strive for, the old habit automatically returns to help us solve the problem in another way. Prior habits did have some successful component. However, the success ratio relative to the new habit may be much lower under normal circumstances and so we desire to rid ourselves of the old habit.


One of the more recent innovations used to make a new habit permanent is idea that we must clearly specify the ways in which the new habit differs from the old habit. Apparently, the clarification of the differences between the new and the old habit helps the unconscious establish exactly what the new habit involves and why it is better than the old habit. Y. L. Hanin, T. Korjus, P. Jouste and P. Baxter (2008) "Old Way New Way® "sports coaching research is a study on technique correction with Olympic athletes and won second prize in the 4th EAA Science Awards. Baxter has a complete course for coaches that is described at the "Rapid Technique Improvement in Sports" web site. This technique has been used in golf, swimming, tennis and football among other sports. The "Old Way New Way" approach is a modification of Interference Theory as applied to sports. It is an extension of "Feuerstein's Instrumental Enrichment" approach. The central element to this three step approach is the joint practice of two competing responses. Here is how it works:


First, the old habit must be differentiated from the new habit: The player must first describe how the two habits differ. In the above example John might write down and demonstrate the following things: SPF requires a specific bridge length that is this long (demonstrate) and this differs from my old bridge that is this long (demonstrate). With the old way my forearm was usually here. With SPF my arm is here. With my old habit I would stroke and shoot like this, with SPF I would "pause" and "finish" like this. In these examples John is clearly and behaviorally demonstrating to himself how the habits differ from each other. The more complete the differentiation between the old and the new habits the better the result.


In phase two John practices both ways and notes the differences between the two habits. When I use my old habit my stroke and the finish is like this (demonstrate) the new and better way to stroke feels like this (demonstrate). John is mediating the differences between the two types of strokes and needs to do this several times. Baxter at all suggests that at least five comparisons of the old and new habits are needed. John is replacing the old habit with the new. The new habit is being overlaid on the old habit which is greatly diminished with this technique. The mind is experiencing the contrasts and this helps to set the new and erase the old.


In the last stage John attempts to generalize the technique to as many new situations as possible. He uses the new technique for banks, kicks, back cuts, easy and hard hits. John uses the new habit in different games and for different practice routines.


Prior research by Baxter et al (as indicated in the previous referenced materials) leads to the conclusion that this simple mediation between habits is effective at removing the old habit and replacing it with a new practice.





Baker, K & Tan, G. (2008). Mediational lLearning (Old Way / New Way ) for accelerated skill correction: A new paradigm and technique for elite sport.


Goettlicher, R. & Lee, S (2008). Play Better Pool: Mastering the basics, volume I. Sport Videos, Tucson , AZ