What does it mean to be in “dead stroke” or “in the zone?”

from JoeW:

The zone that most people try to describe is a state of altered consciousness more commonly known as self hypnosis in which the person is intensely focused, unaware of the environment and relaxed. For the most part they are thoroughly immersed in the topic and are non-judgmental. It is generally a very positive state in which the subconscious is directing most of the behavior.

You have been hypnotized many times. When you “get lost” in a good TV show or a good book. Someone calls your name and you don’t answer. They call your name again, louder and you say, “Sorry, I heard you but I wasn’t listening.” This is self hypnosis or the zone. A rose by any other name …

Contrary to some comments, intelligent, creative people are good subjects for hypnosis. Once learned, or over learned, the person can drop into or out of the state at will. Usually a triggering mechanism such as tapping one’s non-dominant foot can be used as a trigger.

Watch Reyes or Deuel when they are in a match. Notice that each man is extremely loose and seems to be nonchalant as they walk around the table. This looseness is indicative of a person who is “lost” in the moment. Some might call it a form of the zone – lite zone if you will.

To some extent the zone is made out to be nearly a mystical state that is sought but unobtainable with intent. This is not true and you can see a light zone in these two players if you watch closely when they are on about the third ball in a run.

The trick, if there is one, is that to get in the zone one must be non-judgmental (about self) and yet have the ability to analyze a table and then allow the body / subconscious to make the shot. For most people this means coming in and out of the zone as each shot is analyzed. This can be done but requires some effort.

It is better to over learn table analysis and then allow the subconscious to conduct the analysis and never leave the zone while playing. This takes a considerable amount of “trust” in one’s self and is therefore difficult.

If you watch the pros mentioned you will also see that they usually sit quietly on the side lines waiting for their next turn. In essence they are not doing anything that will pull them from the edge of this altered state of consciousness that is so helpful to excellent play. They are not robots but are using a different way to be aware of the world.

BTW, for those who think the sub-conscious is bunk, explain how your conscious mind calculates the cue ball return. I submit that you cannot tell me what you tell your muscles to get the X power to move a ball Y distance after it hits a rail with Z amount of side spin. These calculations are made by your subconscious. Simply put, you do not know how that side of you does it, but it can do it amazing well for a part of the mind that does not use language.

from JoeW:

I was out playing awhile ago and it occurred to me (partially based on the conversation here) that I often have something like a verbal dialog in my head when I think through a shot or series of shots. I guess that some people would call it “thinking” about a shot. I decided to try and stop “thinking” at least in words and just look at the shot and the next two balls (in a 9-Ball game) then shoot.

This technique seems to help with positional play. The subconscious seemed to have more control over the process. Now I wonder if some elements of playing in the zone or in dead stroke use this non-thinking cognitive process to play.

I suspect that it is worth a try for any who are interested. Try to just look at the table and the shot with no verbal dialog in your head. I do not have a good way to describe the process. It is something like being an observer of your own actions. I was surprised, first by the better than expected position on the next shot and next by the idea that twice (in about 20 shots) I played well to a position on the table that I would not normally play.

I also noted that the subconscious is better at deciding cue tip placement than my thoughts on the matter. I am too picky about the exact spot. The subconscious seems to be more aware of muscle control and tip placement as a unified concept. If I just let it happen the position was better. The subconscious also seems to be better able to compensate for squirt and throw. I did notice that my eyes tend to look more at the table and track where the cue ball will go. Perhaps this is where the “see the nap” idea comes from. When I “think,” I seem to be more focused on the lines and the angles.

In 30 minutes I have stumbled on a way to play that seems to be quite a bit better than my usual way. Of course any new technique produces an immediate good effect. This is known as the Hawthorn Effect for those who may remember from Intro to Psych class. None-the-less, the non-thinking routine does seem to enhance my game and may be a precursor to the zone.

From what I know about hypnosis, letting go of verbal dialog is definitely part of the process so it should help to set up or maybe even induce some sort of flow or zone like behavior.

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