Joe Waldron, Ph.D., Psychologist, (retired)
January 2009

Every time you get lost in a movie, a sporting event, a good book or a game of pool you are “hypnotized.” By “lost” I mean someone calls your name and you do not answer. They raise their voice a little and you still do not answer, finally, they raise their voice another notch and it gets your attention. You say something to the effect, “Sorry, I just wasn’t paying attention.” That is exactly what hypnosis amounts to, an altered state of awareness. Most pool players do not realize that they thoroughly enjoy being hypnotized!

In this state people have had surgery with no anesthesia and they ignore the pain that accompanied the surgical procedure. I have had traumatized crime victims recall significant aspects of a crime, such as license plate numbers on a fleeing car in the dead of night and many other “amazing” things.

So what can you do with it as a pool player? There are several things. As you know much of pool playing is under automatic control and you can teach you’re self to relax, concentrate better and allow the body to develop better fundamental techniques. Hypnosis will not turn an untalented person into a concert violinist, nor will it help you become a touring pro. It can help you overcome many glitches in your ability and it can be used to refine what you have.

You can obtain books on self hypnosis  I recommend Cherith Powell, & Craig Ford’s Self Hypnosis Kit.  ISBN: 0670865303.  see http://www.abebooks.com/docs/HelpCentral/buyerIndex.shtml).

You can see a licensed psychologist who specializes in the use of hypnosis (not all do) and you need to ask if they have APA certified training, if not look elsewhere. If you do talk with a certified Ph.D. you will need to be fairly specific with regard to what you want to accomplish, such as enhanced concentration at the pool table. The assistance would amount to showing you how to initiate an altered state and then using a graduated list of self suggestions to improve your concentration. Hypnosis can be used to reduce anger, anxiety, and to rid you of a bad habit. All that is needed is a specific objective such as “I want to be able to enter the zone at will.”

On the other hand, there is good evidence that everything that can be done with hypnosis can be done without hypnosis using “other” techniques for learning. There are techniques that can be used to improve concentration and Psychologists who specialize in learning theory can be of assistance. The up side to all of this lies in the idea that with a specific problem identified, the techniques for changing behavior are fairly explicit and easy to learn. Two or three consultations and you can do most of it on your own.

Contrary to what some people think, hypnosis is not dangerous. Your spouse could not get you to kill the dog when you are “lost” in a good book because such a suggestion would immediately get your full attention. Now if you wanted to kill the dog … BTW some of the best subjects for hypnosis are intelligent creative people who do not think that hypnosis will work. These are people who can “get lost” in a topic of interest.

Jack Maden wrote in the 14.1 forum “There is nothing (well almost nothing) better than being in the ZONE playing pool. I think it is the attraction that keeps us coming back.”

Exactly, the Zone = hypnosis and you can learn to get in the zone. Unfortunately, most players think it is something that happens to them and not something that they can induce. It is something that can be learned and called upon at will if (and that is a big IF) the person takes the time to learn. It is like learning to ride a bicycle, it takes time and each person uses their own technique. One way to learn it is to think of other things that make you “zone out” such as reading or a good movie. Then you consciously try to use the same type of concentration.

When I am “hypnotizing” someone I have them intensely focus on the sound of my soothing monotonous voice and perhaps stare at a crack on the ceiling to tire their eyes. The conscious mind gets bored and looks for other stimulation which can be provided with visual cues such as imaging sitting by a pond on a nice day with flowers all around and birds singing. The mind begins to drift and focus on all the pretty sights.

But we do not need other people to learn to get into this state we can do it using our own method. Shooting a repetitive shot until it is automatic and the person is getting bored. Then gently (that is the trick) moving to more interesting visually stimulating shots and the mind loses interest in everything but making balls. Practice this many times and the mind will quickly learn to skip the boring part and get to the fun. To stay in the state, don’t think about anything but the beauty of the play and let yourself simply enjoy the movements of your body and the balls on the table.

Of course eventually we miss a shot and have to go and sit down. But one does not have to completely leave the zone if we keep that focused concentration on the table, nice shots we did make and simply wait. If it is a “long” wait then you drop out of the zone and have to “work” to get back into it.

The interesting thing here is that I have taught many people (when several hypnosis sessions were needed) to allow themselves to “instantly” drop into an altered state of consciousness. All that is needed is a trigger. I tell them, when they are in an altered state, that if I raise my hand with the palm towards them they will immediately drop to an altered state. It works just about every time if the person is willing.

An individual who has learned “self hypnosis” or how to “zone out” can use the same technique. That is, when I make the first shot and it goes into the pocket I will immediately zone out. Of course it must be practiced and it is easier for some people than for others. It seems that people who perceive a need these techniques find them easier to learn.

OK so how is it done. First buy and read Powell’s book mentioned above. It includes a tape recording and will get you off on a fast track. For those who are still thinking about it here are some things you can try.

Begin by sitting in a comfortable chair where there are no distractions. Take 10 – 20 deep breaths concentrating on relaxing as you exhale. Become very aware of your breathing. You need to do this until you are quite bored, about 20 times. While this is going on pick a small spot on the wall or ceiling above your line of sight and star fixedly at this spot. Do not blink. The idea here is to tire your eyes. It is best to pick a crack or something that will cause your eye lose focus every 30 seconds or so. Stare at this crack until your eyes begin to tear up and the tears nearly brim over. When this happens allow your eyes close. If you find yourself swallowing and unable to sit perfectly still, you are fighting the altered state.

Now imagine as intensely as possible the following images. What I mean here is for you to try and actually see these images. If you cannot “see” the image, pretend that you can see it. When we were children we all pretended to see and be in different places. Go back to these childhood times and “play” with these ideas. See an elevator in front of you, watch it open, walk into the elevator turn around and look at the wall in front of you. Notice that the lights indicate that you are on the 10th floor. Push the button for the basement. Watch the lights slowly change for each floor as the elevator slides down. Try; really try, to feel the elevator sliding away from your feet. This will take about two minutes. Allow yourself to feel that sinking feeling. When the elevator reaches the basement, the door will open and you emerge into a hallway where there is an escalator that goes down a very long staircase. Step on the escalator and allow your self to watch the walls go by as you continue to sink deeper and deeper into a focused, relaxed state. This will take another two minutes.

At the bottom of the escalator is a poolroom with a table in it. There is no one there but you. You feel relaxed, confident, and you pick up a cue stick knowing that you will play your absolutely best game of pool with a deep feeling of relaxation and concentration. When you say the word “NOW” you begin to play and experience the best feeling and play better than you have ever played in your life. You play only two games like this.

As you put the cue stick back in a place by the table you think to yourself, “When I say he word “now” I will be in the state I am feeling at this minute. When I say the word “out” I will drop out of this state.

You walk back to the escalator and reverse the whole process going up the stairs and up the elevator until you are back where you started. You open your eyes, feel great but do not move until your body resets its usual body postures. At this point most people wonder if they were “really” hypnotized. Yes, you probably were, there are just different levels of the altered state. Some people need more time to learn to trust their self in this altered state and practice helps. Actually one must learn that they are “safe.”

Later when you are in the real pool room you use the words “NOW” and “OUT” to see how well you have learned to drop in this state on command. Do not be easily discouraged. Look for slight changes over a two or three week period. Perhaps one of the ways to do this is to first attempt to run a rack of your favorite game in your usual state. This is how well you are playing today. Next use your trigger words to enter the Zone, play one game and keep track. Use your trigger word to exit then zone and compare the scores.

You should do nothing in the zone but play pool or sit in the chair.

After you find that you can do this and improve your game you can change the trigger. Every time you pick up the stick you enter the zone. Every time you put the stick down you leave it.

Hypnosis can be used to reduce anger, anxiety and similar types of problems. When you are in your basement pool room, populate it with the necessary problems you have in a match and deal with these problems effectively. However, you should only deal with any one problem until it is solved.

While all of these things can be done by you they are more easily accomplished with a skilled psychologist for the first and most important problem. After that most people can resolve issues without the help of a therapist. The therapist is nothing more than a coach. You need to bring a specific problem with you and learn from the coach. A qualified therapist is probably going to need three maybe four hours to teach these techniques where you will get the most benefit. The first thing they have to do is screen you for mental health problems – it has nothing to do with you it is he nature of the practice of psychology or any mental health discipline. If they take longer than four sessions there better be a good explanation.

One way to get started would be to show the therapist this article and make a note about what you want to accomplish. They will have their own ideas and may use slightly different techniques as there are many different ways to accomplish these goals. All I have provided here is an introduction to what is done and how it is done. The therapist / consultant each have their own ways, just like professional pool players.

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