View Full Version : How to Ignore distractions?

10-11-2010, 08:54 AM
I noticed an interesting problem the other day that might be expanded on by others. Perhaps others have found a way to deal with this problem.

Usually I practice alone and very much enjoy it. Over time I have included improving my ability to concentrate. I think of this training as something like the Buddhist monks or various martial arts use in their daily routines. It is a form of integrating the complex physical requirements needed for playing pool with the mental discipline required to concentrate, let go, plan, and concentrate again. In my practice routines I have found that I play much better than I did a year ago. Of course I try to use these techniques when in competition.

A week ago I played every night for a week or so with a fellow who talks all the time. He is a nice enough guy but just canít seem to shut up. His pace is about twice as fast as most others and he is a fairly good player. We were playing a variation of Chicago (one point per ball in a game of 25) and he is able to run a table of 15 once or twice a night.

We had a lot of fun and I thought that this would be a great place to practice my ability to concentrate under the constant talking conditions. I found that constant human chatter has a negative effect on my game. My playing was off by 25 Ė 30% and this is a significant decrease in a game of 15 ball rotation. It is odd that no matter how much I have practiced the ability to concentrate this type of chatter is probably one of the most aversive conditions for me. Now I can see where I need to practice much more with constant chatter in the room.

How have others dealt with this difficult problem?

It seems to me that I need to re-structure my practice routine so that it will include more than just the ability to have intense concentration at will. It needs to include the ability to tune out distractions. It is probably something like those monks who sit under a freezing water fall while they concentrate. Has anyone else found a way to do this type of thing?

10-11-2010, 11:02 AM
I have no answers on how to ignore talkers. I find them distracting, even if they are talking to someone else, let alone to me. I try to eliminate the talking in others I play by my example of not talking when they are shooting, and if they begin to talk when I'm about to shoot, by holding up, standing up, and completely pausing until they are through with their point and/or get the idea I'm subtly reinforcing.

Most people I play with are fairly silent when we are shooting, holding their thoughts until someone is racking, or when there's a transition in who is shooting. At a minimum, whatever talk is going on ceases as of when someone gets down on a shot.

I think that's a common courtesy, and one that is not that hard to arrange with a person of reasonable good will, once they know you really prefer no talking during your shot, and simply will not shoot if they are talking.

If an opponent continues despite clear signals from you that they shouldn't, either they're undisciplined and have minimal impulse control or they're doing it on purpose. In either case, I avoid any serious shooting with people like that.

10-11-2010, 11:37 AM
I play with a guy all the time who does the same thing. It's a friendly game and all, but it does bother me. So I thought the same thing you did, good way to practice under tough conditions. Over the years it did help, I learned to block it out most of the time. At times though, it can get irritating. I dont think he does it on purpose, but that doesnt make it any less annoying.

So what I have learned to do is slow my game down when I have to. That way when he starts talking, I stop shooting until he's done. His talk also opens up the door to innocently talk to him while it's his turn, so sometimes I fight fire with fire. That's something I dont ordinarily do, but it's part of the psychological warfare that goes on between us. I'm not even sure he is consciously aware of it, but I know I am.

10-11-2010, 12:53 PM
Slowing down has helped but I can see there is a need for more training on my part. Where I play now there is a lot of good natured ribbing between shots and I have been working on playing the dozens between shots and then dropping into that higher state of concentration when it is my turn at the table. this helps a little but not much as I found last week.

On AZB one of the posters suggested playing two radios during practice. That seems like a good idea, especially if one radio is on a talk station while the other is on a music station. I am going to give that a try.

I have read where seveal people compare playing pool and martial arts program. I have never been into martial arts (seems a gun is easier to me) but I now think that there is a similarity.

To be a good player requires physical and mental discipline of various types. People talk about the mental game but do not often break it down into the various components of the mental game that are trainable.

10-11-2010, 02:03 PM
Joe, we all have been into the zone where we are so totally focused a bomb could go off and it won't bother us. Its a great feeling but course getting there is the key.

My wife is trying to get me to join her yoga class on meditation and relaxation but I get nervous just thinking about it. Group meditation is just not my thing.

But I did some study on yoga back when I was in school and appears the key is not trying to focus on your mind to relax, but instead focusing more on the mind telling the body to relax.

I have learned to employ this in pool by using my own take on this. When I'm down in the stance I try to imagine that my body is dead and I can't move anything. This in turn provides my mind something to concentrate on and allows me to tune out external distraction. Once I have got my body to be dead on my feet so to speak, I let my mind take control of my arm so that I can move it to make the stroke. After a while I can get into the zone and I don't need the exercise. This of course also helps in keeping the body still during the stroke.

It does'nt always work as sometimes tension plays to much of a role but its one way to try and get to the zone. brad

10-11-2010, 03:04 PM
I have studied several forms of meditation over the years for things unrelated to playing pool. If you think that you might look into these exceptionally interesting tools here is the single best reference I have found that is written by a western scientific psychologist for use by members of western civilization.

LeShan, Lawrence, (1974). How to Meditate. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Co. ISBN 0-316-88062-0

There are more than one million copies in print so it should be easy to find new or used. LaShan synthesizes the literature and presents techniques that are readily grasped by the western mind. His text is useful in many ways.

10-11-2010, 03:20 PM
For anyone who wants to learn self hypnosis without paying the fees charged by a practitioner I recommend

Powell, C. and Forde, G (1996) The Self Hypnosis Kit. NY,NY: Penguin Press.ISBN 0 670 865303

This is an easily used manual and a tape recording for about $25.00 or so.

If anyone is seriously interested in the things that can be done with self hypnosis, read

LeCron, Leslie (1964) Self Hypnotism: The techniques and its use in daily living.ISBN 0-13-803478-8.

In several years of professional practice these are the best texts I have found and have referred many people to them. They are a little old but there is no newer content that is any better. All of these authors write for the general public and no specialized knowledge is required

Fran Crimi
10-11-2010, 03:52 PM
I took a seminar with sports psychologist Jim Loehr and he made a good point about dealing with distractions. He said to try to imagine as many things as you can that can go wrong during your match because the biggest distraction of all is the element of surprise.

Being prepared for the unexpected will help us deal with them when they arise. In fact, his competition mantra is, "No surprises."

It's still a surprise even if you know that you are about to play someone who can't stop talking if you haven't addressed how you are going to handle it ahead of time.

When you're not playing, imagine you are playing a slow player or a talker, or someone who doesn't sit down, or if the room is crowded and there are lots of people walking by your table, or if the music is loud... and so-on. Then envision yourself handling each situation with no problem.

Thanks for the reminder, Joe. I haven't done this exercise in awhle and I'm definitely overdue.

10-11-2010, 04:00 PM
Thanks for the tip Fran. While Jim Loehr is not often referenced here I am a big fan of his work and will have to go and review his book again.

Rich R.
10-12-2010, 03:08 PM
Joe, you may have created your own monster.
You practice alone and you equate your practice with monks and martial artists. I have to assume your environment is either totally quiet or you have music or TV at a low volume level. In either case, you are in control of your environment and, in a way, it becomes a very familiar and somewhat sterile environment. IMHO, that is your problem.
IMHO, the ability to concentrate is not the same as the ability to block out distractions. In order to block out distractions, you have to practice with distractions around you. In time, you will learn to block them out.
I don't have the scientific explaination to back up my theory but I do have my personal experience. I rarely do anything in total silence and I always have distractions around. However, when I concentrate on something, I seem to have the ability to block everything out. It agravates the hell out of my wife at times, but it helps when I'm at a pool table in a busy pool room. You could say I've trained myself to block out distractions the same way I have trained to make certain shots. Try putting some noise in your practice routine.

10-12-2010, 04:58 PM
I am a talker. I dont like praktising against someone who expekts me to not talk. Of course u shoodnt talk when someone iz getting down on hiz/her shot. But me myself i am happy to talk while aktually down and aiming and shooting.

In my early years i/we played on the 12' table in the student's room -- u uzually had other students leaning against the table and talking to each other, or to u about the shot -- and u often hadta push someone aside to shoot, often they tryd to put u off -- lots of yelling (from the chess corner) -- lots of ping-pong balls flying around -- lots of muzik, lots of everything.

Hencely, i hardly ever get distrakted by anything. Except that i really really hate it when a ref moovs while i am shooting, or moovs az the qball iz on its way. Sometimes when they think your backswing iz your final backswing they take a step forward, ie to get to retrieve the red or qball (english billiards here), and then they havta step back. Even top refs hav dunn this. I hate it. Never ever do it myself -- i wait untill the player starts to moov befor i ever moov a muscle -- and i allways stand properly balanced, ie not leaning forward or some shit. And sometimes the opponent thinks u are taking too long over a shot, and he/she moovs to a new corner or something. I try not to let this bother me, but if it duz i get up and hav another look and get down again.
Anyhow, i try not to think dark thorts about this sort of stuff etc -- i put up with it and try to think happy thorts and just enjoy the game -- dont worry, be happy.

10-13-2010, 08:45 AM
Cushioncrawler said, "Anyhow, i try not to think dark thorts about this sort of stuff etc -- i put up with it and try to think happy thorts and just enjoy the game -- dont worry, be happy."

Sounds like good advice. However, I also agree with Richh R. There are two problems here. How to concentrate as needed and how to ignore distractions. They are related but slightly different problems. At one time I wrote computer software, artificial intelligence types of things, for use in psychodiagnostics. It would take aboout 30 minutes just to find my place and get in the zone to pick up where I left off. When you are buried three deep in a DO Loop you lose track of everything around you and there are no distractions. However, I did find that I was aware of the environment from time to time.

Back then, my wife would come into the room and just stand beside me until I was ready to stop and talk. This might take a few minutes to make mental notes and be able to withdraw from the computer.

The funny thing is that while I was completely lost in the software development there was always a part of my mind that was aware of the environment. I think this is simply a part of human anatomy -- to be vigilant at some level even at home in the best of circumstances.

I now suspect that it requires some sort of training to overcome that animal tendency. In some way the player needs to feel safe and not have the need to be animalistically (is there such a word)vigilant.

It is probably a matter of identifying the contributing variables and then finding a way to attenuate them for competitive play.

I suspect that if one grew up like Cushioncrawler where many people are in the room engaged in various activities then one reaches a certain level of comfort which may be "adequate" for normal play.

None-the-less, regardless of the learned level of comfort my bet is that that sense of security and lack of a need for vigilance can be enhanced through training.

Now I have to go and see what I can find in the literature.

10-13-2010, 07:12 PM
Looks like I might have found an interesting study as related to improving oneís performance under stressful conditions. According to Szalma, J and Hancock,, P. (2006) the perception of choice improves performance. This means that when we are in a tough match and find that we have to shoot some shot, the tension increases oneís vigilance producing more stress and a decrement in performance.

The obvious conclusion is that when the player finds they are in a tight spot it is important to find choices. This will reduce tension. I suspect that analyzing a shot for at least two options (the safe and the shot) should be a standard approach. According to Szalma and Hancock the perception of choice leads to better performance. This could be the key to winning a game in a tight situation and merits some real consideration.

If you want to play your best Ė make sure you have a choice of shots.

See Performance and stress (http://www.peterhancock.ucf.edu/Downloads/ref_con_pubs/Szalma_Hancock_2006.pdf)

Fran Crimi
10-15-2010, 07:11 AM
Thanks for posting the study, Joe. It's very interesting and it appears that the choice is about feeling like you are responsible for your destiny.

I think, though, that it would apply if we could choose our opponent, or an opponent at a particular playing level prior to our matches, but I think that's as far as it would go.

For example: If you play in a local tournament and you find you drew the toughest player, you can sulk and underperform because you are thinking about your bad luck, particularly when the person on the next table has a much easier match.

But regarding play during matches, we have plenty of opportunities to choose, so I don't think that part is an issue.

10-15-2010, 08:02 AM
Perhaps when you draw that tough opponent you can also review your options. For instance, here is a good place to practice my safety game. When life gives you lemons ...

I think that I have found the solution to distraction problem. It is a fairly easy solution but may not be easy to learn. Vigilance is as normal as breathing. You canít get rid of it because it is part of being a human animal.

When learning to meditate the student is taught to acknowledge the intrusion and simply let it go away. Using this technique the student can pull deeper and deeper into their own mind. A variation of this technique should work when playing pool.

If you are talking with someone and a car passes by, you are aware of the car, note its color as not one you recognize and then you ignore it and go back to your conversation. If some one says did you see that crazy turn he made, you honestly say, no, I was no longer aware of the car.

Paradoxically, by acknowledging the distraction you can then ignore it and are then able to enhance your concentration in the usual ways.

Unfortunately, the human voice is one of those sounds that naturally draws our attention. Therefore, it probably requires some effort to acknowledge and ignore the human voice.

Some of us who have been married for a long time have learned to ignore one particular voice. It is just a matter of learning to acknowledge and then ignore all human voices as needed.

Fran Crimi
10-15-2010, 10:43 AM
The whole vigilance issue has always intrigued me. Take us native New Yorkers, for instance: we tend to be almost always vigilant to the goings on around us, for good reasons. I would think that the more vigilant you are to the sounds and motions around you, the more difficult it is to convince yourself, whether it's your conscious or unconscious mind, that it's ok to let that awareness go during a match.

So I believe that vigilance can be a double-edged sword.

Brian in VA
10-16-2010, 12:42 PM
Fascinating questions and information, Joe!

I have to admit, when I find myself distracted and become intentional enough to do something about it, I usually work hard to put all my focus into making the perfect stroke. In other words, I go through my usual process and when I'm finally down on the shot, I attempt to focus everything on making the perfect stroke and stop thinking about making the ball. Shrinking it to this size seems to work for me. That's when I can do it. Seems like I have to go through a couple of scenes before I realize I'm distracted or choking or whatever name you want to give it. Until then, I become more distracted and frustrated.

Hmm...is this what they mean when I hear pro golfers saying they have to learn how to win? In other words, put themselves into the position so that one recognizes what is going wrong and fixing it more quickly? If that's the case, then I need to get to a mental place where I'm more aware of what I'm thinking at the start of a match.

Wow! Thanks, I think I may have learned something here!

Brian in VA

10-17-2010, 07:54 AM
Jay Helfert had a good point that is somewhat related. He said that when a player intentionally talks or tries to shark him he recognized it as the other person admitting that they could not win so they had to resort to poor sportsmanship tactics. This increases his confidence and helps him play better. He says it basically put a smile on his face and that he usually wins.

That is top of the line turning lemons into lemonade.

Fran Crimi
10-17-2010, 09:45 AM
Joe, I think in theory this is a good attitude. It's just really hard to put it to practice. I know a lot of really good players and nice people, too, who have been victims of sharking, even though they were determined not to be affected by it. We are all only human.

IMO, the best way to combat it is for the people in charge of the events to police the matches the way they should be policed, and to harshly sanction anyone who sharks their opponent.

I used to run a lot of local tournaments and I saw it as my first obligation to the players to make sure that anyone trying to win by unfair tactics was thrown out right then and there. No second chances. It may seem harsh, but after awhile, players knew that if they played in my event, they were going to have to play fair. It was interesting how you'd start to see different players rising to the top and those who normally engaged in sharking tactics to get ahead were suddenly not doing so well.

Now THAT'S what I call shooting pool....not this other crap that we try to condition ourselves that we should be able to deal with sharking. Who says we're supposed to have to deal with opponents who don't know how to behave, or who intentionally act like they don't?

Maybe THEY'RE the ones who should learn how to adapt!