Monday, November 15, 2010

Avoiding Frustration

This article is part of Volume 12 of PoolSynergy, a monthly collection of the best writing on pool. After you read it, be sure to check out the rest of the November 2010 edition of PoolSynergy for other great articles over at Pool Student's Blog.

Three tips to avoid frustration

Ever had an over-whelming urge to break something after a pool match? Ever curse at your poor skills during a match that doesn't go your way? A quick glance at any given pool match will reveal that most players seem to be frustrated about their game. Most of the time.

It seems like a natural part of the hobby, but I think it doesn't have to be that way. Frustration itself is a useful thing and something we cannot usually avoid, but we don't have to dwell on it. Instead, we can try to use it as a tool, as an indication of something that we should be noticing. If we just let the frustration take control, it will take over and it will become more difficult to shake it off. 

The zeroeth tip, a meta-tip if you will, is to step outside from your usual thinking and just to try to understand what frustration and anger are all about. Because they are a thing in your mind. They are not direct result of the world as such. They are your brain's interpretation of the situation. You react to the events in some way and this is something you yourself can control. 

Tip 1# Fake It

The easiest trick to make yourself avoid frustration is to just fake being calm. Just decide beforehand that this time you'll just fake showing no emotions and not being frustrated. Whenever you make a real bad blunder, just pretend like nothing happened and walk away cool. What you'll perhaps notice is that this external "fake" actually causes you to be more calm. There's this old myth that if you pile up anger and frustration it will eventually come out, all the more worse, but that's not in fact true. The truth is quite the opposite. Your thoughts and emotional state will follow your external behavior. 

Tip 2# Acknowledge What Frustration Is Telling You

We tend to concentrate on the superficial reasons for frustration. If we miss an easy ball, we become angry and all we think of is "how on earth could I miss that?" But the real reason of the emotion is how we feel like it affects the image we are giving. Usually we don't think like this consciously, but the primary reason typically lies in the conflict of how we think we should be seen by others and how we actually performed. Normally our minds are happily telling ourselves that everything's fine, but sometimes the reality leaks in too abruptly and we have this uncomfortable feeling. 

The irony of all this is that others are typically much better seeing how good or bad we really are. Our external expression of frustration is trying to say something like "in reality, I'm better than this", but the other people see us more objectively and all this gesturing and cursing just makes us look worse. 

The problem is the mismatch in our objective skills and how we would like to be seen by others. But others already see us pretty objectively, so the only thing we can change is to become more realistic of how good we really are. However, it's too easy to fall into the "I'm such a bad player, boo-hoo" trap when we go this route. That's not what you want either. You should try to see your performance as the true representation of your skills. When anger and frustration start to build up, just notice it and realize that it's your mind trying to resolve a conflict of your self-image.

Which brings us to the final tip.

Tip 3# Understand The True Meaning Of Competition

This tip is directly from Timothy Gallwey's excellent book The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey was struggling to find the meaning of competition to him. What purpose do our opponents have to our hobby? What's the point in playing competitively in the first place? You might say that you want to win, but that's not a real answer to anything. 

What Gallwey realized, and wrote about in his book, was that if our purpose is to become more skillful, better at our game, then the purpose of our opponents is to make our task harder and harder. The better we become, the harder our opponent has to play to provide us a challenge. Gallwey's used surfers as an analogy in the book. When they start the hobby, they'll just ride easy waves and try not to fall. But as they get better, they want to ride bigger and tougher waves to give themselves more challenge. In other words, we want to find out how skillful we can become. And this is the real purpose of competition: they are means for us to become better. 

So you don't have to look at individual matches or tournaments us something you have to win. That's your goal, of course, ultimately, but that goal serves the purpose: our desire to become better. Understanding this has made me much more calm and relaxed. I can see matches and tournaments as a tool, as having some real purpose behind.