Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Paradox of Self-Confidence

Most pool billiard advice say that you need to have self-confidence. It's a broad topic, which has many applications to one's game. But there's one particular aspect that I've come to realize lately: you really need to have confidence in your game even if your skills don't allow for it.

Let's say you're trying to make a ball that you know you are able to pocket just a little over half of the time. Let's also assume that the shot you've chosen is the correct one. The percentages favor the shot even if you're not going to make it close to 100% of the time. (You're often faced with such shots.)

This uncertainty, this knowledge that you going to make the ball only say 60% of the time, only goes into the decision before you bow down to shoot. Before the decision, you should make a realistic estimate of the probability that you're going to make it and decide whether the shot is going to win you the game or the match. It is difficult to estimate this probability truthfully, but it's not impossible. I bet that most players are on the right ballpark in their estimate. Most players are likely to be a bit too optimistic but hopefully not too much.

But after you've decided on a shot and you're going to execute it, you have to forget all this and be absolutely confident that you'll make the shot as you've imagined. Just know it in yourself that you'll make it. Trust yourself completely.

This isn't superstition or some vague positive psychology. I'm saying that it is a simple matter of not allowing distracting thoughts during the execution. "I might miss this shot," is one of the worst thoughts that you could possibly have during a shot. If that enters the mind, you probably will miss the shot.

The only real alternative is to have total confidence in yourself. It's not enough to say to yourself that you will make the shot. You have to know it. You have to feel it.

If you've managed to do just this and you've been realistic in your estimation beforehand, there's a funny paradox in it, because you have to believe in something that clearly isn't true. When you are shooting the ball, you have to believe that you will make the ball 100% of the time even if you have estimated that you will make the ball 60% of the time. This is the paradox of self-confidence.

Now, most of the time most of this happens unconsciously. You're in the flow and you're just shooting. You have the confidence in your shots all the time. But every now and then comes a shot that you aren't quite so sure about. You try to decide what's the correct shot —as you should— and this process leaks into the execution of your shots and suddenly you don't trust yourself anymore. Sometimes this uncertainty is all over you and can't get your game going at all. This is when you need to realize the importance of self-confidence and exactly when you need to use it for your advantage. You don't want to delude yourself thinking that you're Shane Van Boening or Mika Immonen when deciding what to shoot, but I think you do have to delude yourself in just such a way when you are actually shooting.

You have to feel that you'll make the shot, however difficult it is.

If you nevertheless miss the shot, as you do every now and then, you just need to recognize the percentages and move on.

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