Flowing in the pool hall

Late last night, I dragged my brother Andrew out for a quick game of pool at the local pool hall. It’s a simple place – a big room filled with blue felt-covered tables, open 24/7, and cooled by cigarette smoke-infused vents.

A pool table in Café Zéphyr, Paris, France
A pool table in Café Zéphyr, Paris, France

Living on different continents, we don’t get the chance to play as much as we once did and I’m so amazed at how good he is! Refined by many hours of play, his technique is really very good. Impressive… and perhaps a bit scary since he’s so much younger than I!

I’ve noticed how I play my best when I’m not thinking too hard. Not that I’m not concentrating – on the contrary, I’m totally focused on what I’m doing. But I am not consciously thinking and analysing as much as I am allowing the shots to be played.

When I analyse and evaluate, I miss shots. My skills aren’t refined and disciplined enough to consistently shoot the ball where I intend it to go all that often, so even if I calculate things “right” there’s a good chance that it still won’t work.

But if I can allow myself to be guided by my intuition and just go for the shot that I feel is right, it’s amazing how consistently I can pull off the most remarkable shots. You (or Csíkszentmihályi) might call it a state of flow.

Yet, my emotional state becomes even more important. If my attention starts to wander or my mind starts to drift, I can also miss the easiest of shots! Playing through my intuition makes me able to do things my technical skill level wouldn’t allow yet it leaves me vulnerable to making horrible mistakes if I don’t keep in that ‘zone’.

It’s like when I sense that I’m ‘supposed’ to call someone or meet with someone, even if I don’t understand ‘why’. Or if I pick up a book that I sense I should read – even if I don’t understand what it could do for me. Being open and being ready is challenging and potentially risky, yet it has the most amazing rewards.

And with thanks to Drew, I can appreciate being in that space through something as simple and common (or, in our case, perhaps uncommon) as a game of pool.

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