I’m not very good at pool. I jump shots. I scratch way more than necessary. I can go ten shots without sinking a ball. While I win more than I lose against people who don’t play regularly, I still lose a lot.
But I can visualize the perfect shot.
Pool isn’t a very complicated game – you can think four or five moves ahead without having to worry too much about what the other player is doing. The balls work like high school trigonometry on a felt table. If you line your shot up right and use the right amount of force, nothing unexpected will happen. It will be a perfect shot.
For me, learning has a lot to do with knowing what the perfect shot is. I look at the table until I can see it. I see the result of the perfect shot. Where is the cue ball? Which balls moved? Where’s the next shot? I try as hard as I can to duplicate that shot, and when the dust settles it’s easy to figure out what went wrong.
In meditation, there’s a concept called “The Golden Man,” which I was taught for kung fu. Before every training session I was asked to meditate for five minutes on my ideal self as a fighter. How fast was I? How strong? How accurate? How hard could I struggle against being tired, hurt, or scared? I had to picture myself being that man with a golden glow.
The difference between this and pool is that some things are beyond my control. I cannot knock a heavy bag back a meter with a jab. I cannot move so fast that my opponent’s attacks hit only air. I cannot close my eyes and catch a punch before it lands.
But what’s important is the biggest similarity: the perfect shot in pool and the golden man in kung fu both pull me towards a level of mastery that I can qualify. Learning is the process of moving from idiocy to perfection – even if you’ll never be perfect. So it makes sense to know what that is.
What’s one skill you’re learning? Do you know what your perfect shot looks like?