Most of us know that when you shove a pinball a bit too hard, the machine 'tilts'. You then lose your turn, or the game! In poker, a mental condition called 'tilt' operates much the same way.
When your emotions start shoving your logic machine a bit too hard, you are told to be 'on tilt'. Typically, you insist to lose your buy-in, or worse, your bankroll. We have all witnessed, and (sad to admit) personally experienced some of the extreme extreme, unpleasant examples.
There are also fewer degrees of tilt. Small concerns that break our concentration just enough to throw our game off. And, there is creeping tilt. It begins unnoticeable, incubates for awhile, then slowly grows into a monster.
Tilt is like a disease without a cure, but with an important difference. Even though its potential is always with us, we can willfully control this demon. We can never entirely rid ourselves, since the emotions that cause tilt are part of our mental hard wiring.
Willful control begins with self monitoring.
This might be the easiest part. We start simply by 'thinking about what we are thinking'. Remember how you felt and what you were thinking, the last time you played really great poker? It is important to remember those thoughts and feelings. They will become your 'standard' for comparison. Try to mimic them whenever you play. Then learn to notice whenever you are straying from your 'standard'.
Here is an illustration. When you are playing your best, you may characterize yourself as being calm, cool and collected. A regular 007. Nothing hits you from your mission. You are also focused, disciplined and patient.
Now, enter a little fatigue, a distraction, an unpleasantness, or an irritation. And, your thoughts begin to stray from your 'standard'. Your focus, discipline and patience start to unravel. Your mind is soon full of thoughts about getting back to even. Or, getting even with the donkey that just rivered an inside straight to beat your pocket rockets. You watch helplessly as the harder you shove your agenda, the deer you slide into the abyss. You are spiraling out of emotional control. This is being 'on tilt', the perfect emotional storm.
Note that the downward spiral began when your thoughts started to stray from your 'standard'. This is where 'thinking about what we are thinking' becomes important. It is up to us to notice when our mood or thoughts shift. At that moment, it is up to us to mentally correct the course of our thinking. We must learn the techniques to near instantly calm ourselves, cool our emotions, and collect our thoughts. Otherwise, without a course correction, we are in for some nasty consequences.
So, here are some tips for corrective action.
1) If you are tired, take some time off to rest up.
2) If you received a bad beat, stop playing for awhile. Until the sting goes away.
3) If a player has become your Nemesis, change tables.
4) If you can not collect your thoughts and refocus, stop playing.
5) If you are behind and feel yourself pushing to catch-up, stop for the day.
6) If you just do not feel right, wait until another time to play.
7) If you are in a bad mood, do not play.
And, for calming down, try these.
1) Take deep breaths.
2) Walk around for awhile.
3) Use a stress ball. (My favorite.)
4) Visualize serenity.
5) Laugh it off.
These tips look pretty simple, right?
But, emotions like greed, envy, revenge, and anger are tough, really tough to turn off like a light switch. The negative emotions that cause tilt are powerful forces. Only through intense desire and discipline can we take back emotional control of ourselves.
Job one? Do not devolve into tilt in the first place. Your goal should be to immediately recognize when you are straying, and to then immediately take corrective action. With discipline, you can apply this formula, and never suffer the consequences of tilt again.
Ultimately, it is our concentration that is the principal foe of tilt. And, it is our lack of concentration that feeds the monster.