If you’ve played poker for a meaningful period of time, you’ve almost definitely experienced your fair share of tilt throughout your journey. For the vast majority of people, tilt is such a large problem that it greatly impacts not only their mental state, but also their focus, session length and winrate.
How often have you had a session where nothing seemed to go right, and you eventually either pack up and go home in disgust, or stay and donk off a few buy-ins due to tilt? Tilt is like the 5 headed demonic boss battle that no one can ever seem to conquer; one bad beat and it seems like your session is doomed to fail.
Perhaps tilt is such an issue for you that it leaks into your day to day life as well, turning one bad session into a bad day, bad week or even bad month. Today, we’ll be looking at the number one way to start recognizing and controlling your tilt at the poker table, so let’s dive into it.
1. Tilt Is a Compounding Cycle
Let’s clear things up a bit when it comes to the definition of tilt. The basic definition is this:
“A state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive.”
This is a perfectly reasonable definition, when specifically related to poker. However, the thing people seem to forget when talking about tilt is that tilt is simply an outward portrayal of a natural chemical process.
Look at it like this. Let’s say that you think about something. Whether it be a thought, a memory, song lyrics, whatever it is, your brain immediately starts processing a reaction to that thought. This is a chemical process that leads the brain to immediately produce a chemical signal. This chemical signal tells the body how to feel and act. This is the basic process of how the brain turns an immaterial thought into matter.
Now this sounds complex, but basically it boils down to this.
Your thoughts become chemical signals, and these chemical signals tell your body how to feel about your thoughts. This process happens so fast that it’s basically instant, you think something and then feel something.
Now where this gets difficult is when you start to have negative thoughts and feelings, because this process literally compounds on itself over and over, until your thoughts and emotions spiral out of control.
Let’s look at an example:
John is playing poker with his buddies. He’s been having a bad night and is down a few buy-ins. His thoughts have been almost entirely focused on his dwindling chipstack, the fact that Robert is a much worse player than him but is winning, and he’s still thinking about Tony’s big suck-out on the river.
These negative thoughts are chemically turning John’s emotions negative, which are dictating how he feels.
These negative emotions begin to produce more negative thoughts, which lead to more negative emotions, which eventually start to lead to negative physical actions.
John eventually stands up angrily, mutters something rude to Robert, and stomps out the door.
This process is called “tilting” when at the poker table, but as you can see it could apply just as easily to other areas of your life.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “getting worked up” before. “Oh, John is over there getting worked up about nothing!”
The thing is, this actually is a pretty true statement, because getting angry is a chemical process that gradually compounds on itself inside your brain. That’s why if you don’t have total control over your thoughts, you can easily fall into this cycle over and over again. Mastering your mind will allow you to master your anger, which in turn will eliminate tilt.
2. “Take a Deep Breath”
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “take a deep breath” before. When someone is angry, this phrase always seems to come out.
“Take a deep breath John, just take a minute!”
Taking a deep breath is often associated with meditation, because it helps to reset the mind and allows you to return to clear thinking. Meditation is powerful, and the theory behind it is battletested in psychology as well. It’s also easier than you think.
The thing about your mind is, it’s basically one big engine that is constantly running. From the second we get up until the second we fall asleep, our brains are constantly spinning and whirling around. Your thoughts are being processed as emotions, guiding your actions, thinking, feeling, acting every second of the day!
Even in your sleep your brain is active, it gets no rest at all. The thing about engines is eventually they start to overheat. The same thing is true about your brain, it needs rest otherwise it will go haywire.
This is where meditation comes in.
Now I understand if you think it’s wacky, I used to as well. That’s the thing about our subconscious mind, it really isn’t measurable. Our subconscious dictates so much about our thoughts and feelings, but we can’t really easily understand it. However, we do know that if we give it time to rest, it will respond very positively and we will gain more control over ourselves. We are calm, more focused, less prone to anger, all through 10-15 minutes of meditation and reflection a day.
You can meditate anytime, anywhere.
Any time you take some time to yourself, and have a conversation with yourself in your own mind, that’s meditation. For some people, that looks like cooking, for others it looks like sitting with your back straight, hands in your lap, eyes closed, and breathing with purpose. Some people even do it with their furry companions, or human children! If you’re totally lost, guided meditation videos such as this one are a great starting place.
Meditation is about being fully present. It’s not about repressing thoughts, or trying to shut down your brain. When you meditate, you are more focused on simply being aware of your thoughts, as if you were watching them float by while you simply observe them.
This kind of awareness, when translated to feelings of tilt, allows you to recognize and control your anger, without actually allowing yourself to be guided by those thoughts or feelings. Full presence is the enemy of ego, while you are fully present your ego cannot control you or your emotions. Full presence is often called the “flow state,” a state that many top poker pros and other successful people are very good at getting into.
Look, if you can control your ego and be fully present at the table, it simply doesn’t matter if you get angry over something. Everyone gets angry, it’s part of being alive. You are built to control a certain amount tilt at the table, but you will also be able to approach your day to day life with a more focused and present attitude.
For this week, I challenge you to do 10 minutes of meditation every day.
Download an app on your phone if that will help you, I can personally recommend an app called Headspace. They have 10 free sessions there to help you get started with meditation and you can reuse them over and over, so you really don’t need to spend any money at all.
Do this for a week, and then reflect a little on how you feel. How is your clarity at the table? How do you deal with bad beats? How do you feel in your day to day life? Give it a try, it may be the best thing you could ever do for your poker game, and for your life.
If you are interested in hearing more about this topic from Bencb, check out his full video called “How To Handle Your Anger In Poker & Life” on the Raise Your Edge YouTube Channel. If you’d like to watch the video now, click here.