“I’m trying so hard to keep myself from tilting but I just can’t do it.”
This is a common complaint I hear when I begin working with a poker player.
They then rattle off a long list of “quick fixes” that they have tried to use to get rid of tilt without success.
I’m talking about tilt control techniques such as…
Using mantra’s like “just quit” or “just stay calm.
Setting buy in specific stop losses.
Standing and walking away from the table.
Taking deep breaths.
They are then confused and further frustrated when these techniques give way and allow tilt to get the better of them, ending in either lost volume or lost cash.
These techniques are not bad on their own. In fact, they are necessary when you are first trying to get control of a tilt problem. Being able to recognize when you are on tilt, or close to it, and then doing something to fix it is an important step in the process of improvement.
However, they are nothing more than a short term fix for a long term problem.
Think of them as a band-aid for a serious wound that requires stitches.
Yes, it’s smart to use something to temporarily stop the bleeding, but it would be foolish to think the band-aid is a replacement for professional medical attention.
A great example is my own 7 Minute Tilt Buster MP3.
Its job is to stop you from tilting when you feel negative emotions are starting to affect your decision making ability. Once you’ve removed your tilt you are able to jump back into your session and continue grinding.
That’s its job, and it’s highly effective at doing it, but I would never tell anyone that it’s a replacement for solving the root cause of a tilt problem.
That is simply not something that can be fixed in only 7 minutes.
Most players make the mistake of believing that their “tilt band-aids” are the solution to stopping tilt, when their true job is just to stop the bleeding.
Their solutions never fully work because they aren’t actually attacking the problem. They are merely treating the symptoms while the real issues fester underneath, a cluster of ticking time-bombs counting down to the destruction of your Green-Line.
This leads to a vicious cycle of ever increasing tilt problems.
Take a look at this ESPN video from the WSOP where they ask some of the best technical players in the game to describe tilt:
The segment is supposed to lighthearted and amusing, but it reveals a serious problem:
The vast majority of players confuse the effects of tilt with tilt itself.
An emotion — good or bad — doesn’t appear in a vacuum. It is the result of us reacting to a stimulus.
You may think you feel happy when you win at Poker because you like money. But is it really the money you like though? Or is it the freedom it gives you? The bragging rights? If you think about it for a minute, you’ll realize that it’s what the money represents that makes you feel good — not the money itself.
In the same way, when you tilt because of a bad River card or a mistake that you know better than to commit, what you are reacting to isn’t the loss of money — it’s what the loss of money represents.
Perhaps in the first example you feel a sense of injustice that you put so much time into learning the game just to get screwed after playing perfectly; in the second example, you may have a sense that everyone is laughing at you.
These thoughts — these underlying reactions to the stimulus that cause anger and frustration — are the true tilt that you will need to conquer if you are serious about improving your mental game.
Now that you understand tilt, you can see why players have so much difficulty overcoming it.
Cookie-cutter solutions only work for so long due to the simple reason that no two individuals are the same. “Go it alone” approaches rarely work because it’s so hard for us to cut through our own emotions to get to the source of the problem.
Here’s a quick exercise that you can use to start discovering the root cause of your tilt:
Pull out a sheet of paper or open up a word processor on your computer.
Write down the last three times your emotions negatively affected your decision making on the tables, and answer the following questions:
What was the situation that started this emotional reaction?
What emotions did you feel and why did you feel them?
What is the deeper reason you may have felt these emotions outside of simply losing money or making a mistake?
The more often you do this exercise the better understanding you will have of the root cause of your specific form of tilt, and can now begin working away from short term “tilt band-aids” to a long term tilt cure.