or the past 10 years I?ve played professional poker. The last couple of years I got more and more interested in the mental aspect of the game and especially tilt fascinates me. Tilt is a huge topic in poker because there is a lot of money at stake and there is a lot of luck involved. In gaming it?s a less discussed topic, but it starts getting more attention, especially in the pro scene.
Everyone experiences tilt. For some it?s very subtle, some need to control the urge to not smash their keyboard in pieces (sometimes unsuccessfully).
Tilt prevents us from enjoying the game and from playing our best. I hope this post will give more clarity about what tilt is, how tilt happens and how to deal with tilt, so we can all have a more enjoyable gaming experience.
- What is tilt
- How does tilt happen
- How to deal with tilt
1. What is tilt
There are many different definitions of tilt. My definition of tilt is:??any deviation from your best decision caused by emotion?. So this means both negative AND positive emotions. So every time you take a suboptimal decision because of any emotion, that is tilt.
To further understand what tilt is and how it works, we need to study some theory.
1.1. Adult Learning Model
Let?s start with the Adult Learning Model (ALM). This is a theory that defines the four levels of the learning process:
Level 1: Unconscious Incompetence: You don?t even know what you don?t know.
Level 2: Conscious Incompetence: You know that you don?t know how to do something.
Level 3: Conscious Competence: You know that you know how to do something, but you need to actively think about it to do it.
Level 4:Unconscious Competence: You know how to do something and it?s totally automatic and doesn?t require active thinking.
Let?s use a little example to better understand this theory.
Imagine you are a small child. You don?t really know what tennis is yet, let alone how to play it. This is level 1, unconscious incompetence. Moving forward a couple of years, you know what tennis is, but you don?t know how to play it. You are aware of the fact that you don?t know how to play it. This is level 2, conscious incompetence. Moving forward a couple of years in time again. You decide you want to give tennis a try, you take some lessons. You learn how to hold your racket, how to serve, how to play forehands and backhands, how to position yourself, how to place your feet, etc. You know how to do all these things, but they still require a lot of concentration to execute them. This is level 3, conscious competence. After years of taking lessons and playing regularly, you don?t need to actively think anymore on how to play a forehand, how to place your feet etc. These skills have become second nature to you and require little effort. You can concentrate on more difficult skills such as playing tricky dropshots, using topspin, etc. So the basics of tennis are now trained to level 4, unconscious competence.
So, you may wonder, what does this have to do with tilt?
1.2. Memory Systems
You have 2 memory systems
- the working memory: this is your conscious mind, your prefrontal cortex. This part does the conscious processing, thinking, planning, perceiving, emotional control. You also use this part of your brain to use your skills that are in conscious competence (level 3 from the ALM theory).
- Long term memory: this is your subconscious, your storage warehouse.Here are your most important functions stored, such as your breathing, heart rate, blood circulation, basically anything that is going on in you that you don?t actively have to control. Your skills that are in unconscious competence (level 4 from the ALM theory), are also stored here, they are second nature to you.
Your working memory has a limit to how much it can process at any given moment. Skills that are in level 3 require your conscious processing from the working memory. Any time your working memory reaches its processing limit, when it gets overloaded, you are not fully capable anymore to apply your skills in level 3.
Between your working memory (your conscious mind) and your long term memory (subconscious mind) is your emotional system. And here is a critical insight:
When the emotional system becomes overactive, it shuts down your working memory.
Simply said: you can?t think straight anymore and start making poor decisions if your emotions are too high.
So when this happens, you have to rely on your long term memory, your subconscious mind. And this is where your level 4 skills (unconscious competence) are stored.
Back to the tennis example.
You took a couple of tennis lessons. You know how to hold your racket, how to play forehands and backhands, how to place your feet etc. but it still requires your working memory, your conscious mind. During a training your tennis trainer plays the ball only on your forehand and roughly at the same position all the time. This goes fine. Same goes for your backhand, he plays the ball only on your backhand all the time, and this goes fine. Now he switches suddenly from backhand to forehand or the other way around, and you totally miss the shot.
Why? Because this creates an overload in your working memory. The skills you have to apply to return the ball are still being learned, they are in level 3, so it requires your working memory. And when your working memory has to process too many things at the same time, it shuts off.
In your working memory is also your emotional control. So if your emotions are overactive, you will lose functions from your working memory. This is what most of you know as the fight or flight response, and this is a hardwired part in the brain that is not going to change.
So that?s basically what tilt is.
This didn?t explain yet how tilt happens, so let?s move on to the second part.
2. How and why does tilt happen
Tilt happens in 3 steps:?Trigger > Emotion > Response
First there is a trigger, this can be something happening in the game, someone saying something to you, a certain thought, it can be anything and is different for each person. The trigger leads to an emotion; frustration, anger, excitement etc. This is also different for each person. The final step is response. If you feel/have an emotion, and you respond to it, that?s tilt. Something can trigger you, you feel an emotion and you don?t respond to it, that?s not tilt. As long as you don?t respond to an emotion, it?s not tilt.
A list of common triggers among gamers:
- Toxic teammates (flaming / blaming etc.)
- Bad internet connection (you or others)
- Teammates playing bad
- Playing bad yourself
- Losing multiple games in a row
- Winning multiple games in a row (overconfidence)
- Playing really good but still losing
- Teammates ruining the game on purpose
- Almost reaching the next rank/level
- Playing in the next rank/level
- Playing an important tournament
This list can go on forever, but you get the idea
These triggers can lead to certain emotions, such as:
Also this list can go on forever
So now we know how it happens, but why does tilt happen?
Mainly because of two reasons.
If you expect something to happen, but it doesn?t, this can trigger an emotion. For example, if you expect to win, but you don?t, you might get frustrated. Same goes if you expect your teammates to play well but they don?t. Or you expect to play well but you make some silly mistakes.
Everyone has a unique life with their own struggles and issues. When you?re gaming, you bring those issues with you. For example, making a couple of mistakes shouldn?t logically bother you too much. But if you had very angry parents as a child when you showed them your poor school grades, the mistakes you make now while gaming can trigger strong emotions from the past. Or you just had a rough day at school or work and you bring this frustration with you in the game.
Some days a certain event triggers your emotions really fast, other days it doesn?t bother you at all. Some factors that play a role in this are:
- Low energy
- High stress
- Too much thoughts
3. Dealing with tilt
We?ve covered quite some theory about what tilt is and why and how it happens, if you?re still reading, bravo! :). All this theory is nice and all, but the most important part is how to deal with tilt. It?s also the most difficult part. There are short term strategies that can help with tilt issues, and we will discuss some of them, but to permanently fix tilt issues it requires a bit more work.
The idea is NOT to become an emotionless robot! Emotions are essential for performance. Only when you have too little or too much emotions, both positive and negative, will it cause problems. The Yerkes-Dodson Law (if the image doesn?t load, please google it) states that you will perform better if your emotions rise, but only to a certain point. Once you cross your emotional threshold you start to perform worse.
So yes, you eventually want to get rid of negative emotions, but your goal is not to become totally numb to any emotions.
You want to try to control your emotions before reaching your emotional threshold. This is the point where you start to lose functions in your working memory. Your ability to think reduces, so it becomes harder to deal with tilt.
Let?s first focus on a short term solution. As reminder; tilt happens in 3 steps: Trigger > Emotion > Response. This short term solution is useful if the trigger already happened and you already feel the emotion, but you are not responding to the emotion yet. The goal here is to reduce the tilt in the moment, but it?s not a permanent solution.
Step 1: recognise & name it
Become aware of your emotion, ?I?m feeling angry?, see it as something separate from you, don?t say I am angry, instead say I am FEELING angry. This creates some space, some distance between you as a person and your emotion. See it just as a thought that you are observing, it is not essentially you. This helps you to take more control over your emotion.
Step 2: take control of your emotion
Understand that you are the only one who created this emotion. Your mind created this emotion and you can feel it somewhere in your body. Where do you feel your emotion? Usually it?s somewhere in the stomach or chest area. Give your emotion a rating, on a scale from 0-100. Now we will use a breathing technique. Breathe deeply and slowly in through your nose and into your belly (a lot of people breathe with their chest as default, I recommend belly breathing as default). Try to connect as much as possible with the emotion, and visualize that you breathe towards this emotion. With every inhale you bring in fresh air, with every exhale you remove a little bit of this emotion. Breathe in for 3 seconds, hold for 1 second and exhale for 5 seconds. So if you feel anger, and you rate it 90, inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 1 second, now exhale for 5 seconds, 89,88,87,86,85 while you focus on the feeling of anger and visualise that you let it go a little bit. Repeat this, so inhale, hold, exhale 84,83,82,81,80. Keep repeating this as long as you want, and keep the breathing slow, deep and steady. You should start to feel a bit more relaxed quickly.
3.1 Managing Expectations
We talked about how expectations play a big role in the reason for tilting. Oftentimes people have way too high expectations. For example, if someone expects his teammates to play good, but he has some inexperienced teammates that end up playing bad, he starts tilting. The reason he tilts is that his expectations for his teammates are too high, so in order not to get triggered by bad teammates, he needs to readjust his expectations. Even if you have very experienced teammates, you can?t expect them to play good all the time.
Another common expectation: players expect to win too many games. If you play a 5v5 game and everyone is equally skilled, you end up winning 50% of the games you play. You are just 1 out of 10 players, so your influence is not super high. Even if you are pretty good and you can win 55% or even 60% of the games, this still means you will lose a lot of games, that?s simply the nature of the game. By accepting this fact you can readjust your expectations, and you will not get triggered so fast anymore by losing multiple games in a row.
In order to manage your expectations, the first step is to become aware of your expectations. Every time you feel an emotion, try to recognise the trigger. Did a teammate play bad? Did you play bad? Did you lose a game? Was a teammate rude? Write this down as soon as you can (right after the game, or if you die and have a little time). So what emotion do you feel and what triggered it? This can be a difficult task, since it requires you to be mindful about it (A daily meditation practice will definitely help to get better at this).
Once you are aware of the trigger, you can translate it into the expectation you have about it. For example: you lose a second game in a row. You notice that you feel some frustration after losing the game. The lost game is the trigger, frustration is the emotion. Why did the lost game trigger that emotion in this case? It?s the second game you lose, you played pretty good both games and you expect to win. So your expectation is that you should win if you play well. No one expects to win everytime they play good ofcourse, but many players have unrealistic expectations about their winrates (often subconscious). We want to reshape this expectation.
A good way to do this is to write down a sort of mantra, a statement. In this case for example: ?I only have limited control over the outcome, all i can do is play my best?.
Write a statement that is in your own words, that resonates with you. Writing this statement down already helps a lot. You can write different statements for different triggers. Before every game, repeat these statements a couple of times. If you?re playing, and you feel a certain emotion arise, repeat the statement. This way you slowly override your old expectation, and what once triggered you, will not trigger you any longer.
3.2 Resolving personal issues
This is by far the hardest part, and too big of a topic to go into great detail here(if you guys want I can make a seperate post just about this part). Throughout our lives we experience all sorts of emotions, sadness, grief, shame, anger. And often, instead of facing these emotions and solving them, we store them away. But this doesn?t mean that the emotion is gone. It?s still somewhere in the background. If these emotions were really strong, we call it a trauma. If a seemingly insignificant event triggers strong emotions in you, it?s very likely the case that you have some old unsolved emotions stored in you.
If you want to dive deeper in this topic, see?this?article.
As already mentioned, some factors that play a role in getting triggered are:
- Low energy
- High stress
- Too many thoughts
For both high stress and too many thoughts I highly recommend to start a daily meditation if you don?t already have one. It can be as short as 5 minutes a day.
For low energy you can check if you?re satisfied with your sleep, exercise and diet. You can also consider to only play fun games when you?re low on energy, and only play ranked games when you feel sharp and fresh.
3.3 Tilt is not always bad
There is a big benefit you can get out of tilting. Remember the Adult Learning Model (ALM) we talked about in the beginning. It?s often hard to detect if a certain skill is in level 3, conscious competence, or level 4, unconscious competence. Your skills that are in level 3 are in your working memory, the skills of level 4 are in your long term memory. When you tilt, your working memory shuts off, so you?re not using the skills of level 3 anymore. And what remains? Your skills in level 4! So this way you can know what skills you?ve trained till the level of unconscious competence, and which skills still requires attention.
If you?re training your skills, focus mostly on the skills that are still in level 3! Not only is the learning curve much easier with those skills than with skills that are already level 4, but also you want as many skills as possible in level 4. This way, when emotions rise high, you?re still able to use your skills.
I hope you liked the read and got some useful information out of it. Reading about tilt is only the start. Doing the exercises is essential to get control over your tilt and quickly rise in the rankings, and ofcourse, have a much more enjoyable gaming experience! And these skills are also valuable in real life :).
If you have any comments or questions, let me know!