How to Control Tilt

Posted on Nov 05, 2008 by Gugel in Psychology

We’ve all done it. We ask ourselves how an idiot can stupidly win so many pots. At some point in our poker careers, we’ve thought that “it’s my turn to win” or “that donks luck is bound to run out!” Unfortunately, that’s not how poker works. Each hand is an independent event. The hands before it have no effect on how the current hand will play out. That donk is just as likely to have a monster on this hand as he did on the previous one. But suckout after suckout, bad beat after bad beat, can leave even the most talented of players letting their emotions get in the way of making correct decisions. Well, I’m here to help. I’ll give you a few pointers on how to control steaming/tilting so you can prevent yourself from being like this crazy German kid.

First, let me give you a brief explanation on how emotions work. Most people think that you experience an event (getting sucked out), you experience an emotion (anger) and then you get a physiological response (increased heart rate). There is overwhelming psychological evidence that this is actually not the case. What really happens is you experience an event (getting sucked out), get a physiological response (increased heart rate) and then your mind infers an emotion (anger). If that’s really the case, you’d expect that influencing your physiology would influence your perception of your emotion. And guess what, you’d be completely right.

There are literarily hundreds of studies that offer support. One study had some participants punch a punching bag while others just chilled and sat on a couch. All the participants later got to play a game where they could deliver a loud blast of noise to their partner if their partner messed up. The participants that punched the punching bag delivered more intense noise blasts and for longer durations. This demonstrates that a physiological response (acting angry by punching the punching bag), can have significant effects on behavior (expressing anger by delivering loud blasts of music). Another study had participants rate cartoons while holding a pencil between their teeth. One group was instructed to hold a pencil in such as a way as to create a smile, while the other group held the pencil in a way that resembled a look of disgust. The group that held the pencil in a smile position rated the cartoons as significantly funnier. The study shows that once again, a physiological reaction (facial expressions) has a profound impact on emotional experience.

Ok, now that we know that physiology influences emotions, how can we apply it? How can we decrease our natural tendency to tilt? You’ve probably guessed it by now: eliminate the physiology associated with anger and eliminate the anger itself.

So the next time you feel yourself starting to tilt here’s what you do:

  • Force yourself to smile.
  • Sit back in your chair with a relaxed posture. An angry posture (which you want to avoid at all costs) is as follows: leaning slightly forward, feet flat on the floor, fists clenched.
  • Control your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Don’t hit anything. Don’t slam your mouse down. Don’t act angry!

I hope some of you take this advice to heart and try it the next time you feel yourself about to tilt your hard earned money away. Good luck and may the poker gods be with you!

Notes: The study that had participants hold the pencil in their mouth to manipulate facial expression was done by Strack, Martin & Stepper in 1988. The study that had participants punch a punching bag and then play a cooperative game with a partner that they could punish with loud blasts of noise was done by Bushman, Stack, Baumeister in 1999.

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4 Responses to “How to Control Tilt”

  1. Gugel

    11. Jun, 2009

    For more information, refer to this post /2009/05/your-brain-on-tilt

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