Sunday, April 30, 2017



I have found that the simplest, most effective abstraction for dealing with emotions is the idea that poker players call tilting. It contains a few topics, but isn’t overly complicated and is extensively helpful.
You should understand going in to this though that the illustration is a heuristic (an idea that is not perfect, but is sufficient for immediate goals). Because there are so many different emotions that have so many different neurological ramifications, it’s not possible let alone practical to have the perfect analogy or plan for each possible emotional experience. Instead, by painting emotional experiences and how they work with broad strokes, this illustration should demystify them enough that they become workable through experience.

What is Tilting?

Imagine a meter that measures your mental state. As an emotion accumulates that meter tilts over from vertical toward horizontal, as if it was measuring pressure. Let’s say that something is making you mad. Normally, every time it happens your needle moves a bit and you lose a little bit more of your cool. The significance of tilting is that this experience is exponential. In the case of frustration and related emotions, as you get more upset that same experience gets more upsetting. Something that is a mild irritant when you’re level-headed is positively infuriating when you’re tilted. Interestingly, it can accumulate over a long term! For as long as the root problem isn’t addressed, the strength of the trigger needed to get you from 0 to 100 will gradually decrease.

Why Does Tilting Exist?

In order to start to tackle tilting, we have to understand a bit more about why it happens. This is simplest in two parts.

The first has to do with what emotions are for generally. Why do emotions exist in the first place? Let’s imagine that you’re a hunter-gatherer and you stumble into the path of a saber-tooth tiger. This is a high-stress, high-stakes situation. Your body pumps you full of adrenaline, neurotransmitters, anything that will help you survive. Your body needs the fastest, most effective way possible to motivate you to act, so it builds up an emotion. At the fundamental level, an emotion is your brain’s evolutionary assessment of the situation and its unmistakable suggestion as to what you need to do. In the case of the saber-tooth tiger you need to fight or you need to flight and you need to do it now. Emotions are designed specifically to suspend or overwhelm analysis/meta-cognition and drive your behavior-- to force the priority, force the response, and make you run.

The second has to do with what triggers the kinds of emotions that typically correspond with tilt. These tend to center around cognitive dissonance. The human brain is an amazing thing, but it has a big weakness in that it hattttttes being wrong. Can’t handle it. It hates being wrong to such a degree that it actively warps our perception of reality just to avoid having to consider that one of its truisms is flawed. As a biproduct of how it digests information, an opposing idea is perceived as dangerous (and emotionally driving) as a physical threat. When the brain runs into an experience that contradicts its beliefs, it will go to great lengths to avoid or reject having to change those beliefs, including inventing false narratives/justifications/moralizations (exactly like these) or by triggering a debilitating emotional response.

That’s all a bit dramatic, but then, we’ve probably all seen how dramatic tilting/rage can get even over something as silly as a children’s party game.

How is Tilting a Problem?

Next, we want to take a step back and reexamine the usefulness of emotions. As has been mentioned, experiencing emotions is not a bad thing. They are meant to provide crucial chemical resources and/or direction in a time of need. It’s totally natural. Biologically, emotions are there to serve as warning signs, quick, automatic notifications that something is up, that something needs to change. And that’s great! How useful! On a more meaningful level, emotions obviously enrich our lives. They give color and depth to our experiences by shifting our mental processes enough to see things from a different perspective. Not only is self-censoring emotion unnecessary and largely a fool’s errand, it would be a real shame.

So outside of being socially in-palatable what exactly is the problem with tilting? If you look back at Mental-Game and Execution, we demonstrated that mentality is just an execution tool. It’s only a weakness if it prevents you from executing your strategy. The real issue with tilting (as far as gameplay is concerned) is not how we feel but what we do.


The onset of an emotion is not something that we can or should control. Remember, many emotions are chemical changes/accumulations within your brain. It’s not immaterial, there’s something measurable going on in there. This is partly why suppressing your emotions is ineffective. If you’re getting angry, you can’t just decide not to be angry anymore because that’s a lie. You are angry. You have the chemical signals for angry coursing through your body. You have increased heart-rate, blood pressure, and perspiration. Your nostrils may flare, your posture may change. Your risk-assessment shifts, etc. Anger is already neurologically, chemically, physically present and trying to censor your emotions won’t change that, it’ll just contribute toward a ruthless downward spiral of frustration when your anger dissipates at its own pace rather than at yours. Instead of controlling the emotion itself, we should strive to control our interaction with them, namely to accept them for the temporary signals that they are and to commit to deliberate behavior. The distinction is subtle, but profound.

Two strategies for dealing with tilting:

Short Term (in the moment)

1) Is this worth getting any more upset over?
2) What am I feeling? That’s ok.
3) Make decisions consciously.

First, identify what’s going on. Sometimes getting upset is appropriate but we have a tendency to overreact and lose perspective. Mentally acknowledging a rational perspective cuts the fuel supply to a renegade emotional response. Choosing to actively engage with the situation rather than the emotion allows you to acknowledge it without giving it power.
Once you’ve given yourself that quick reminder of what’s real, take stock of your emotional state. Whatever it is, that’s what it is. And that’s ok!
Finally-- and this is of superlative importance-- make a conscious decision. This is the red pill/blue pill moment. You’re either going to execute your strategy or stray from it. You get to make a choice between rational and irrational, between deliberate and manipulated, mindful and mindless. But if you’re in the position to make that choice consciously then you’re already in a fantastic position to make it well!

Consider: What’s the worst that could happen? You don’t have to worry about a saber-tooth tiger. The worst thing that can happen is that your strategy was bad and you lose. Would making the impulsive choice and stalling at the ledge because you feel fear, random f-smashing because you feel desperation, or rushing in because you feel irritation really do you any better? Do you recognize how pervasive these emotional situations are? Tilting is just the extreme version. The more tilted you are, the more mental muscle it takes to hold your decisions up. But here’s the kicker; every time you make a conscious choice rather than an impulsive one, even if it’s small, even if you’re relatively level-headed, your mental muscle gets stronger. That’s a rep. If you’re starting to tilt and you can manage to make a mindful decision despite it then that’s a bigger rep! With practice, your mental muscle gets stronger and stronger and you’ll get better and better at making choices. And that’s the goal, making active choices rather than being led around on an emotional leash. There’s no reason to censor emotions if they don’t control your behavior. It may or may not be easy but it is pretty simple.

If you feel overwhelmed then you feel overwhelmed. That’s fine. It’s ok to fail. Failing often is actually the best possible way to learn. Every choice is a new opportunity to make another rep. I personally think this perspective is exciting.

Long Term (after the moment)

Tackle your cognitive dissonance. Tilting always means that you believe something that isn’t true. You should figure out what that is. This isn't some arbitrary trial, it's the perfect chance to improve by weeding out false beliefs! What’s setting you off? Why are you experiencing an emotional reaction there? What is the disconnect between your brain and the rational reality of the situation?

It could be as simple as “Oh, I get mad when I trade with falco uptilt because I thought my nair hitbox was better than it really is.” Many fixes are exactly as easy as identifying the problem.

Other fixes revolve around what we'll call Should Statements. "I shouldn't have lost that match." "That should have worked." "I should be able to do that by now." "Why would he do that?" "He only won because I messed up my techskill." "I should be able to control my emotions." Etc. Should Statements are obvious protests against reality and are thus easy indicators for cognitive dissonance. Similarly to the presence of emotions, you can simply accept that things are what they are for a reason. Not a mystical reason but a real one. "I should have won that match," Maybe you want to have won, but you lost because you made the exact mistakes that you did. If you want your results to change then you need to change! That's easier to do with mindful acceptance as opposed to defiant protest against reality lol.

Identifying and fixing these or similar bad mental habits is exactly like unshackling your brain. It feels amazing and makes such a big difference!


Some things (like the onset of your emotions) are outside of your control. Other things (like your decision-making) are controllable. Either way and no matter what happens, the key to making progress is accepting reality for what it is. Maybe you get upset. (Short Term: Ok, now what? Long Term: Ok, why is that?) Maybe you make a mistake and lacked discipline. (Short term: Ok, now what? Long Term: Ok, why is that?) It's not really good or bad, it's all just information/material/opportunity that you can use to learn from and continue to make growth-oriented choices in the new present moment. In this way, the mental-game process can be seen as elaborations on a fundamental process of Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Commitment, a psychological skills-training model that I'll expand more on at a later date.


For more on the topic of tilting I highly recommend The Mental Game of Poker, recommended to me by S0ft. It goes further into the specifics of different kinds of tilt.
I personally had a lot of trouble with tilting (not with anger but with debilitating disappointment and anxiety) despite having studied all of this until I started specifically practicing accepting my internal states as they are and avoiding self-censoring in meditation. I have used and This is of course anecdotal but in addition to getting a firm handle on tilting I enjoy myself much more and feel much more confident.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Mental-Game and Execution

Mental-Game and Execution

The following (and all of my my writing on the topic of mentality) is based on research, the most useful/impactful of which can be found here, here, and here.

Today we’re going to look at how the mental-game relates to the game itself.

Review the following flowchart.

(Understanding -> Strategy -> Execution -> Hardware/Super Smash Bros Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube -> What happens/Results)

We have some ideas about Melee and how to play it. Those ideas may or may not be accurate, but they influence how we play the game. Those ideas, through thought and practice, get integrated into our in-game strategies, tactics, and playstyle. But however good or bad your strategy, it won’t matter if you don’t have the techskill or execution to input it into the game with your controller. The game reads your inputs, then outputs actions. Those actions either work or don’t and eventually you either win or lose.
This is a simple way to look at how our understanding of the game gets translated to our results. If one area has some kind of fault or error then the others suffer as well.

So where does the mental-game fit into this flowchart? You might be surprised to realize it’s actually part of the Execution step! If Execution is located between your strategy and your controller then there are only a few important subcategories.
  1. You must have the techskill necessary to execute your strategy. Techskill is simply a matter of rote muscle-memory. That being said, we play a complicated game so there are a huge number of small skills to learn.
  2. You must be physiologically able to execute your strategy. If you are inebriated or overly tired or aren’t wearing your glasses or have cold hands having just come inside from the snow etc then you have a problem. Luckily, esports are not especially physically demanding. It’s still important to be healthier than not but not to the same degree as say, rugby. Different games emphasize different things to different degrees.
  3. You must be mentally able to execute your strategy. You can’t get overwhelmed by your emotions or the perceived pressure of the match or wandering thoughts or the noise of a crowd or a whole range of other mental experiences. If you do then your execution will suffer as you use mental resources on yourself instead of on the game. Your reactions will suffer. Your inputs will suffer. Your character’s actions will suffer. Your results will suffer.
Mental-game is NOT about motivation.
Mental-game is NOT about controlling your mood.
Mental-game is NOT about controlling or censoring your emotions.
Mental-game is NOT about controlling the conditions in which you play.
Mental-game is NOT up to chance.
Mental-game is NOT incomprehensible or even especially complex.
Mental-game is NOT about avoiding mistakes.

Mental-game IS about directing your FOCUS and your BEHAVIOR.

It might not be easy (it will almost definitely take practice and strategies of its own) but it can be that simple.

Currently, a better Melee player (or even a top Melee player) is set apart from a worse one by some degree of understanding, some degree of strategy, and such a large degree of execution that it can’t overemphasized. In this game improving your execution is the quickest way to make the biggest difference. You may have heard it said that Melee at the top level is “all mental.” Once you’ve reached a certain techskill/physical fitness threshold, mentality is all that’s left to differentiate your level of execution from your opponent’s. In this way, the mental-game IS execution.

I will be writing posts about more specific mental-game issues (including the ominous topic of tilting) in the near future.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Performance-Based Cognitive Architecture

Performance-Based Cognitive Architecture
a visual take

Previously, we’ve used CLARION to talk about top-down and bottom-up types of learning. I’d like to expand on cognitive-architecture today, as it can be very helpful to visualize mental processes and can suggest interesting ideas.

Upon review, CLARION (to my understanding used chiefly in AI and simulation) is not especially well-suited for talking about performance. For this reason I have made some substantial edits to better suit our subject matter. It should be noted that this new model, like any cognitive architecture, is not remotely close to literally true. Cognitive science is far too underdeveloped. The goal is not so much reproduction of the complex system as it is to sufficiently mimic paths as an aid to understanding our mental experiences.

Sense Experience is input.
Perceptions and sense experiences elicit responses in the Drivers Subsystem as well as the Meta-Cognitive Subsystem, even if we aren’t consciously aware of them. These could be sounds, images, smells, touches, conditions, states, etc.

Drivers Subsystem
The Drivers Subsystem is designed to initiate or facilitate change or action. They suggest our current needs to the the rest of the cognitive system. It contains a natural hierarchy of

Emotional Drivers
Emotions are chemical flags that appear in an effort to provide us with unmistakable status updates. If left to accumulate they are specifically designed to shut down and bypass meta-cognitive function (“overwhelm logic and reason”) in order to control our actions. Emotional drives include motivation/inspiration, overconfidence, perfectionism and a number of other feelings that can dictate behavior in addition the more obvious fear, anger, boredom, uncertainty, shame, lust, etc. For the sake of relevancy I didn’t want to include it as a separate function, but animal instincts would function like a stronger emotional driver.

Habitual/Structural Drivers
Habitual or structural expectations suggest what should be done and massively reduce the amount of effort needed to commit to action. These are useful because they are independent of how we are feeling emotionally or located mentally at the moment. They are quick to form and difficult to break.

Value Drivers
Value drivers act like emotional drivers but are less fickle. Our values change, but not so rapidly or unpredictably. Orienting our behavior around what is important to us on the long-term is a principled process rather than a chemical one. For this reason it has less oomph as a driver but is normally of greater importance in a modern context.

Each of these driving functions feeds into the greater Meta-Cognitive Subsystem but can feed directly into the Action Subsystem if the Meta-Cognitive process is weak, preoccupied, or overwhelmed.

Meta-Cognitive Subsystem
The Meta-Cognitive Subsystem directs and negotiates cognitive processes involved with learning and behavior, which is to say that granted force, the meta-cognitive process directs and empowers cognition itself.  It includes

Reinforcement. When we do or perceive something, there is an internal mechanism that instantly (and largely unconsciously) judges the outcome. A quick yes or no. A yes reenforces neural pathways and thus feeds right into our habits (procedural knowledge) as well as experiential, intuitive knowledge. A no quickly checks and refines neural paths. Reinforcement is a powerful tool that functions best with instant and unambiguous feedback.

Goal-Setting translates our drives into specific wants and develops plans to fulfill them. These plans may be short or long-term but are formulated as priorities for our focus and values in the future.

Thoughts (Stream of Consciousness) are located on the outside edge of the MCS. While it has enormous influence over meta-cognition, it is important to recognize that the popular view of stream of consciousness thought as the seat of consciousness if not identity is wildly inaccurate. It is in fact just a small, non-central part of a subsystem within a system. Thoughts are an instrument used to better navigate and negotiate the complex intermingling of knowledge, drives, and sensations within meta-cognition. It is easy to let it overwhelm and stall the rest of the cognitive process in a similar way that unchecked emotional drives can be overwhelming. With practice (most accessibly via meditation), identifying thoughts as simple internal states not unlike sense experiences comes more easily.

is an additive function that allows for greater efficacy within. It does not exclude what lies outside. Focus may wander but can be deliberately held in place with effort. If trained, Focus, in tandem with Goal-Setting, may dictate behavior independently of a driver. Additionally, it is the only means to learning beyond rote repetition/reinforcement. Focus is uniquely widened and actualized during Flowstate.

Knowledge Subsystem
The Knowledge Subsystem operates as a two-level database containing vast quantities of learned information.

Declarative knowledge
is specific, formulaic, and can be easily communicated in verbal or representable form. It includes all named concepts or procedural rules. If you can explain it to another person without metaphor then it’s declarative.

Intuitive knowledge is holistic, fundamental, and outside of our verbal grasp. It is knowledge that has been experientially gathered, then pieced together and solved unconsciously. It comes in the form of hunches, notions, and insights just beyond the edge of our conscious understanding.

Behavioral Subsystem
The Behavioral Subsystem operates on two levels and initiates action.

Deliberate behavior is purposeful, measured, and demanded by our decision-making.

Automatic behavior is not quite involuntary but outside of our deliberate control. This may be because it is driven by declarative, procedural knowledge (knowledge that is practiced to the degree of unconscious competence) or because it is driven by intuitive knowledge that we aren’t ready to acknowledge verbally. Automatic behavior driven by intuitive knowledge is precious and a hallmark of growth.

Action is output.

Notable Implications:
• Each function is like a skill in that it can be weak through neglect or improved in its use with concentrated effort. Similarly, they can be “re-programmed.”
• Drivers can be helpful or harmful but are not enough on their own to determine behavior UNLESS we are not mentally present or able.
• Drivers are not actually necessary to commit to action. You can draw a line from experience to an action without passing through any drivers. In this way they are like stimulants. They lend some quick and easy strength to our decision-making but you can achieve the same effect or even overcome them with trained mental-muscle.
• Thought is not central. In this model focus is the most important function.
• Learning is ONLY possible through focus and reinforcement.
• Deliberate action is ONLY possible through focus.