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
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 http://headspace.com/ and http://mindgames.gg/ 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.