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Becoming Tiltfree - The Road To Mental Peak Performance

    • neelix
      Joined: 11.03.2006 Posts: 368
      Hello fellow Grinders,

      My name is Steffen and I'm a Mental Game Coach for Poker Players.

      In this blog, I want to share experiences/information/research that help poker players to be at their best possible Mental Game.

      Most players would agree that their Mental Game has a big impact on the way they perform at the table - but the majority doesn't really know how to systematically build up a strong Mind.

      Well, I want to change that.

      I've played Poker for over 6 years myself and can tell from first-hand experience how frustrating it can be not to able to translate one's technical poker skills into results (usually in the form of $$).

      Anyhow, I'm a Counseling Psychologist and Performance Coach by profession and I've helped Poker Pros deal better with Tilt, Improve Focus, Reduce Anxiety, and Increase Volume for a while now and I want to share the things that work with a wider audience.

      Hope you're game!

      P.S. in my first article, I'm putting forth a pretty controversial theory about tilt. You should check it out!

      - Steffen
  • 4 replies
    • neelix
      Joined: 11.03.2006 Posts: 368
      And here's the first piece....

      What if Tilt didn't exist?

      Admittedly, this is a rather odd question, isn't it? But before you dismiss it entirely, I want you to bear with me here for a second. Just for the sake of this argument: what do you think your poker game would look like if Tilt really didn't exist?

      And...who actually came up with the concept of tilt?

      Now, I'm not going to argue that tilt doesn't exist, don't worry. Yet, my experience in working with poker players has shown me that "tilt" can be a very misunderstood concept. And one that does not necessarily help us play our best poker. At the end of this post, I have compiled some strategies that will help you deal more effectively with tilt, but before I expand on this, let's first ask ourselves what tilt actually means.

      If I type in "tilt" into google, wikipedia comes up with the following answer:

      Tilt is a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive
      Fair enough. Tilt is a mental or emotional state in which a player plays in a less-than-optimal fashion. If we agree on this premise, then it follows:

      Tilt = less than optimal mental or emotional state


      Less than optimal mental or emotional state = Bad Play

      Now, my issue with the concept of tilt is that many players tend to overidentify with it. They make tilt responsible for a large chunk of their bad plays.

      Unfortunately, emotions in general often get too much credit. In my work as a Counselor I heard people comlain that they did X (insert bad/stupid action) becase they were angry/sad/frustrated ad nauseum.

      In short, emotions are often perceived as CAUSAL for actions ("I did X because I felt Y). And we've all, at some point in our lives, said something like that...

      Anyways, at this point you may ask yourself: what does this have to do with poker?

      Well, when poker players "go on tilt" they often revert to the same logic. They say something like "I made a bad bluff because I was pissed off". What many players, especially in this context, don't realize is that not their emotions made a bad play - they did.


      Sometimes, we just have to take more responsibility. Just as you can take responsibility for your focus at the table (rest well, switch off your phone, etc.), you can take responsibility for your actions (not your emotions!). You always have a choice.

      Consider this example: let's say you've had a particularly bad day. Close to the end of your working day, your boss runs into your office and shoves another two hours worth of work on your desk. You're already pissed off and you feel the urge to give your boss a nice slap in the face.

      Are you going to do it? Probably not.

      Of course, it is hard to compare these two situations to one another, but logic would have dictated that you hit your boss because your emotions "made" you do it. But you didn't.

      The point here is simply that we have more choice than most of us would like to admit. Yes, emotions can be harmful to you playing optimal poker. But only to the degree you let them.

      Psychologists have termed this "self-regulation". The better you self-regulate, the less reactive you become to your emotions. In other words, you can learn to feel a certain emotion and NOT act upon it.

      Some people call it "widening the gap", and it's extremely popular in elite-performance circles. Essentially, what you are learning is to widen the gap between stimulus (your emotions) and response (your actions).

      Sounds pretty cool, right?

      Now, let's quickly get back to what I said earlier about "overidentification" with Tilt. I believe there are two problems with the way many players approach tilt in this context:

      1) Tilt is elusive AND subjective to begin with. Different players can handle vastly different doses of certain emotions and still play - at least - good poker.

      2) The mindset that accompanies many players' understanding of tilt is that ANY negative emotion such as anger, frustration, sadness is automatically going to lead one to play bad poker.

      But what if anger, sadness, and frustration were actually normal? Would tilt still force you to make poor decisions at the table?

      I am going to close this argument here, but I would encourage you to reflect on these questions for yourself.

      Now it's time to turn the good part: what can you do to "widen the gap"?

      The first step is to become self-aware. In order for you to disidentify with your emotions, you need to get them to know first. Ask yourself: "what exactly am I feeling when I start to make bad plays"?

      Notice not only how you feel, but tune in to your thoughts and your physical sensations at this moment also. Together, they will form a nice picture of what your personal state of "tilt" actually looks like. In the next step, you want to learn what specific situations function as triggers for your tilt.

      Is it random bad beats? Bluffs gone bad? Certain types of opponents? Maybe you go on tilt when you're getting tired?

      All this will give you more information to work with in the next step.

      The more information you have, the easier it is to "catch" yourself in the process. See, emotions are normal. You cannot avoid them. And you never will.

      What causes most players to play bad are not emotions per se, it is their over-attachment to them. And once they become too attached to their emotions, they go down a vicious cycle where they are unable to step back and think clearly again. The important takeaway here is that emotions, no matter if "good" or "bad" are a normal part of our existence. And this probably even more true at the poker table. Poker is an emotional game and denying the fact that it can trigger all sorts of emotions would be denying human nature.

      To reiterate: emotions don't single-handledly cause you to tilt, they way you deal with these emotions does. The more you identify with them, the more you entertain them, the more they develop into emotional or mental states that REALLY make it hard for you to play good poker.

      What you need to learn instead is to let go. To accept. Acknowledge emotions and accept that they are a normal part of being human. Accept that poker can be very frustrating at times. And then let go and refocus on what's in front of you.

      So, to sum up:

      1) Practice self-awareness
      2) Gather information of what makes you tilt
      3) Learn to accept, acknowledge and let go

      I hope you got some value out of this little thought experiment! I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about it!

      - Steffen
    • metalmonkey80
      Joined: 15.08.2013 Posts: 2,773
      Hi Steffen ,

      Interesting post and I look forward to reading more, and to let go during my grind. :f_thumbsup:

    • msp3101
      Joined: 19.04.2016 Posts: 178
      A banana and deep breathing keeps me off monkey tilt.

      Will be avidly following this thread :f_drink:
    • neelix
      Joined: 11.03.2006 Posts: 368
      Every athlete talks about it. Musicians desperately search for it. Micheal Jordan seemed to be at home in it.

      The zone.

      The place of alleged peak performance.

      But what does being "in the zone" actually mean? And is it really necessary to get into this elusive state in order to perform well?

      Well, I'd say yes AND no.

      I recently made a video in which I'm explaining why the zone is overrated and how you play good poker regardless of how you feel. Check it out and let me know what you think! :)

      - Steffen