I’ve been trying some new things and recently I decided to branch out into poker. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the game - keeping track of the odds, reading the other players, deciding on your risk-taking comfort level - that I’ve actually found to be helpful for me in my day to day life. In fact, probably the most useful thing I’ve learned about so far is being “on tilt”.

In poker, when a player in on tilt, it means that their emotions have taken over and reduced their ability to make decisions. So something negative happens like they lose a big pot, and then they get really upset and make decisions in the next hand that are not ideal. And of course, they get into a bit of a spiral, with negative emotions leading to poor decision making, which then leads to more negative emotions and so on. Sound familiar?

We have all had similar experiences - we get really angry, or sad, or frustrated, and then react in an unhelpful way. Maybe we yell at a family member and say something that we regret, or hit someone and end up escalating the situation. All of us know what it’s like to be on tilt, the questions is, how do we right ourselves?

In the moment, Linehan (2014) recommends that we STOP. So we:

  • Stop what we are doing
  • Take some deep breaths
  • Observe what is happening
  • Proceed effectively

The key is to not react impulsively, but to give ourselves time to calm down. See Natsumi’s blog post for other great ways to handle strong emotions.

This is also a wonderful time to put your deep breathing and other relaxation skills to use. Again, inserting some time between the situation and our reaction can only be helpful.

Once you’ve moved past the initial emotion, engaging with your thoughts can be helpful. Is this the worst thing that could happen? Will this matter six months from now? Why has this affected me so strongly? What are other options for reacting that may be more helpful? In cognitive behavioural therapy, the focus is on the thoughts that lead to the emotions, with the goal of reducing unhelpful thinking.

Sometimes, the urge to do something can be overwhelming. However, it’s important to recognise when we are not in a space to make good decisions, and to take the time we need. After all, as a great philosopher once said “To tilt is human, to break out of the cycle is definitely possible with some practice” :)


Ava-Ann Allman is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Linehan, M. (2014). DBT skills training manual: second edition. Guilford Press.

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