A Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Approach to Tilt


If you were looking for professional advice to better control tilt, and your psychologist specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy, then you will probably be familiar with everything I will tell you below. Cognitive behavioral therapy states that our thoughts are triggered by our feelings and actions, and not by external things - situations or events. It is our interpretation of events, or our reaction to an event, that makes us angry, happy, or sad. Not the event itself.

Negative thoughts lead to emotional reactions

Let's say one of your tilt levers is that you get angry when someone runs over you 2 times in 10 hands. You instinctively think to yourself, "This is not fair, I should have won this pot." You feel angry and frustrated. However, if you think about it, it was not the turn or river cards that made you angry, but the very thought, “This is not fair!” This is what really caused your anger. Before feeling angry, you must interpret the situation. Absolute justice is an illusion. You know that your hand can't resist every time you go all-in, and you know that partly because of this the game is profitable. It is worth changing the reaction to something more positive like: "He got a flush ... well it will happen 1 time out of 5 ”. This is essentially a neutral reaction. You saw the situation and interpreted the result without distorting it with the thought of injustice. The likelihood of quietly continuing to play in this case is much higher.

You need to train yourself to think more rationally. You can also practice yourself to identify negative thoughts when they appear during the game. If you succeed, you can either ignore or realize that they are incorrect. You are not limited by your automatic initial thoughts, you can choose how to relate to those thoughts. People go crazy when they don't get what they expect. Perhaps unjustified expectations are the main reason for anger in principle. Poker players, when they sit down to play, usually expect one thing - to win! They expect to win every session, every day, every week, etc. This thinking is obviously irrational. Poker works differently.

Expect madness!

This is my mantra for online poker. I remind myself of this before each session and this phrase lies in front of me written on a piece of paper. You cannot predict how the session will go. Each session is different. There are only a few things you can control: 1) the decisions you make and 2) your emotions. You cannot control other players, you can influence their game, but they will do a lot of things that you don't want them to do. Also, do not expect that: 1) all of your solutions will be perfect because it is impossible, and do not expect that 2) you will never be upset. However, you can make good play your number one priority.

I won't go into details on variance. If you've played a lot online, you know that losing four buy-ins in twenty minutes can be very real, even if you're playing great. But your reaction to it is what really matters. Taking a break is perfectly adequate and is recommended for 90% + of players. However, I am confident that it is quite possible to develop a skill that will allow you to remain calm and rational during the sessions. You can learn to calm your anger and regain concentration in short periods of time. I learned this myself. I repeat phrases to myself like: "relax, do not strain," and breathe deeply and measuredly. I concentrate on the present moment and forget about what has already passed. If I can't do it in a minute, I go sit-out at all tables and take a break.

Many events can provoke tilt during the game. Examples of my tilt triggers are: my bad decisions, opponents who are mincheraising my continuation bets, neck or shoulder pain, distracting noise, and even the temperature in the room. People react differently to different events. Some of you will be surprised by the external factors that make the list. Sometimes I find it difficult to maintain concentration when I sweat while playing. But I don’t lose my temper when the fish run over me. If I lose a hand to a fat fish, say 50/5, I almost never tilt. I love when a fish is happy and I almost always "sincerely" congratulate him.

It is important to be clear about which situations trigger your automatic negative thoughts, but it is even more important to be clear about the thoughts themselves, since they are the reason for your tilt. Your automatic negative thoughts can be categorized into several categories of cognitive biases *. I will list several types of cognitive biases that I found applicable to poker:

  1. Thoughts that imply that someone “should”. For example, “I was just robbed in that hand!” (Assuming you should have won it).
  2. Hanging labels. "Terrible sucks" (you label your hand, session, online poker, marking it as bad)
  3. All or Nothing Thinking. Example: “I'm terrible” (you made a couple of bad decisions and with one statement crossed out thousands of good decisions you have made in your poker career)
  4. Excessive generalization. "Of course he raises my continuation bet." (you act like absolutely ALL of your continuation bets are raising)
  5. Mental filter. "I play disgusting." (you made one bad decision and focused on it, leaving all good decisions aside)
  6. Exaggeration / understatement. “This guy just reads my soul” (you exaggerate your fear and play down your power).
  7. Emotions as reasons for decisions. “I don’t want to play something” (how can you know if you haven’t even sat down at the table yet? Motivation often follows action, and emotions can be overcome).

I wrote these negative thoughts while playing. I was amazed at how often they appeared in my head. I wrote a whole notebook in just a month. My most popular thoughts were shoulds and labeling. After the session, I went through my thoughts and wrote for each rational response. In response to "That sucks," I wrote something like, "Actually, online poker has been very kind to me. It gave me a lot more freedom than any other job." You identify negative automatic thoughts, regard them as distortions, and then either 1) ignore them or 2) respond rationally to them. As a result, the more often you can do this, the less you will tilt.

Special methods to prevent tilt

  • Evaluate your work based not on material benefits, but on the process. In other words, try to avoid result orientation. In the long run, the time you spend on parsing the hand, learning, or the game itself is much more important than the amount of money won.
  • Respect and love yourself, even if you are wrong. You need the ability to forgive mistakes, first of all to yourself. If you are mistaken, recognize the error, sort it out and correct the game. To be able to learn from your mistakes, you need to be able to forgive them, and not berate yourself for any mistakes.
  • People act “fairly” according to their own set of standards and in a coordinate system that is different from yours. This is the positive side of poker. Do you really want everyone to play like you? I do not want. When someone does something unusual, or does something that "doesn't make sense", take note and keep playing. Don't let yourself get upset about it. You get information about the enemy, which is good.
  • In fact, what you call “unbearable” is quite tolerable, but you can temporarily endure discomfort. Overall, your life as a poker player isn't all that bad. You can fight this temporary emotional reaction. Next time you tilt, go outside and look up at the stars in the night sky. Realize how insignificant this losing session is, not only on the scale of your life, but on the scale of the universe.

* Cognitive distortions - irrational thoughts and errors in thinking, which in theory can be the cause of mental disorders.

This article is a translation of the thousandth post by negtv capability with 2+2.