05/11/2012 06:46 pm ET Updated Jul 11, 2012


In the game of poker, emotional control is such an important concept that when a player loses that control we have a single word for it: Tilt. Tilt is the state of being so distraught about something that has happened that you start making bad decisions going forward. Tilt is obviously devastating to a player's profitability in poker. You lose a bad hand and you start playing really poorly because you are so upset and that has an immediate effect on your chips: you lose them. Generally, tilt is not triggered by an event where you just played poorly. It is almost always triggered by an event that you have no control over, where you had the best hand and someone got lucky and beat you anyway.

Obviously, this is not confined to poker. Anyone who has a teenager knows this because no one can put you on tilt more easily. People tilt all the time in life away from the poker tables. Something bad happens and they go on a bender. They develop a short fuse. They start spending irresponsibly. What do you think a rebound relationship is? Tilt personified--a decision driven by emotions about a previous relationship breaking up. Those never last because decisions made when tilting are just really likely to be bad decisions.
Tilt can express in many ways but the common thread is that it is almost always triggered by an event you have little control over. And that is what makes tilt so fascinating. Tilt is the consequence of that which we cannot control. So something bad happens that you couldn't control and then you start making really bad decisions and creating bad outcomes that you could have controlled.

If you have a bad thing happen to you because you did something wrong, that is something you can fix. You can strive to not do that again. You can learn from your mistakes. You can analyze what you did wrong so you don't repeat it going forward. And that process takes you immediately out of the emotional space into the space of reason. And the space of reason is not a place you tilt. But when things happen that you have no control over, there is little stop the emotional damn from breaking. What can you learn from a bad thing happening to you? Not much and so there is not much to stop the rumination.

So the irony is that something bad happens that you had little control over and now decisions that you do have control over go haywire because you are so pissed off or distraught about the past. But you can't change the past. You can't undo events that have already happened. You can only be a better decision maker going forward and to allow events that have already happened to affect you in a way that makes you actually cause bad outcomes in the future is just, as Spock would say, illogical.

Have you ever heard the saying, "Throwing good money after bad?" That is an aphorism about tilt. "Sleep on it." That is an aphorism about tilt telling you to calm down before you make a decision. It is woven into our language. It is up to you to pay attention to when tilt is driving your decisions and to take realize that no big decisions should ever be made when you are emotional. That is the easy part because I think everyone knows when they are on tilt. The hard part is actually following through and not making the rash decisions under those conditions.