Why We TiltWe tilt because our subconscious mind has evolved to develop certain protective emotional responses to perceived threats. These impulses are healthy outside of poker and have helped us become a species advanced enough to have invented online poker in the first place. The issue is that given poker is an extremely different environment form the one in which humans evolved, these protective emotions actually misfire when we play. The subconscious mind actually tries to protect us from harmless necessities such as losing a stack KK vs. AA or Villain sucking out on the river. These unfortunate occurrences will happen countless times in your poker career and there is nothing you can do about it. If we had evolved by playing online poker for survival, no doubt we would not react in such an irrational manner as to become furious when we lose, but alas we survived by finding shelter, food and water, and such skills do not prepare us for losing a stack to that infuriatingly bad opponent.
In fact, losing a stack to that player is perceived by the subconscious mind as having our resources taken from us by a weaker species. Of course, the instinct is to get angry and seek revenge – a truly useless poker defence mechanism.
Fight TiltsFight tilts are all about smashing the opponent to claim what is rightfully yours. Your instincts do not differentiate between resources lost in a game in which we have fully consented to risk our money and getting robbed in the wild. Fight tilts seek to reclaim our losses and conquer our foes through brute force. In the realm of poker, this entails betting, raising, bluffing and calling down with little regard for the truth of what might be highest EV in reality. Folding is often correct, but that is to lie down and die as far as the fight instinct is concerned.
Common fight tilts include: revenge tilt, entitlement tilt, and chasing losses tilt.
Flight TiltsFlight tilt is often less dramatic and has the advantage of avoiding that 20BI losing day, but can be equally damaging to our chances of success in the long-term. This sort of instinct reacts to adversity by wanting to flee and this is based on the assumption that this adversity is too great to conquer through fighting. A relentless downswing feels unbearable and so the flight-tilted player takes six months off the game and decides to pursue a different career. Some players see monsters under the bed. The fact that they have been running bad causes the subconscious mind to go overboard with pattern recognition (another misfiring healthy instinct) and presume that where there is bad luck there is only more bad luck around the corner. Subsequently, some crazily tight folds are made, profitable bluffs are missed, and pots are surrendered without due thought.
Common flight tilts include: dislike of poker tilt, paranoia tilt, and passivity tilt.
Treating Mental Game LeaksNow that we have concluded a brief diagnosis of our tilt, it is time to propose a general treatment plan. Whatever sorts of tilt are most prevalent in your mental game, it is essential to first realise that these reactions are not your fault. You do not control your subconscious mind and so you cannot hold your logical conscious mind accountable for its actions. You can, however, hold yourself accountable for not trying to treat these ailments.
The best way to train a dog is to teach it by example in the present moment. It is entirely pointless to show the dog the torn up sofa and ask him why he decided to destroy it. It is even more fruitless to make the dog feel guilty about his actions since he does not connect the scolding to making a different choice the next time he has the chance to eat furniture.
Your subconscious mind does not reflect upon its behaviour post-tilt and cannot be rewired through a good telling off or via self-disgust. To prevent your animal brain from reacting to a big cooler with a desire to enact a senseless revenge, you have to recognise the behaviour, interrupt the behaviour while it is happening, and then replace it with better behaviour such as shrugging off the loss and resetting. This process takes time and feels like a real struggle at first. Eventually, however, the subconscious mind will adapt and form a new habit. You just have to take the correct action enough times to overwrite the bad programming from millions of years of evolution.
Fortunately we are only redesigning our protective impulses within the context of poker. If we manage to train our brain to stop producing a fear instinct in a big pot, this does not mean that we will no longer be afraid of gun wielding lunatics or escaped lions. We are just trying to react differently in game.