From the Archives: Going on tilt

25 October 2011

There’s a really great term that is used in poker to describe when people become affected by their luck and then react to it in a negative way. They say that someone’s “on tilt” when a couple of bad outcomes (whether by luck or by bad play) starts a downwards spiral in their performance.

I haven’t come across another way to describe this phenomenon, but you see it everywhere, especially in sport. A tennis player will hit a bad shot and get a little frustrated with herself. She’ll then make another error, and get even more frustrated – and eventually make error after error after error, each error reinforcing the next.

I think life is sometimes 5% luck, and 95% determined by your mental game. Sometimes something bad will happen to you and it’ll bother you a little. People who speed ahead in life won’t let it bother them at all – they’ll realise that we all make mistakes and can’t get everything right every time – but most of us will internalise it and go on tilt.

We’ll take that one comment too personally, or see that crappy test result as reflecting on who we are and not just a case of failing to perform at 100%. We’ll take every failure and every rejection as the world’s way of saying – “you’re not good enough, give up” – and when we start to lose confidence and second guess ourselves, more things start to fall apart.

We start acting recklessly, and we’ll convince ourselves that we don’t care. That it doesn’t matter us. That we don’t want it in the first place anyway.

And then we never make it out of being on tilt, because the moment that you convince yourself that it is you and not some spark of chance or because of a ‘bad day’ – the moment that we start to internalise things – that you then become the author of your own misfortune.

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3 thoughts on “From the Archives: Going on tilt

  1. I had an experience like that just yesterday and I totally agree that it’s really hard to not internalize it, especially if it’s for something that really matters to you. However, reflecting about these types of moments and their effects on yourself for a while isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can provide a motivation to do the things you’ve been telling yourself to do that you’ve never gotten around to doing because, well, nothing ever made you care until now.

    Of course, going on a full ’tilt’ and spiralling into doom and gloom ain’t good for you. That said, even if you do end up with a string of days where nothing seems to go right for you, you can always take some consolation in the fact that things will always change.

  2. How funny…stumbled onto your blog because Michael Lewis’ book COACH and Coach Fritz in a google search. So I’m going through your blog and you make a tennis reference that is deadly accurate. I’m the Women’s Tennis Coach at the U of Southern California. LOVE IT!

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