Hacking the Cortex: Know Thyself

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If you take a casual interest in (Pop) Psychology, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Mindfulness”. It’s a big buzzword right now, equally drawing attention from good scientific researchers and pseudoscientific hacks looking to sell a book. As such, there’s a whole lot of bunkum attached to the idea that’s of little value. In particular, it’s talked about as if it’s a panacea in and of itself. It’s not, but it’s a very useful skill on which you can build other useful skills.

In the context of controlling your Tilt reactions, it’s a very useful skill, and a strong foundation for moving forward.

At the heart of it, Mindfulness is the ability to recognize your own thoughts and emotions as they happen. There are numerous more precise definitions around, and they don’t entirely overlap with one another, but that’s the vital core of it.

The goal of Mindfulness training is to allow you to observe your thoughts and feelings from a safe psychological distance, without judging them as good or bad.

You simply notice “I am Tilting”.

Noticing That You’re Tilting

Tilting, as defined in the previous post, is an emotional reaction to bad luck (or other circumstances such as a negative play experience or frustrating opponent) that causes your play to suffer. When you experience an emotional reaction, your nervous system activates and prepares you for fight, flight, or freeze. (“Fight or flight” is the common understanding of this situation, but “freeze” is also a common, and adaptive, reaction.)

Noticing when your body is doing this is an important fundamental to Mindfulness skills. As William James put it

“Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form; pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run… But we should not actually feel afraid.”

Your own physical reaction is going to be unique. Increased heart rate and sweating are common, but exactly what your body does when you begin to Tilt is yours alone. But it is worth taking the time to notice what exactly it does in these circumstances. It’s often the first warning sign that a Tilt is coming.

Armed with that knowledge, a Tilt is less likely to sneak up on you and take you unawares. Like most emotional reactions, Tilts cascade once they’re locked in. They alter your attention so that you only notice stimuli which continue the Tilted state. When you’re in a heightened (not even high, just slightly heightened) state of emotional arousal [Editor’s Note: Phrasing, Boom!], the automatic part of your brain takes over, and cognitive biases become more extreme. As such, heading it off before the spiral starts is generally the best approach.

As well as trying to be mindful of your bodily state, you should try to pay attention to the kinds of things that cause you to Tilt. Your body and mind is not the whole system – it’s coupled to the environment as well, so you must pay attention to external stimuli, not simply thoughts and feelings. Are dice the main culprit? Do you often Tilt when averages don’t happen in important places? Is it the mannerisms of your opponents? How much of one or the other does it take for you to Tilt to a point where you feel you’re playing badly, or playing in a way that makes it less fun for your opponent?


The next part of the puzzle is acceptance. Like Mindfulness, this may appear to be a terribly new-agey wishy washy word. And there’s no shortage, once again, of superfluous pseudoscience that gets tacked on along with what the science has validated.

In order to change something, you must first accept the current state of the system. You must understand how you got there (bodily awareness and mindfulness of external stimuli), and where exactly you are now.

Now, here’s the hard part. You must accept the state of things, but you must do so without judgement. Negative thinking has a tendency to reinforce itself by making you feel bad for thinking negatively. But you can learn to see your thoughts and feelings as objects at a distance, and you can learn to accept them as such. (It may be simple, but it’s not easy. Like any skill, it takes practice and persistence).

Acceptance is not the same thing as submission. You may accept how things are in the moment without accepting that they must be that way in the future  – to steal/warp a metaphor from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy:  If you live in a purple room, and the colour purple annoys the hell out of you, you need to admit that the room is purple, and that it annoys you, before you can begin to change the colour of the room.

Tilt can be a pernicious influence on a game, either in terms of effectiveness or in terms of the mutual experience of the game. It’s worth working on Tilting less, for both casual and competitive play. Mindfulness and Acceptance are the first steps, allowing you to identify how you get into Tilt, and how it feels when you’re there. From that point, you can learn to distance yourself from the emotional experience of tilting, and walk yourself back.

Good Night, and Good Luck,


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