Restore the balance of your emotional "tilt"
Updated: Jul 25
The “tilt” is a colloquial term common to gaming or gambling – notably when a player falls into an aggressive state following a loss which in turn can result in error-prone play as they try to recover what was lost. It is a beneficial state for any party wishing to gain advantage.
It is also a state worth thinking about as it could pertain to our own experiences.
DO you “throw good money after bad?” DO you keep pumping time and effort into something which just isn’t working because you’ve already invested so much? DO you end up sabotaging yourself through a knee jerk reaction rather than taking a step back to think and respond with care? If so, you may be affected by “tilt”.
While an expansion of it’s original meaning, I would also like to apply the idea of “tilt” to positive emotions too. I would argue that if you say “Yes” because you’re in a good mood (only to regret it later); or “truly believe” something will be ok/fine/easy to accommodate when evidence, and possibly later reluctance may suggest otherwise; or do you find yourself drawn to someone because of certain characteristics or behaviours that cause an emotional reaction only to be disappointed that the glimmer is a mirage or worse – you were being manipulated? That too could be considered “tilt”.
When our emotional drive is leading, rationality doesn’t usually get a look in.
As a coach I would never say “disregard” or “shut down” emotions – we need them. An emotional reaction eg “pain on touching something hot” will remind us not to do it again; and conversely, lack of emotional affect towards anything as common in depression can also lead to us losing everything because “why does it matter?” But if we are solely led by our emotions, we can over promise and either under-deliver or be taken advantage of; or we may react rashly doing ourselves few favours in the process. Being aware of, accepting and then managing your emotions so they are helpful to you is an optimal way to progress.
Of course this isn’t easy. Psychologist Jane Risen suggests that even the most educated person can recognize that even though something is wrong, we may still consciously choose to let the false belief stand. Perhaps it is because we so badly want to believe otherwise? Perhaps it is because we hope against the odds that we will win through? Perhaps we simply want to be wrong. That compounded with the fact that there will be times when “luck” may have a hand and things will work out “ok” – and we are ready to forego our instincts, observations, and sometimes even research and experience – and keep our fingers crossed.
I’m not “down on luck” (no pun intended) – but while it is a bonus when it occurs, I also prefer not to always live my life by chance.
Maria Konnikova in her book “The Biggest Bluff” quotes Pasteur who said “Chance favours the prepared mind.” She goes on to say, however, that although this is the famous quote, it is incomplete. The full statement is “Where observation is concerned, chance only favours the prepared mind.” She reminds us that we often use this to focus on preparation – “…work hard, prepare yourself so that when chance occurs you will notice it.” (Konnikova, 2020) This makes a lot of sense, but, she says, observation is as important. All the preparation in the world is meaningless if you do not observe what you have prepared for. Recently I trained for a 6km run – and missed a turning thus giving me additional distance, and more significantly, additional time.
Therefore, as well as preparation, we need also direct our energy in making us as alert and open minded as possible so we recognize chance, opportunity, or in my case, the turning, when it appears!
This is where managing emotion is relevant.
To return to my point about tilt – if our minds are already pre-occupied, we are less able (or perhaps have less desire) to observe what is really going on, and may miss the very chance we are preparing for.
Time and energy are both finite. We only have 24 hours in a day, and we only have a certain amount of energy to ensure we are performing at our best (or at least at “good enough”). If we are wasting it on things that don’t matter – or perhaps things we are “tilted” to attend to – it doesn’t help us.
So, try these two methods to help you direct your attention actively, as well as address the cause of any tilts, so you are less likely to be thrown off course:
1. Mindful focus.
I have long espoused the benefits of mindful practice – and it doesn’t have to be yoga and mediation:
One of the disadvantages of the frantic multi-tasking world in which we live is not being “fully present” within everything that needs to be done. Research has showed, when companies introduce mindfulness as a practice, teams reported improved creativity, wellbeing and focus along with stronger enthusiasm in projects and meetings.” (Intel Press, 2013); improved decision making with teams becoming better listeners (Gelles 2012); and better focus and open mindedness, better collaboration plus a climate of “…openness, acceptance and empowerment”…Emotionally and intellectually available leaders, and a switch from “hurried multitasking and its psychological blind spots, to one of curiosity, flexibility and opportunity.” (Williams, 2016)
But, rather than approaching “Mindfulness” as a buzzword, it is most effective when incorporated it into daily life. Therefore, one of the most effective ways one can apply mindfulness is as it is used in common parlance – “Just be mindful”…be more aware. Any technique aimed at improving awareness, compassion or balance that may be of benefit to performance may fall within the realm of “mindful practice”. ...and without any clear codification of the term “mindfulness” by academics as yet – if it works – use it!
i) The Gratitude stretch
When you wake, stretch your arms and think of one thing you are grateful to have. Stretch your legs and think of one person you are grateful to know. Finally stretch your whole body and think of one thing you are looking forward to today.
This keeps you focused in there, here, now – and on what you have.
ii) Observe with all your senses
It’s not just your eyes that give you information, discover what you can learn about a situation or experience by also thinking about taste, touch, smell, and hearing.
iii) Practice a more scientific approach to decisions
It’s easy to find things to validate your argument – how about looking for all the reasons not to do something – and argue against them?
2. Recognise your tilt triggers and seek to understand them
The idea behind this, is if you can understand why they happen, you are better able to recognize that you are “triggered” to inject some reality into the situation in order to deal with it wisely rather than over-emotionally.
a) Write down situations or events (including people’s behaviours or language used) that “trigger” or “tilt” you – things which push you into the over-positive or over-negative mind-set.
b) In an adjacent column write down the emotional reactions.
c) Then note down what may be the underlying cause of the reaction (this may not come immediately, sometimes root causes are hidden and it will take a few weeks of reflection before they surface.)
d) Write down a statement or something that will enable you to appreciate you are being “tilted” and regain balance. This may be something you can do – such as listen to a positive TED talk if you are feeling frustrated; or it might be telling yourself to stop, think, then respond before offering your all to someone who makes you feel liked.
And a little secret tip when it comes to improving your observation too – which may help you stop and think prior to being “tilted”. Observe bodies and actions rather than faces and words. It is surprisingly easy to teach someone to “say the right thing”, but it’ll be their non-verbal communication or your actions that will offer the most truthful insight. As a theatre director, I know that someone can recite a speech perfectly – if it were a radio play, but their tapping leg or twitching arm may betray their lack of confidence. Similarly a person can make many promises, but really think about whether delivery also happened.
…then use that information to work on restoring the balance of your tilt.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt