Topics we’ll discuss in the next lines are:
- Our brain and how it evolved;
- What are the processes that happen inside of it, our thoughts and emotions;
- How we can distinguish them;
- What’s the new neocortex function which is one very important part of our brain. It is responsible for our critical thinking, for the complex cognitive processes;
- We will also see why we tilt because we know that we do it, but we maybe don’t know why, exactly;
- And how we can use the neuroplasticity to overcome tilt?
How Our Brain Evolved?
Humans needed some 100,000 years of evolution. The ancient structures of our brain are actually inside of it. So those are the so called “lizard” brain and “mammal” brain. And the newly developed structures are on top of that. That’s where the neocortex is situated. And actually our brain looks a little bit like our fist.
Let’s have a look at each part in details:
1. Lizard / Reptilian brain
The first thing that we did, and we learned to do with our brains is to survive. It’s the most ancient part. And its main goal is to keep us alive. All the processes in that area of the brain are more about instincts, keeping us healthy and okay. So that we can maintain the homeostasis of our body. So this is the state of our body, where all the processes go on autopilot.
2. Mammal brain
That’s the second layer of the brain that we developed. Please keep in mind that we’ve oversimplified the theories. It’s not that they developed really as layer after a layer. The mammal brain is related to feelings and emotions. That’s the main area from where decisions are made. And again, it’s not as simple as I say that. I will explain more about how we make decisions below. The second thing that our brain learned to do along the evolution was to manage information from different parts of our body. Emotional type of information.
The most recent structures of your brain are very new. From an evolutionary perspective, because it’s about 10 to 12,000 years ago when we started developing that neocortex. It’s responsible for more complex cognitive skills, complex cognitive activities such as critical thinking, analyses, language, and abstract thinking. Maybe that’s the part where your consciousness is. The physical representation of your consciousness. The neocortex is also responsible for you being able to make a reason out of this world.
It’s where all those heavy decisions that you have to make on the table happen. Mostly, they’re in the neocortex. When you are in a calm state when you are completely in control of your game your rational thinking your highly cognitive skills are activating this part of your brain.
What Is Decision-Making?
The thing about decision-making here is that it’s really difficult for us to discover how we make decisions. And in neuroscience, especially, there are a lot of different disciplines. Like for example, even behavioral economics is somehow put on the foundation of neuroscience. And scientists still want to figure out how we make decisions.
Recent discoveries say that we don’t have free will, which is kind of weird. But the most popular conclusion is that our brain makes the decisions for us. And we realize those decisions between 7-10 seconds after they were made in our brain. We have a lot of things that we can do in order to influence the processes in our brain in order to make better decisions. In the case of poker players – to reduce tilt.
But Why We Choose to Tilt?
Actually, your brain has a completely different agenda, than you have as a professional poker player. Your brain has the agenda to keep you alive. Those are the ancient structures of your brain. And it has a lot of different tasks to manage, in order for you to remain alive and functioning as a human being. So what happens is that your brain has its own rules that you have to adapt to instead of the opposite.
When you tilt your brain prioritizes the ancient structures, the reptilian brain, and also the limbic system. Why? Because from an evolutionary perspective, everything that happens in those areas of your brain is more important for your brain. Your brain prioritizes it because you spent much more time operating in those two systems (in the limbic brain and in the reptilian brain), compared to the time that you spent operating from your neocortex. And when I’m using the word “You”, I mean homo sapiens in general.
Your brain prioritizes tilt because it is completely confident that those processes are the ones it can count on. You can even imagine it as neocortex being someone who has to prove himself. Because your brain will actually not prioritise rational thinking and the so-called slow thinking, just because it’s a more recent brain structure. We tilt because of our biology.
How to stop tilting?
We have to accept our biology and manage it. In order to do that, we have to understand what we can control and when we can’t control it. Because there are certain situations where actually biochemistry and biology are already working without you even noticing that, and you cannot fight it. And I wouldn’t encourage you to fight it because it’s a battle that is lost before it started.
So how to stop tilting. Here, I am far from the illusion that I will be able to explain how to stop tilting for the short amount of time that we have here. But I will give you three different strategies. And I will also prioritize them, I will start with the first one which is way easier to do. And I will move through the second one and then the third one. So that you can have a variety of approaches that you can decide to adapt to use in your game. How to stop tilting is a million, billion maybe even trillion-dollar question.
Raise Your Awareness
The first thing is that you have to raise your awareness, that’s for sure. You have to know and understand why do you tilt. A useful technique is to practice self-reflection.
By the way, at Mindset Design, we have a variety of tools that can help you to reflect on your game – daily, weekly – and focus on specific types of tilt that exists. you’ll be able to identify the root cause of it, the reasons behind the reaction.
How to Hack Your Brain?
But then, if you want to overcome tilt, you have to learn to hack your brain. And that’s maybe the most crucial thing to understand.
It’s a fight between you as a player with your agenda, to make rational decisions to analyse the situations and your brain that actually has a completely different agenda. Your brain prefers to run on autopilot and gives priority to:
- your emotions;
- your instincts;
- your automatic reactions
Instead of your slow and well-considered reactions.
1. Ask yourself questions
The first strategy is the easiest one. The neocortex is responsible for language. You can apply the first strategy while you are at the tables. This is something like a quick fix, an emergency that you can use.
At the very moment when you feel that a certain emotional reaction will appear – you become angry, or you feel that you lose control over your game. Ask yourself questions out loud.
Why out loud? Because speech and language will activate regions in your brain that will move the activity of your brain in those areas. The prefrontal cortex is in those areas that are responsible for slow thinking, analysis, rational thinking, and clear decision making.
How to do that? You can write down questions that are powerful and will bring back the focus on the rational aspect of the game. Place them somewhere you can see them every day. For example, on your desktop, on the screen of your computer, next to it on a sticky note.
Examples of Questions
The questions can be:
- What are the facts that I’m dealing with here
- What are the facts I know about the hand of the opponent?
- What is the situation about the pot?
What are the facts that I’m dealing with? This is a very powerful question. These questions will bring back your focus to what you know about the game.
Another way to put it is: What’s the best rational decision that I can make here? And you have to keep repeating it, again, out loud. If you do it out loud, those centres in the brain that are responsible for this low thinking will activate. Give it a try. Send me some feedback and tell me how it went.
This first strategy is the easiest one. The emergency button. At the very moment, when you feel that you lose control, just ask yourself out loud a question – it will bring your focus back on the rational aspect of the game.
Strategies 2 and 3 will be explained in the next article here.
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