What does “On Tilt” mean? And, how this extremely disruptive mental state can heavily hinder your performance in anything (not just in Poker).

Written by Cole Schafer




 In Poker, when a player is on tilt, he is in a state of severe mental and emotional frustration, which causes him to make aggressive and at times even reckless decisions.

Generally, this will happen after a player has lost several consecutive hands in a row. Out of anger or pure desperation to make back what he has lost, the player might play several hands aggressively, many times causing himself to lose even more money.  

It goes without saying that being “on tilt” is extremely dangerous from a financial standpoint in Poker, so players do their best to recognize the symptoms and work quickly to balance themselves out.

Some players, like poker great Faraz Jaka, will go so far as to physically shock themselves with wind sprints in the middle of a game, as a means of recalibration.

Others will cut their losses, head home, and return sometime in the future once their confidence and level-headedness have been restored.

But, “On Tilt” isn’t just a disruptive mental state experienced by players in Poker… entrepreneurs, marketers, investors and creatives are prone to getting out of whack if they’re not careful, too.

The time I told someone to “Go fuck themselves” via email.

A couple months back I was having a shitty day.

I won’t bore you with the details but I’d equate it to hitting red light after red light in a Honda Prius sporting a flat tire, with an angry mountain lion in the passenger seat and a wolf spider hanging from the rearview mirror starring at me with its 67 eyes.

Anyway, halfway through this shitty day, I checked my email to find someone had sent me a really nasty note about an article I had written the day before.

In most cases, I would have read the email, shrugged my shoulders and simply deleted it

But, since I wasn’t in the best place mentally (a.k.a on tilt), I responded with the following…

“Dear Tom,

Go fuck yourself.



The moment I sent the email, I felt a pang of remorse. While in my mind the guy certainly deserved it (damn internet trolls), I’m of the ethos that two wrongs rarely make a right.

A part of me wanted to take it back. But, as all of us know, words aren’t all that unlike the window cleaner in a spray bottle –– once you spray them out they’re a hell of a time to get bottled back up again.

So, it’s better just not to spray.

However, that’s much easier said than done (especially if you’re feeling on tilt).

I’ve spent the last three years of my life building cool shit online like my creative writing shop, my copywriting course, my poetry book and a gazillion articles like the one you’re reading now… and the days I’ve found to be the most unproductive have been the ones where I’ve attempted to create while being “on tilt”.

I wake up, crawl out of bed, hit the shower, brush my teeth and for some reason or another I might be feeling off.

Maybe I am in a fight with my girlfriend or a client is ridiculously late to pay an invoice or the bartender fucked up my Moscow Mule (not that I drink Mules at 8 a.m.) or maybe I’m just feeling anxious for no reason at all.

Regardless, I’m on tilt and instead of pulling a Jaka and running wind sprints in the parking lot outside my flat, I try to work through it and as a result, some poor asshole in Wyoming gets told to go fuck himself.

Here’s how I’ve been recalibrating myself when I’m on tilt.

First and foremost, I try to recognize when I’m on tilt. While the symptoms look different for everyone, for me I’ve noticed I will get irritated at things that normally wouldn’t phase me.

Take the internet troll from Wyoming for example. Most of the time I see a nasty email, roll my eyes and delete it. But, when I’m on tilt, I’ll find myself wanting to say something hateful back.

I’ve also noticed that I tend to be more impatient when I am “on tilt”. Everything seems to be moving too slow for my liking… the water faucet to fill my water bottle, the crosswalk sign, the line at the grocery store, etc.

So, what I’ve begun to do is the following…

I first remove unnecessary stimuli. I stop listening to music, stop checking social media, stop refreshing the email inbox, stop listening to the 70th edition of (fill in the blank podcast). This, almost instantaneously, calms me down.

I will also meditate, but not in the traditional sense. I’ll turn on a hot shower, sit down on the shower floor for a few minutes and let the falling water act as white noise as I begin to silence the noise in my head.

If neither of these things works, I will go for a jog in Chicago’s freezing cold. It’s amazing how physical exercise and momentary discomfort can recenter a person both mentally and emotionally.

And, finally, on the days I’m so far on tilt I can’t find any balance whatsoever, I give myself permission to read and read and read until I feel centered again.

I’m on pace to read 30 books this year, my most ever. What’s been the difference? Recognizing reading is not only good for my writing but good for avoiding telling strangers to go fuck themselves.

But, I digress.

By Cole Schafer.