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Don’t Tilt

I listened to a podcast and read a piece in Slate on the same phenomenon: Tilt.  Tilt is a poker term for “when players become overwhelmed by bad news and it starts clouding their decision-making.”  It comes from pinball — when you tilt the machine, it stops working — and Annie Duke, the poker player, explained why it’s so prevalent in cards.

Poker is a place where you make a decision and see results from that decision pretty quickly.  If things stop going your way, you start blaming the decision itself vs. the fact that you made a guess based on the information you had on-hand in the moment (and remembering that sometimes those guesses will yield good results and sometimes they won’t).  You get emotional, and the worrying starts clouding your judgment.

Infertility has more in common with cards than it does with other decisions in life.  While you may not find out the results instantly, you find them out comparatively quickly (within a few weeks or a few months), and then the next set of decisions steps up to the plate.  This is true regardless of how you’re resolving your infertility — each path demands that you make decision after decision and experience the results.

Compare this to making a decision about what you’re going to eat for breakfast.  You’re unlikely to see the results of that decision for decades, whether it buys you better health or clogs your arteries and gives you a heart attack.  Whether to transfer two embryos or whether to have an omelette for breakfast are both decisions; only one reveals the outcome early on and the other one hides it for many years.

Annie Duke gives a simple thing you can do to break the sensation of tilt and return to the same mindset you had when you made the first decision — before everything started to go to shit.  You ask yourself how you would feel about the moment if it had happened a year ago.  Would you still remember the decision, or would it have become a forgotten disappointment in a larger sea of disappointments?

Reflecting on this, I can see how some of my negatives affected me differently than other negatives, even though I treated all the negatives the same way in the moment.  I gambled in my cycle and I lost, so I was devastated.  But looking back, I can see plenty of those negatives were actually still pretty good decisions even if they didn’t yield the ultimate desired result.

I made a decision with the information I knew in the moment, and remembered that is the best a person can do.  They can’t have foresight and know definitively how things will turn out.  They acknowledge their emotional capital and spend it accordingly.  Doesn’t that make sense if you think about your emotional energy as a stack of poker chips and spend it depending on the hand you’re looking at in the moment?  Because that’s all you have — the information in-hand.  You can’t know the next card that will turn over except in terms of its probability.

So play the cards in your hand.  Accept that you may win and you may lose.  Don’t tilt.


1 B { 03.01.17 at 7:42 am }

Hm. I need to start doing this more vigorously. But damn it’s ***hard***.

2 Mina { 03.01.17 at 11:04 am }

I’m going through that right now. It’s like you read my mind. I just posted about this, how I’m trying not to tilt.

3 Ana { 03.01.17 at 3:28 pm }

I totally do this. I had no idea it had a name. Its sort of a “fuck it all” “its all hopeless” kind of mentality, right?

4 Jill A. { 03.01.17 at 9:43 pm }

I don’t know. I think it is all about balance. Some acceptance, some emotional fallout. Because either attitude takes work, accepting that I have done my best or falling to pieces and putting myself back together. So you can “tilt” doing either one.

Letting go and making decisions calmly is one way to handle things. Going all out emotionally is another. I guess it depends on how much energy you have, how much time and what you need at that point.

5 Ryan { 03.02.17 at 8:14 pm }

Many gamers like myself know of tilt, but I see more clearly now that it’s applicable to quite a wide area of life experiences.

6 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.03.17 at 4:33 pm }

Very timely. Thank you.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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