If you watch the best players in the world play, you’ll notice there’s one thing nearly all of them have in common. When they play, they rarely, if ever, tilt. They’re able to keep things under control, push through the obstacles and setbacks, and keep themselves in a peak mental state so that they can give themselves the greatest chance of playing their best.

This one barrier—tilt—is what keeps many players from moving to the next level. They have the talent, skill, and ability to play. But those strengths get skewed or sabotaged completely because of their inability to maintain control in crucial moments.

If you feel that tilt is an issue you struggle with, then read on. Today, I’m going to solve it for you.

The approach that many people will take involves eliminating or dealing with the tilt once it already happens. I don’t like that approach. Instead of elimination, I believe in prevention. Instead of trying to deal with tilt after it happens, I’d rather prevent the tilt from ever happening in the first place. It’s just like when it comes to your physical health. Would you rather have to undergo triple bypass heart surgery to deal with clogged arteries, or would you rather prevent yourself from ever reaching the point of needing that surgery in the first place?

Tilt can be completely prevented. But in order to know how to do that, it starts by understanding what tilt is and how it happens. Let’s look into it.

What is tilt? Tilt is a negative mental state that forms as a consequence of a reaction to an experience. Many different experiences can cause tilt. It isn’t limited to when you’re sitting at the table and playing a single game. Experiences that can cause tilt are wide and numerous and can happen both at and away from the table:

  • Mulligans
  • Making a mistake
  • Drawing poorly
  • Your opponent drawing well
  • Your opponent having the exact answer to hurt your play
  • Rude opponents
  • People watching you play
  • A judge being called on you
  • Playing against people you perceive to be better than you
  • Losing
  • A poor tournament record
  • A badly run tournament
  • Not having enough time between rounds

Any one of these things, and more, can cause you to tilt. And if you notice, they all have one thing in common: They’re all things that you experience—a mini-event.

That’s what tilt is. But how does it happen? Why does it occur? Ultimately, tilt is the end result of a simple 4-step process. That process looks like this:

  • Step #1 – You experience something.
  • Step #2 – You produce negative thoughts and self-talk associated to what just happened.
  • Step #3 – The negative thoughts and self-talk produce negative emotions such as anger, frustration, stress, anxiousness, etc.
  • Step #4 – Negative thoughts, self-talk, and emotions combined result in an overall negative mental state or tilt.

Let’s look at a specific example so that I can illustrate this clearly and precisely. Let’s use a common example that causes tilt: Making a mistake.

You’re playing a tight, close game. The game is very balanced and any swing in momentum in either player’s favor could completely alter the course of the game. Before going into combat on your turn, you think about all of the possibilities, imagine the different scenarios with attackers and blockers that could happen, and make a decision. You attack with all your creatures.

But you forgot about the Shambling Vent sitting in your opponent’s lands. She activates it, adds an extra blocker you didn’t account for, and even gains life in the process. As a consequence, you lose your best creature, her life total is now out of range, and the momentum of the game has completely swung in her favor.

  • Step #1 – You experience getting blown out by your opponent and recognize that you’ve made a mistake.
  • Step #2 – You start thinking negative thoughts associated to what just happened and talking to yourself in a negative way: “I’m such an idiot! I can’t believe I didn’t see the Shambling Vents. How could I make such a stupid play? Well, there goes this game. I just threw it away.”
  • Step #3 – As a consequence of the negative thoughts and self-talk, you produce negative emotions to match them. Anger, frustration, stress, anxiousness, self-loathing, etc. set in.
  • Step #4 – Your negative thoughts, self-talk, and emotions combined form an overall negative mental state. You’re tilted. Your behavior changes, you start playing more carelessly, and you end up playing at a level far lower than you’re capable of.

This process happens very quickly. In fact, it happens almost instantaneously. It occurs on a subconscious level. Your brain is on auto-pilot, and because of this, it executes this process on its own at lightning speed. Often, players aren’t even aware of what’s happening, and before they even realize it, they’re in a negative mental state and tilting. This process is exactly how tilt happens.

So you know what tilt is and you know how it occurs. That leaves the last part of the equation: How do you prevent the tilt from happening?

To do that, you have to pick apart and analyze the process. Tilt occurs in step #4. It’s in the last stage of the process, so prevention obviously doesn’t start there. Step #3 is the negative emotional reaction that triggers the negative mental state. But preventing tilt doesn’t start there, as negative emotional reactions are just a by-product of negative thoughts and self-talk. And, prevention doesn’t start with step #1 either. The experience is what it is, and once it happens, it’s done and you can’t change it. You can only react to it.

The key to preventing tilt is all about controlling step #2. It’s all about being in control over what you think and the way you talk to yourself the moment after you experience something. When you control what you think and what you say to yourself, you control and dictate the kind of emotional reaction you’ll have. When you’re in control over what you think, how you talk to yourself, and emotions you feel, you determine what kind of mental state you’ll end up in, whether it’s negative or positive. Your mental state then determines how you perform going forward.

Let’s use the exact same example as before, but this time, let’s look at what happens when you take control over step #2.

  • Step #1 – You experience getting blown out by your opponent and recognize that you’ve made a mistake.
  • Step #2 – You think positive, confident thoughts and talk to yourself in a positive, confident way in response to what happened. “What’s done is done. I can’t change it. But this game isn’t over. I can battle back and come from behind to win. I just need to stay focused on my outs and playing my best every turn. It’s not over until it’s over. I can do this.”
  • Step#3 – Your positive, confident thoughts produce positive, confident emotions: Confidence, self-belief, desire, determination, hope, etc.
  • Step #4 – Your positive and confident thoughts, self-talk, and emotions combined produce an overall positive mental state. Your ability to keep playing is sustained and your performance level doesn’t decrease.

As you can see, preventing the tilt started by controlling step #2. By thinking and talking to yourself in such a positive and confident way, you produced a completely different set of emotions than before.

Instead of getting angry, frustrated, or anxious, you were able to keep yourself feeling confident, determined, and hopeful. As a result, you kept yourself in a positive mental state and prevented the tilt from occurring.

Are there times when the game will be 100% gone and you can’t win, no matter how positive and confident your thoughts and self-talk are? Definitely. But it’s still important to do this so that you can save the second or third game. If the match itself is lost, then once again, it’s still important to do this so that you can keep yourself in a peak mental state and perform your best for future rounds.

Is this challenging to do? In the beginning, yes. It just takes practice and repetition. Every time you experience something that could put you into a state of tilt, you have to “switch on” your brain, take it off auto-pilot, and make sure you control what you think and the way you speak to yourself the moment after the experience happens. The more you practice this, the more it will become ingrained in your sub-conscious and the easier it will become. Over time, you’ll eventually reach a point where this process replaces the old one and you’ll find yourself automatically reacting to negative experiences in a positive way. The process will have become hard-wired.

So don’t settle for dealing with tilt after it happens. It’s too risky and you don’t even need to. Prevent it outright from happening by making sure you control what you think and how you speak to yourself immediately following a mistake, losing, going down to 5 cards, or whatever else could potentially tilt you off.

As always, I want to thank you for reading, and all the best!