When you lose a soul-crushing pot, your mind is like a boat. A boat on a lake. A lake that just had an island-sized boulder dropped in it. The splash from the boulder was huge, and now you are being tossed about harshly by the waves.
Understandably, you think the problem is the boulder. You think the problem is that you lost the hand. But it’s not. The problem is not the hand itself. The boulder is at the bottom of the lake. The only problem now is the waves. The problem is the thinking.
Past, Future, and Present
My first ten years as a grinder, limit hold’em was the game, a game built for speed, and the style of my opponents ranged from careless to crazed. It was a demolition derby where even the most talented, cautious drivers were destined for damage.
If you’ve ever played in a calamitous limit hold’em game, you know that sets get cracked all the time. Mathematically, it’s no big deal, until it happens to you, over and over – and then it gets personal.
I used to keep track of how many sets I lost in a row, just to torture myself. Typically I’d start my count after the third or fourth knife in the heart. At that point, I was sensitized to the pattern, and I wanted to verify that I was the unluckiest person alive.
Do you think I was playing my best at times like that?
But enough about the past. The future is even more amazing in its ability to affect my world, considering that it doesn’t exist. The future sends tilt waves backward in time and into my brain while I play poker. Let’s say my curfew is an hour away, and I’m stuck, and I don’t want to quit. That’s when the dread kicks in. And my poker game goes donky. All because a boulder from the future fell out of the sky and made waves in my lake.
We have a name for this kind of thing. We call it “worry.”
And then there’s tilt that’s now. Like if you’re playing online, and your back is kinked, or you lose your connection, or some A-hole is spouting off nonsense in chat. Or you’re playing live poker and a loud drunk is crowding your space, or the TV has the wrong football game on, or the guy in seat six still owes you forty bucks. Those are present-tense tilt inducers, a steady barrage of tilt waves, like ocean waves, caused by everyday winds and currents. No boulders required.
We tilt because of what did happen, we tilt because of what might happen, and we tilt because of what is happening. Our brains can stay endlessly busy, seeking out the worst in everything.
The Fault-Finding Mind
Whatever it is we care about − bankroll, toys, parents, bodies, bosses, politicians, or heck, even the climate of the whole planet − we either want it to be different, or we want it to stay the same. And we’re screwed either way, because nothing is different than it is, and everything is always changing. So we feel dissatisfied. And that dissatisfaction is the cause of all harmful actions, words, and thoughts. It’s the cause of all of our problems.
And no one is exempt. No one is spared the pain brought on by the fault-finding mind as it feasts on flaws and discomforts and injustice until we are stuffed so full that we belch up one complaint after another. I need a new phone. It’s too wet to golf. I missed my last four flush draws.
Whether we say it out loud or not, we are often complaining. And if our complaint is not resolved to our satisfaction, then we complain about that. And if our complaint is resolved, then our fault-finding mind just moves to the next thing.
This is the slowest line in the history of the universe.
Your fault-finding mind loves a slow line.
Some idiot put the wrong dressing on my salad.
Your fault-finding mind loves idiots. Your fault-finding mind loves to make you think that their mistake is the problem. But it’s not. How can it be? The mistake is always in the past. The only problem now is the complaining, and the blaming. Those are the present-tense pain sources.
Your fault-finding mind does have one huge upside. It’s been keeping you alive all these years, keeping you out of harm’s way, as it were. But your fault-finding mind can cause harm too, like an autoimmune disease. That’s when your immune system attacks the very body it was designed to protect. The result? You get sick. Likewise, your mind can turn against itself, and make you mentally ill.
I’m too short.
I’m too loose.
We float through life in our little boat, bounced around by waves of dissatisfaction. Is it the world’s fault that the world is full of faults? Or is it the fault-finding mind’s fault?
Oh goody! I found something to blame. My problems are not my fault. My problems are the fault-finding mind’s fault. So I’m off the hook. I’m also out of cereal. But then, who is the “I” who is asking these questions? And my cats are eating smashed hot dogs. And is that “I” somehow removed from my fault-finding mind? Because I’m too lazy to shop. Why can’t I eat two cookies instead of twenty? Then I’d have some right now. Oh goody! The Warriors are on in ten minutes! Game three against the Cavs. But my deadline was yesterday. I shouldn’t watch the game. But I know I will. I’m no writer. I’m just a pretender with an editor, and two hungry cats, and…
I think I have a thinking problem.