We’ve all been there. Logging on to the FPL website just to have another look at our team. It’s beautiful, a masterpiece. The only issue is that we’ve already looked at it today. Why are we looking again? The answer is very simple really, and it’s mainly dopamine.
Just as Facebook used ‘psychological hacking’ in order to (and this is a genuine quote) ‘take as much of our time and attention as possible’. FPL innocently and unknowingly exerts a familiar influence over many of it’s managers.
I’m not that good at FPL. I always have a good start but things get messy along the way somewhere and I end up somewhere in the top 10 of my mini-leagues, occasionally somewhere in the money. I also have an addictive personality by nature, and so ordinarily FPL takes up too much of my time. I’m a Mindfulness trainer by trade and my aim for this season is to use my knowledge of psychology and mental health in order to have more fun and less stress. After speaking to lots of friends, I see that this seems to be a good recipe for many others as well.
I’ve seen more and more talk about the psychological blunders we all make with FPL, and reactive transfers is a great example of the relationship between Mindfulness and this dear old game. Reactivity is perhaps the number 1 trait we try to address in mindfulness and meditation courses. There are a few other nuggets of wisdom within the principles of Mindfulness which relate quite nicely to FPL and the unnecessary issues it can cause. I thought it might be helpful for readers if I summarised a few of the key ones here:
Perhaps the most important source of FPL suffering is the illusion of control. Despite all the statistics anyone can possibly muster, the truth (however hard to hear it might be) is:
You don’t know what’s going to happen in any of those football matches.
It’s worth reading again, because this is vital. We really don’t know. We are guessing. Yes of course there are trends, and of course there’s a high probability that Kevin De Bruyne is going to get quite a few points against Fulham at home, but we can never know for sure and it is totally out of our control.
The follow up truth from this is:
How many points you get this week, or across the season, is not in your control.
Strange to consider, isn’t it? I bet some people reading this beg to differ, but think about it. Every single point you have ever gained in FPL has been because a random human being miles away from you did something with a football, and it had nothing to do with you.
Remembering this should be a relief. It takes away a lot of the grasping and clinging to what you think you definitely know, or how well you should/could do this week. Perhaps the most important consequence of remembering this first principle is that we remember to enjoy the game.
Did you forget? FPL is supposed to be fun! We all started playing this game because it’s enjoyable to try to guess what’s going to happen in the future, and to be rewarded when our guesses are correct. Enjoying the thrill of the unknown. This year, with more advice, news and FPL services available than ever before, there is a real risk of many of us losing sight of the enjoyment of the game more than ever before as well. If you really think about it, do you want to give so much energy and time to something which you are not enjoying? None of us do. So it’s in our interests to understand those factors which suck the fun out of the game and attempt to address them in our own relationship with FPL.
Mindfulness is great for this. Any time you notice that you’re miserable or stressed out because of FPL, it’s a good chance to stop and take some time to investigate what’s really going on. Slow down and pay attention to what’s happening in your inner world; bring it into the light. This is a form of meditation, and it doesn’t need to be done sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed. Rather than letting negative emotions drive your behaviour, be ruthless in remembering the above two points: it’s not in your control, and it’s supposed to be fun. Let go!
I started this article by mentioning the relentless checking of the website which many of us have fallen prey to. This behaviour takes place because we get a dopamine hit released in our brain every time we look at our team and remember that we might be rewarded in the future for those players doing well this weekend.
Just like Instagram, Twitter etc. this is creating a feedback loop which is incredibly addictive. The good news is that this means the remedies are the same and there are many. We should consider why we are checking the website and our team and begin to transition to consciously checking when we have a reason to do so. When we pay attention to our behaviours, we begin to transform them. This is another strategy which can alleviate stress and bring some fun back into the game. Less time wasted is only going to be a good thing. Gradually bringing consciousness into the checking of the website will filter into your thinking processes as well, and before long you will be wasting less energy thinking badly about your transfers during the week and confusing the issue.
Who would want to be addicted to looking at a team sheet of players from random football teams who you think are going to do well on the weekend? None of us do, and there’s no reason why we need to.
I was interested to see how well Magnus Carlsen did in FPL last year, and having just started learning to play chess, I think I can see some of the reasons why. Besides having a superhuman memory (which must really help when it comes to remembering stats and transfer options), chess requires extraordinarily clear thinking and decision making. Magnus is incredibly good at blitz chess, which is when you have only a small amount of time to make your move, and this means he is very good at making decisions without wasting energy. This must be so useful for FPL. When he looks at his team and realises a strategy isn’t likely to pay off, I presume that he immediately discards it at light speed as he would do in a chess match, instead of ruminating over it as most of us would. This clarity of thought, unfortunately, isn’t something we all possess! However, we can still learn from this and try to bring some of it into our own play.
An example of this in relation to Mindfulness is to notice when you are thinking badly about FPL. If it’s just in the back burner of your mind, ticking away throughout the week, this isn’t necessarily helping you. It would be better to consciously think about it for a short amount of time and make clear decisions which you understand. Make a routine for doing transfers which gives you enough time to gather the info you need and then make your decision, but doesn’t allow you to waste lots of your week. As you practice thinking more clearly and not wasting mental energy, you get better at it. That can only be a good thing.
Perhaps the most important aspect of practicing meditation is that it allows us to access a deeper state of mind. When we are in a deeper state of mind, everything is better. It brings clarity to our thinking and makes it more difficult for negative emotions to hang around and ruin our day. Really slowing down and allowing the mind to rest fills it with energy which is more powerful than the kind of energy we use on a day to day basis. This energy is likely to help us make much better decisions and enjoy our FPL season. So take a deep breath (or 100) before burning those 4 points!