Mindfulness coach and Community trial winner Dominic Watts discusses how Fantasy Premier League managers can ensure they enjoy a healthy relationship with their favourite game.
With the United Kingdom subjected to another lockdown at the start of this new year, the human mind is up to all its old tricks with a vengeance.
Being out and about helps us to use our energy up in all sorts of different ways, and being stuck in does no good for our mental health if we let the mind run riot.
Those problems affect Fantasy Premier League managers just as much as the rest of the human race so I have put together something for the community during these challenging times as we seek to find balance and perspective in FPL and life in general.
FPL never fails to surprise us. As I signed on to make my transfer back in Gameweek 9, convinced I had to get rid of Son Heung-min (£9.7m) ahead of the Manchester City game, there he was staring at me on the homepage doing that heart celebration. I simply couldn’t press the button. That day, I won as Spurs won 2-0 and Son got 10 points. But it could easily have gone the other way.
For example, as I opened up Notes on my iPad in preparation for writing this article, I stumbled upon an absolutely hilarious ancient relic. It was a watchlist of players I created on September 11 this year, the day before the 2020/21 campaign kicked off. It was something I had completely forgotten about, perhaps on purpose when you consider who I had marked down as hidden gems ahead of the new season:
Now this is no offence to these admittedly excellent footballers, but it just shows how fickle the FPL gods can be. Between them, these boys have amassed a grand total of 50 points this season, 28 contributed by Christian Pulisic (£8.2m) who has one goal and one assist so far.
Either way, this served as a stark reminder that someone hugely in favour one day is a laughable consideration the next, and so the rollercoaster goes on. Sometimes we might wonder why we put ourselves through all this.
Why So Serious?
Well, anyone who has seen the fantastic Leed United documentary Take Us Home will have felt the goosebumps as the players could not resist breaking their quarantine rules to exit the building and be closer to the elated, chanting fans after they secured promotion to the Premier League.
The emotion was truly incredible to witness and, just like football itself, people who don’t play FPL can be utterly mystified by how much others care about it. My wife hates football so much that she even had the gall to stop picking my captains for me based on random numbers a few years ago (I’ll never forget the day Kevin Nolan got me a hat-trick on her say-so).
On the face of it, I can understand the view that we should not get ourselves worked up about FPL. After all, you’re picking an imaginary team of real players who get points for you and then getting really annoyed when you don’t pick the right ones.
But if you want to pick it apart, you can make similar arguments about most things people care about. The thing is that as human beings we create meaning. We give meaning to the things that we care about and so if we decide to care about FPL, it becomes meaningful to us. It may not be easy to understand how someone gets massively into stamp collecting, knitting or beekeeping, but the same principles are at work.
When we allow something to be meaningful to us, we become vulnerable to its forces. In terms of FPL, this means we are choosing to be at the mercy of its ups and downs, and we can’t have the ups without the downs.
The challenge is finding balance, so we can enjoy the rollercoaster without it having a negative impact on our lives. To that end, let’s look at a couple of key themes which seem to cause a lot of the trouble.
What Time’s Kick Off?
Did you know that Stephen Hawking held a party for time travellers and only sent the invites out after it had finished? Surely if they didn’t come there was no point sending the invites out? Well, I guess if he didn’t send them out then he wouldn’t have been able to say that they had turned them down.
Sorry about that. As you can see, time travel is a bit of a mess. But it’s no wonder so many of us are stressed; that’s what you’re doing all the time. Have you ever considered how amazing it is that you are able to access possible pasts and possible futures whilst being in the present?
Your time travel powers come as both a blessing and a curse. They are the source of both the excited anticipation that comes with waiting for the weekend’s games to start and the empty comedown of having your captain blank for the second week in a row.
This same time-traveling ability of ours causes so much trouble in every area of life as well as FPL. What this means, though, is that the wisdom which has been passed down through the ages to help people live a balanced life can be really useful for those of us who play this wonderful game as well.
What you will see throughout the rest of this article is that as the mind twists and turns through imaginary timelines, dragging us along for the ride, the remedies for FPL angst are always simple, always the same and always in the present.
One of the main culprits which causes us stress and anxiety is uncertainty and living through 2020 has really brought this home. The coronavirus has forced us to face uncertainty about so many things: work, health, socialising, traveling and even Christmas in the end.
The fact of the matter is that life is uncertain but the mind seeks and loves control because when it feels in control it feels safe. If we know exactly what will happen to us in the next week, it can help us to feel secure and comfortable. The dark side of this is that it’s less fun, less realistic and simply not the truth.
We don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow and some of the best things possible happen totally out of the blue. Yes, some of the worst things do too, but that’s the game we’re in. There’s no point pretending otherwise.
Actually, FPL is a great training ground for learning to live with this. After all, uncertainty is the main attraction of sport. As fans we want to see what happens, because we don’t know. It’s the thrill of the unknown which keeps us coming back and makes it so epic when outrageous things happen.
Mindfulness teaches us that when we start to consciously embrace uncertainty, life can be way more exciting and energising. It can help us to live more fully now instead of always worrying about what is around the corner. Remember that this game wouldn’t be fun at all if we knew exactly what was going to happen all the time!
Uncertainty relates quite nicely to acceptance because it’s hard to accept uncertainty. When we can’t accept something, we fight it, and this uses up a lot of energy.
Let’s take a real life example which is pretty serious: a break up. So much of the difficulty with a break up comes from non-acceptance of the fact. The mind will pull out all of the stops to convince us that it just can’t be true and we can change the past.
The problem is that all of this happens subconsciously and so we don’t generally see what’s going on. Thoughts are moving so fast that we believe their stories without question and follow their lead. Yet accepting things as they are is incredibly powerful medicine and, unfortunately, it’s worth practising because it’s not the mind’s natural way. Have a look at what the mind is saying. Is it trying to fight the past?
In FPL, the mind can use up a lot of energy by doing so. It sounds ridiculous to think about logically, but it happens all the time. Ask yourself next time you have a ‘thought storm’ relating to FPL, how much of this is caused by unavoidable uncertainty or not accepting what has happened?
My brother often says when it comes to transfers that we ‘can’t have them all’. On the face of it, this seems obvious, but it’s a great example of acceptance in action. When you truly accept that you can’t have all the players you’ve had your eye on, you might see that this subconscious desire has been causing some stress. Seeing this can bring relief and a more light-hearted approach to the game.
What To Do?
So what can we do about all this? What can we do when the mind is going round and round in circles of uncertainty, avoidance and trying to control the future? Well the short answer is look.
The longer answer is that we don’t need to ‘do’ anything, in the normal sense of what we mean by that. In fact, anything we ‘do’ is likely to make things worse. We can’t stop thought and we don’t need to. Thinking happens. To all of us. A significant part of the mind’s job is to anticipate and solve problems, so it just loves having something to chew on. When we interfere and try to suppress, control or stop thoughts, we tend to just add fuel to the fire.
What we can learn to do is be curious about what the mind is doing and learn to really look. Look properly, not just at the mind, but at everything else in the present as well.
Look at where you are, what you are doing, what is happening now. When we connect to the present moment, the dramas and stories of the mind are seen in a different light.This is the golden key and it opens up a choice of how to respond to what is happening now. Try it out and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.
You may end up laughing at how anxious you were about your transfers, or seeing that you were convinced someone is going to get 100 points this week just because the league leader has them in their team. Ridiculous, right?
Bringing it all together
As I write this, my mind reminds me that I thought Jamie Vardy (£10.2m) was DEFINITELY going to get 10+ points against Fulham in Gameweek 10 and that I should have burned the extra four points to bring him in for Timo Werner (£9.2m). We all know that would have turned out.
One thing I know for sure, though, is that I’m not the only person making these decisions. Anyone who has owned Vardy this season has had to make tough calls on him at various points.
This reminds me that all of the thoughts and emotions we experience in relation to FPL are not ‘my’ thoughts. They are just par for the course; the standard thoughts of everybody playing this game.
Seeing that thoughts are just thoughts, that you don’t own them and you don’t need to control them, is the start of developing a more relaxed relationship with the mind. It allows you to watch its acrobatics without being so attached to what goes on and this detachment brings a more healthy perspective.
Who would have thought that choosing a team of players could bring us face-to-face with some of the most difficult aspects of the incredibly confusing job of being a human?
Lessons learned from FPL Gameweek 17
- Everton 0-1 West Ham United
- Manchester United 2-1 Aston Villa
- Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 Leeds United
- Crystal Palace 2-0 Sheffield United
- Brighton and Hove Albion 3-3 Wolverhampton Wanderers
- West Bromwich Albion 0-4 Arsenal
- Burnley P-P Fulham
- Newcastle United 1-2 Leicester City
- Chelsea 1-3 Manchester City
- Southampton 1-0 Liverpool
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