Imagine the following scenario…
Manchester City have some tough fixtures coming up and Raheem Sterling has been off form for weeks (you’ve analysed it to death) and now he’s come off with a groin strain…
You drop Sterling. He gets an assist and a goal in the next game. You can’t believe it nevertheless, he was still looking a bit leggy, wasn’t he? And his reaction to that missed opportunity was not good.
You wait. The next game, another assist. But it was a bit fortunate, Aguero deserves the credit for the run, really. Next game, another goal. And on and on. Eventually you find yourself on the wrong side of a Raheem Sterling run over 5 games.
How do you feel? Disbelieving. As though someone somewhere is working full time to sabotage your efforts. The reality is that the person sabotaging your efforts is you, and you don’t even know it.
In reality several factors are combining to turn your brain to mush (more of that in later articles), but the main culprit here is called…
Consistency and Confirmation Bias
Be warned about your enemy. He is powerful, patient and ever present. High intelligence is no defence against him, he has brought to ruin some of the finest minds in the world. He thrives on social media. He is there with you and your mates in the pub. He whispers in your ear when you read the newspaper and when you watch television. And every time you give your opinion, he gets deeper into your very brain.
Consistency and confirmation bias is essentially seeing new information as confirming your opinions.
Your brain has to constantly filter information to prevent overload and stop you going mad.
Part of this includes looking for patterns with past knowledge. How does this new information relate to what you already know? You can see how this can be useful in terms of evolution.
The deer knows the swaying grass might mean the approach of a tiger, and runs. She builds up knowledge of what has worked and not worked, and makes adjustments accordingly. It is a shortcut, so you don’t have to do a whole new analysis of every change in circumstance.
It is logical.
Except that when it doesn’t, the effects can be devastating.
The problem is that in looking for how the new information relates to what you already know (or believe), the brain tends to focus on information that reinforces that knowledge, and disregard information that may conflict with it.
It has been evident throughout the Brexit debate.
People take the same information and interpret it according to whatever they already believe. They also subconsciously ignore information that conflicts with what they believe.
So when you see Remainers and Leavers sticking to their position no matter what the information, that is partly because their brains are downplaying conflicting information without them realising, and partly because it is giving more weight to information that “agrees” with what they think.
It is also because of the other aspect of our enemy – the “consistency”.
Humans feel a strong, subconscious need to be consistent in their actions, in their thought and in their interactions with other people – changing your mind confuses people.
If you were to change from Labour to Conservative, for example, friends would find that odd and perhaps even irritating.
People go to extreme lengths to be seen as consistent in character and action. As crazy as it sounds, people would very often prefer to be consistent rather than be right. This is especially so when you have undertaken a lot of work to arrive at your opinion.
If you have studied Brexit for hours and concluded that Remain is best, it is going to be very painful if you finally decide Leave is best, and all your hard work appears “wasted”.
So how does this relate to FPL?
Using the example at the start of the article, you had put in a lot of work to establish that Sterling was out of form. Then while you were watching subsequent games, your brain was filtering what you were seeing. You noticed he looked tired. You noticed his attitude seemed wrong. You don’t realise that you missed his lovely nutmeg of the opposition defender. You don’t realise that you missed his head go up to see the Aguero run, and the masterful pause before he released the ball.
And even when the statistics were screaming at you, you subconsciously did not want to change your mind. You knew your analysis was “right”. You felt pain at being “wrong”. You wanted to be consistent with what you had put so much time into believing.
Effectively, your brain wanted you to be right, more than it wanted the points.
One final word of warning.
By talking to people about fantasy football, you can undoubtedly turbo charge your results with new knowledge. But be aware that one of the most insidious aspects of the enemy is that every time you voice an opinion, you actually reinforce it a little more in your head. You actually believe it a little bit more.
This is why people who give strong opinions on politics can quickly start to become quite radical in their views. So making public pronouncements on social media may actually leading to the little demon working a little bit more of his cunning magic on you.
If all of this is a new concept to you, at this point, you might be thinking you have acquired a powerful weapon here.
With this knowledge you can protect yourself against this little demon. That is true to some extent, but what is essential to understand is that these kind of processes are happening almost instantaneously, and unconsciously. Even knowing they exist, it is very difficult to avoid them.
Now that I know, what can I do?
There are some steps you can take.
You could have a checklist of questions to ask yourself in given circumstances.
For example, before making a transfer, “what are the points earned by this player telling me about his form?”
You could try and write down the opposite case to whatever you have decided, for example, “Sterling has shown unbelievable consistency in the last two seasons so the likelihood of him being out of form for long is not high”.
You could make a special effort to listen to conflicting opinions, for example tweeting a request asking people for the case for Sterling.
Finally, you can remember the wise words of Stephen Hawking;
“the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”