Fantasy Football: Conquer Selective Amnesia

Buddy SmithSenior Writer IOctober 26, 2008

Selective Amnesia

Little kids do it all the time. Somehow they “forget” what you told them not to do hours before. Husbands somehow fail to hear their wives say: “Take out the garbage.” Girlfriends don’t recall that Wednesday night is poker night. Every week.

Our minds are slaves to our desires, and we choose to remember things better when it suits us. We all have the desire to think of ourselves as above average in all things, when that can’t possibly be the case.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

                                                   George Santayana

When our minds erase information that lowers our self-esteem, we cripple our ability to improve our skills. How can we learn from experience if we can’t trust our memory of events?

When it comes to decision-making, our minds tend to give us too much credit for things that go right, while we bear almost none of the blame for things that go wrong. While I focus on how you can improve your fantasy football decisions in this article, the same theory applies to other aspects of life.

Delusions of Grandeur

We tend to think too much of our impact on random events. From knocking on wood to lucky shirts, people feel the need to control life. When extremely good things happen to us, we tend to think we are solely responsible for our glory.

For instance: If you have Kurt Warner on your team, you are nowhere near as smart as you think you are. Greg Jennings was not a lock to outscore Randy Moss this year. Random things happened, and we are where we are. Don’t pat yourself on the back so much.

The human mind is a funny thing: Once we know something, it’s hard to imagine a world where it was unknown. People used to think the world was flat and the center of the universe. Now we know better, and it’s hard to imagine a time where this information didn’t exist.

Once we saw Tom Brady’s record-breaking year, it was hard to call it anything other than inevitable. Where are all the people who were talking about Randy Moss becoming a cancer on the team?

Where are all the people who thought the Green Bay Packers’ offense couldn’t function without Brett Favre?

It’s not only good results that we process poorly, negative outcomes are misinterpreted by our brains as well.

Cry Me A River!

When we lose fantasy games, we are keenly aware of all the outside factors that contributed to our defeat. Our star player got injured. We didn’t have enough time to prepare for the draft, and who could have predicted that the Cardinals would be doing so well anyway?

We just got unlucky. It wasn’t our fault, and we couldn’t have possibly foreseen what happened. Do any of these statements sound familiar?


Our brains are equipped with an ego defense mechanism that systematically shuts out information that lowers our self-esteem. This phenomenon, when combined with our natural selective memory, can make learning from experience extremely difficult.

When we do well, it is due to our genius and preparation. When we do poorly, it was due to misfortune. How can we learn from experience if we won't give ourselves honest analysis of the facts?

Action Steps

How can we conquer our own minds and learn from our experience faster than ever before? I've devised a quick worksheet that will force you to make a record of your predictions and your results. This five-minute exercise will tell you how your previous guesses have done. The first step towards making better guesses in the future.

1. Print out your lineup every week with the "projected stats" included.
2. Guess whether each player will score above or below his projection, and mark with an up or down arrow.
3. Write the reason for your guess. Weak opponent, jet lag, whatever.
4. Grade your paper with the actual results Monday morning.

When you complete these steps, you overcome selective memory...Paper doesn't lie. You'll get a feel for when your projections are likely to be wrong, giving you more information in future weeks.

While we all learn from our experiences, we all do it at different speeds. If you have the proper processes in place, you'll be better able to identify both your successes and failures. With this information, achieving repeatable positive results becomes much easier.

Isn't that what you’re trying to do?

These ideas were found in Decision Traps, By Edward Russo & Paul Schoemaker, and adapted for your use in fantasy football.

Edited by Matt Gilmartin.