Hoop Dreams

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[This ran on BoomerConnections.com in March 2016, and seems appropriate again this year...]

The old saying about my people (the Irish side, not the Norwegian side) is that we are often wrong, but never in doubt. There are other old sayings about my people, but I don’t feel like getting complaints from the Leprechaun League of Éire so I won’t repeat those old sayings here.

Never is that old saying more true for me than when it comes to picking winners and losers in sports, and the motherlode of my misplaced confidence in my own opinion is underway now: March Madness®.

Just two days after I’d turned in my bracket, two of my Final Four®™ were already knocked out: Michigan State and Arizona (I know, I know… AZ was my high-seed pick).

Objectively, there was no reason for my confidence. I watched as many college games this year as I climbed mountains, and I didn’t climb any mountains. I had no basis for picking winners and losers in the Big Dance®™©, apart from consulting the math-geek web site fivethirtyeight.com, which publishes statistical analysis-driven predictions of games, Hollywood awards programs and elections.

I know that every year millions of people fill out brackets and according to collegespun.com no one has ever picked all 67 games correctly. Yet, I was sure – SURE – I was going to win my pools, even Jay Mohr’s national pool with tens of thousands of participants.

Normally I might be able to judge a situation and how it will play out… unless I am involved. It is amazing how profoundly personal involvement distorts the perception of that situation. Any objective observer would know that I had about as much chance of doing well in the pool as I do of discovering the next planet in our solar system.

Observing a situation that I’m not involved in is like watching a bunch of marbles roll around on a taut, flat trampoline surface. The marbles are rolling straight, and I can tell you where each marble is going. But adding my personal involvement to a situation is like placing a bowling ball on that trampoline with all the marbles. Suddenly all the moving parts are moving differently now that I’m involved – or at least I think they are. And, eventually, I lose my marbles.

An off-hand remark from the boss is suddenly freighted with meaning, the direction stocks might take is separated from market dynamics, a salesman’s transparent “Sure, think about it, but I have another potential buyer looking at it this afternoon” becomes an incantation for anxiety and a panic buy.

I’d like to think I could correct for this effect, but ego is a powerful thing and, like an Eggo©®™Patent Pending, it’s hard to leggo of. Perhaps the best thing one can do is learn to recognize the distorting presence of self, and not pick a six-seed to go all the way no matter how much of a genius I’d look like if I were right.