Why I’m trying to eliminate sports and other noise from my life in 2015

“What do you want to do?”

A friend asked me that recently.  It wasn’t the type of question that I could answer with something like “I want to have a cheeseburger and a cold beer.”  It was the type of uncomfortable question most of us constantly avoid, the kind of question that makes us look within.  Perhaps better stated it was “What do you want to do in your life?”

I paused for 30 seconds.  Then, “Uhhhhh… I don’t know. That’s a tough one.”  Another 30 seconds of silence.  “I guess I…”

The answer I finished with was incomplete at best.  I had some ideas of which direction I wanted to go, but wasn’t sure which one I really wanted.  I guess I didn’t know because I hadn’t done those things yet.  What if I do one of them and don’t like it?

Another guy I was talking to recently said “sports are beneficial to the society, but not the individual.”  We were talking about following sports, not playing.  I’ve slowly cut a little bit of sports out of my life each of the past several years.  I quit following football recruiting/news several years ago.  This past year, I quit fantasy football.

I never had a clear explanation of why I was slowly cutting (following) sports out of my life.  It just felt right.  I still watched a lot of college football this year, and have watched most Grizz games.  But I don’t think I watched one complete NFL game all year.

Why am I doing this?  I didn’t know.

Let’s go back to the first part of that quote: “sports are beneficial to society.”

Sports bring people together in a way most things can’t.  The Memphis Grizzlies for example, help break significant socioeconomic and racial barriers in a city where those issues still exists in a large way.  The world cup is an event every four years where countries put their differences aside to celebrate the world’s favorite sport.  It’s pretty clear that sports benefit society, and we didn’t even get into the economic benefits.

Now, for the individual… What do sports do for the individual?

Very few can call themselves professional athletes.  I’m assuming you’re one of the majority, but it you are a pro then feel free to stop reading.  For the rest of us, sports take up time.  Growing up, I think I was an above average sports follower.  My number 1 visited site was espn.com (still in my top 5).  I followed news on all my favorite teams and spent hours a day watching golf, football, basketball, tennis, some soccer, most of the olympics, etc.

What did following sports do for me?  I think two things.

Lets start with the positive.

I’ve had great experiences and developed countless personal relationships as a result of sports.  Going to a sporting event is still one of my favorite experiences.  To be in a stadium with 20 thousand or more fans all wanting the same thing is an unbelievable experience.  Meet people, catch up with old friends, experience the joy of your team winning in the final seconds.  Those are all, I think, beneficial to the individual.  Some people have other ways of finding personal connection but I have found that this way works pretty well for me, and a lot of others to.

But why how can following sports be bad for an individual?

Sports have a lot of noise.  In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb points out the important distinction between noise and signals.  Because of technology, information has never been more easily accessible.  The problem with this, he argues, is that because we have so much of it, over 99% of information is noise.  In other words, it is irrelevant information that we tend to ignorantly draw conclusions from.  It’s information far too complex to understand or explain.

For example, people on (and off) TV spend hours analyzing college football (substitute any sport) each year.  The “experts” on TV have access to more stats and information about college football than ever before, yet they still aren’t any closer to predicting how the season will unfold than they were 20 years ago.  Just last year most of the “experts” picked auburn to finish in the bottom of the SEC West.  They went on to win the SEC and were seconds away from the National Title.

Think about that.  Some of these guys get paid 6 figure salaries to analyze everything they can about SEC football.  They probably spend 40+ hours per week watching film and reading analysis (aka consuming noise).  At the end of the day, they are usually wrong.  If they were truly experts, then they would be in Vegas making a living gambling, but they’re not experts.[1]

When my friend asked me “What do you want to do?”  I didn’t have a clear answer.  However after thinking about the role of sports in my life, I’ve realized that may not be the best question.

Perhaps, I should ask myself “What do I not want to do?”[2]

I do not want to consume noise.

I do not want to spend hours a day reading articles on espn.com about LSU’s new recruiting class and how it will affect the next three years (too complex to predict anyways).  That’s noise.

I do not want to watch the Grizzlies pregame show to find out the analysis for tonight’s matchup vs the Atlanta Hawks.  That’s noise.

I do not want to read the newspaper headlining the most recent girl that was abducted.  It’s a rare incident that plays at our emotions and gives us an irrational fear which hinders our ability to grow as individuals.  That’s noise.

Since this became more clear, last night I went through my twitter and facebook feeds.

NBA on ESPN…unfollow… Pat Forde…unfollow…  CBSsports… unfollow…  Bill Simmons…unfollow… LSUfootball…unfollow

This doesn’t mean I won’t go to the Grizz game the next time I’m in Memphis, or even watch the game tonight.  But this will help, at least a little bit, remove useless noise from my life.
So for 2015, I’m not really sure what I want to do.  I can, however, pretty easily identify what I do not want to do.  So I’ll start by eliminating things I do not want.  Then, with time, maybe, something I do want from life will be staring me right in the face.

  1. I’ve been told by someone who does analysis for college basketball on TV that sometimes the analysts don’t even watch the games, and still give their opinion.  It makes sense if you think about it.  I could look at a box score of any football or basketball game and bullshit a pretty convincing argument as to why the score is the score without watching anything. So at best, these “experts” on TV are really just good TV personalities.
  2. Tim Ferris explains that sometime a “not to do” list can be better than a “to do” list here.

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Wil Slatery - January 13, 2015

Solid stuff here!!! You are heading in the right direction

    Will Boucek - January 13, 2015

    I appreciate the words of encouragement Wil. Hope everything is well!!

Elizabeth (Buchignani) Boone - January 13, 2015

So much noise… so sadly true. Enjoyed reading your thoughts. With so much of your life ahead of you you have time to figure these things out. I honestly believe realizing what you don’t want is as important as finding what you do want. It can lead to life changing decisions. Happy New Year, hope 2015 brings you health and happiness.

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