Adrienne: As most of us know by now, the Oilers are out of the playoffs –swept by the Winnipeg Jets. It may be hard at this point for Oilers fans to see any upside to this… but our Wellness Columnist thinks there might be some use in last night’s experience. Scott McPherson joins us now. Hi Scott.
Scott: Good afternoon Adrienne
Adrienne: Can mindfulness get us through this painful loss?
Scott: Wasn’t that agonizing? When that shot went in my heart just sank. You know, any time we think about that it will hurt. But: if we’re using our mindfulness wisely, we won’t really want that sting to go away. Because deep down, that pain is important to us. We’re just not trained to think of it in positive terms.
Adrienne: Are there really positive ways to think about pain?
Scott: With the right mindset, there are positive ways to think about anything. If we stop to think about it, the only thing that makes a game exciting is the fear of losing. So in that case we have a positive association with living in fear. Think about it: Even in a market with a great team, every season ticket holder knows they’ve bought somewhere between 20% to 60% losing tickets. But if they thought about it that way they would never buy them.
Who’d accept 20% to 60% edible groceries from the grocery store? Or who’d buy a car that ran 20% to 60% of the time? We generally won’t buy odds that low unless we’re gambling. But in sports the disappointment happens at the end of the game. Up until then, what people are really paying for is the potential to win. And a season ticket holder has that chance for 100% of the games. Yet buying that risk only has value because winning is hard. Because it always carries of the fear or losing with it.
If we were sure at the start of the year that we would win 100% of the games, it wouldn’t be long before no one would go. That would be boring. Because we don’t really ever buy the idea of winning. We just thought that’s what we were doing. But we’ve always been buying fear. And in the playoffs, every game counts, so our fear is heightened. And an elimination game heightens our emotions even more.
Adrienne: So, if we would have won that game it would have been super exciting. But you’re saying we’d only be that excited because the stakes were so high?
Scott: Exactly. That’s our Yin and Yang. It’s why pre-season games are a bit boring. The joy of the victory and the agony of the loss are tied directly together. The fatter one is, the fatter the other is. They’re two sides of the same coin. And in maybe the best example in life, sports culture has taught us to agree to that duality. That means we don’t argue with that part of life in our heads. We happily accept our fear as part of the deal. So we don’t leave because a game gets tense. We get more interested. And because we’re accepting it all, we can even enjoy experiencing the smaller battles, and the little ups and downs along the way. Which makes sports one of the few places where we really will allow ourselves to enjoy the journey. Even if it leads to somewhere we didn’t want to go.
Adrienne: Okay, so that explains why we enjoy watching games and that the losing is part of that. But what do we do now that we’re all bummed out and there are no more games until next season?
Scott: From here we have four major options. First off, we could just keep over-thinking about what we wish would have happened. That’s where we constantly keep comparing what did happen with what we wish happened. And all of our suffering exists in the gap between the two. So that’s the ‘wallowing option.’ But that doesn’t accomplish much. And would just make us sad for no good reason. I wouldn’t recommend that one. That’ll hurt. But we can expect some people will choose that course of thought.
Adrienne: Okay. And what’s our second option?
Scott: Another option would be to switch our identity from being just an Oiler fan, into being a fan for someone else. Then we can just pick another team to cheer for and we can follow them. Our minds are powerful things. A lot of people might remember that a lot of Edmontonians became Albertans, and put on Flames jerseys, when Calgary made their last serious cup run.
Adrienne: But will that feel as exciting as watching the Oilers win?
Scott: No. Not unless we’ve maybe lived in that other place. Or if we love it for some other reason, like if we know a player on their team or something. But otherwise it won’t feel as big or meaningful. We just won’t have that other team wired into as much of our brain. So we’ll experience less impact. But we’ll still feel excited. And the winning would still feel good –provided that other team went more than one round.
Adrienne: Okay, so we can wallow or switch teams. What’s our third option?
Scott: The third is that we just accept what happened. That means we go from being an Oiler fan, to just being a hockey fan. But that idea of ‘acceptance’ means that what we don’t do, is wish for a different history. We have to surrender any thoughts about a different reality. That kind of thinking is futile and we’ll suffer any time we do it. If we really want to move on, that means we have to stop thinking wishful thoughts. Only then can we can watch the rest of the playoffs, but from a more detached perspective. One where we’re not looking for a winner. We’re watching for the skill sets, or the plays.
Adrienne: And what’s our fourth option?
Scott: Our fourth is that we can find something else to occupy our minds. At least until next season, and a new cycle of hope and fear start all over again. And if people really want to stay married to the team itself, they can always focus on the upcoming draft. There’s always something to look forward to. It’s more a matter of whether we look for it or not. If we look to wallow, we’ll suffer. If we find another team to cheer for, or we find a way to keep loving hockey, we can enjoy the rest of the playoffs. Or, we can shift our attention to summer activities until next season.
That leaves us with three ways to enjoy life and only one way to suffer. That’s not bad. Plus, we don’t want to forget, a loss like this is exactly what will make any winning so much better. So in a weird way, while we may not have wished for it, at least we can still be grateful. Because in a very real way, it’s years like this one that create the foundation for all of our excitement when we finally do win that cup.
Adrienne: And what option are you choosing Scott? And if it’s switching teams… who are you going to cheer for now?!
Scott: I do love the drama of having my own team. So I guess either Las Vegas, because they feel like an unfinished Cinderella story. Or, if I get over last night, it might be cool to see Winnipeg win their first cup -since we prevented that so many times in the 80’s. But it’s a pandemic, so mostly I’ll just be grateful that there’s games on at all.
Adrienne: Thanks so much for this Scott. Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at relaxandsucceed.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.
I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me and host Adrienne Pan, for CBC Radio Active‘s Wellness Column, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. She is a great host, and perfect host for a column like this. And when she’s not there, Rod’s great too.
You can listen to the show from 3-6pm, via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca. If nothing external impacts us, we are usually on every second Tuesday, at 5:20pm.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. I will also attach a transcript of the column to the top of this post within a week or so of airing.
The Oilers loss in Game Four has left many fans with unrealized hopes. Many had hoped to translate some playoff success into some much-needed positivity during a very difficult period of time. And it’s true, we could have made good use of the feelings that come easily from winning. But even though that didn’t happen, it is important for us to remember that there are still very productive ways to process a playoff elimination. If we come to understand reality really well, we can begin to appreciate the very special kind of value that can only be created by losing.
That’s what we’ll be covering today. If you get to hear the show and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It’s on from 3-6pm, and they have a great team.
Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.