Sunday, September 22, 2013
Football, Losing, & Bad Behavior
But what happens after a loss? You know, besides occasionally swearing at my television and maybe punching a pillow. Might there be some unintended changes to my behavior based on a loss or, worse, an entire losing season? An NPR story provided some interesting insights and it turns out, yes, there are notable consequences for fans of losing sports teams.
Researchers analyzed the eating behavior of fans immediately after NFL wins and losses in cities with NFL teams. Somewhat unsurprisingly, fans ate worse (more calories & more saturated fat) after a loss. Totally surprisingly, fans actually ate better than they normally would (less calories & less saturated fat) after a win. In the most football crazed cities (Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia), the results were even more dramatic: a loss lead to an 28% increase in saturated fat consumption; a win led to a 16% decrease in saturated fat consumption. Even memories of past victories & old defeats led to the same eating behavior.
Interestingly, fans become more future oriented after a win (leading to better behaviors) and more present oriented after a loss (leading to behaviors that had a short term pay off but negative consequences in the longer term). On a more dire note, the study found that consequences go even further than basic overeating. Sports losses (especially football loses) increased chances of heart attacks, domestic violence, & traffic fatalities.
The recurring lesson is that we are more susceptible to outside influences than we'd like to think. We are not always very aware of our behavior, and in those moments we can be nudged towards atypical behavior by external events.
What's the parallel to personal finance? In our financial lives (and every sphere of our lives), we have some habitual behaviors that are triggered by outside events over which we have little or no control, and we're likely not cognizant of these habits. We might shop for new clothing or electronics when we have a particularly bad day. Some people gamble when they are anxious. Others might run up a credit card balance during if they're going through a rough patch. Even keeping up with the Jones is driven by external factors: when our peers & neighbors flaunt a big purchase, it's natural to feel the urge to similarly flaunt (or make) one of your own.
My wife and I are no different. Now that Mrs. Done by Forty is leaving for Peru on Tuesday, we both are feeling bunch of negative emotions: stress & depression, mostly. One of the bad ways we're dealing with this is by completely ignoring the restaurant & date night budget. Since returning from my hike, we've made just about every night a "date night". And a lot of lunches have turned into "date lunches", too. Okay, fine, we've had some breakfasts out & had doughnuts ordered in as well. Basically, every meal is now a date & an excuse to spend money eating out together, "this one last time".
Like most bad habits, there is some small upside that lures us back to the behavior over & over again. I like not having to think about or prepare our meals. Not having to do dishes is a nice perk. But the food isn't that healthy and there's a sinking, awful feeling when I think about what our end of month budget is going to look like. Naturally, just to complete the cycle of bad behavior, I haven't tracked our spending in weeks so I have no clear idea how over budget we are. I've decided, for now, to just wait until Mrs. Done by Forty leaves, because I don't want our last days to be burdened with the sad realization that we've destroyed our budget. Due to the negative feelings associated with our coming time apart, we are now completely present oriented, just like the NPR study stated people typically are after an NFL loss. We're thinking short term. Anything that sounds good right now is the thing we want to do. We'll deal with the future tomorrow. Or not.
So, what's the lesson? What can we do to make better decisions when we're faced with somewhat negative situations that are outside of our control? The research indicates that when people are reminded of the things that are most important in their lives (family, friends, enjoyable hobbies) the net impacts of a defeat are lessened. If sports fans thought about the things that were truly important after their team lost, they ate better & avoided the other negative impacts from the defeat. So after the Steelers lose tonight, I'll have to remind myself to write a little, call a buddy, and kiss my wife goodnight.
Thanks for reading, as always, & here we go, Steelers.
*Photo is from Daveynin from Flickr Creative Commons.