Saturday, July 02, 2011

I'm taking up juggling again.

In high school, I juggled a fair bit with the St. Ignatius Circus Company. It was sort of fun. Like everything I did those days, I did it for pretty external reasons: extracurricular resume, social status, sweet summer job, third place world championship, etc. After high school, I juggled in the freshman talent show at college, and then not much for the next 7 years.

I've been starting again. Eight reasons:
1. gets me outside on these beautiful beautiful summer days (seriously guys, Seattle is the best place in the universe for half the year)
2. allows me to test habit formation
3. helps me build coordination (maybe?)
4. flow
5. deliberate practice
6. quantified selfing
7. meeting folks
8. to quote C. Thomas Durante, "it's something to do."

Let me first explain how I'm juggling, then I'll talk about a couple of those in a little more depth. I can juggle 3 balls in my sleep. I'd say I'm at the "eggs" level- I could go to the grocery store and juggle 3 eggs, no fear. I'm pretty good with 4- maybe the "oranges" level. A drop is likely enough that I wouldn't juggle 4 eggs, but I'd do oranges. With 5, I'm not at any grocery store level. I can usually get about 20 catches and then I drop or my pattern falls apart and I have to stop. So I'm working on 5 balls, only 5 balls.

Okay, #2, habit formation. I've slowly built up daily habits, slowly slowly, and (stop me if you've heard this before) the key is to do things slowly. I started meditating by sitting down for 5 minutes. I'm learning Hindi at the rate of three words a day. For juggling, I decided to start out with 10 minutes/day. It's easy, but that's the point. 5-10 minutes doing anything is generally enough to get me into the "hey this is kinda neat" stage, and I quit before I'm bored, so I kinda want to do it again tomorrow.

4. It's a test bed for flow. The canonical examples are chess and tennis players, right? They're so totally in the zone that time slows down, they're working hard but completely engaged, they're tossing out these beautiful chess moves or tennis shots, etc. Given that, I'm a little skeptical that something like our daily life can be flowy. If my job involves emailing a dude then reading some papers then writing some code etc... where's the "challenge matched to my ability", or the "instant feedback", or any of this flow-enabling stuff? I mean, I feel like our jobs involve 12 separate tasks, any one of which you could get good at, but all put together they form this sort of generally difficult mess.

5. I guess deliberate practice is in the same vein. Besides external goals, mastery makes things more fun. (and helps you get into flow.) So how do you master something? A lot of deliberate practice. What makes practice deliberate? (and is my juggling deliberate practice?)
- designed to improve performance (sort of. I'm kinda just juggling. If I had a coach or something, I suppose he'd point out particular things to work on and I'd improve faster. Oh well.)
- repeated a lot (daily!)
- continuous feedback (does dropping count?)
- it's demanding mentally (I concentrate pretty hard)
- it's hard (borderline. sometimes I'm just having fun.)
- it requires good goals (is "5 eggs" good? I'm in it for the fun, so I think that counts.)

6. God, I talk a lot! Okay, #6, quantification. Nice test bed for this too: every day I track two things: the number of catches on my first and my last run of the session. (I don't average or anything; I want to get consistently good. Really, maybe I should be measuring the number of catches on my worst run of the day or something, but just counting twice is easier.) I hope I'll have some sort of graph that goes up and to the right. That'll be encouraging.

7. Meeting folks-- perhaps in Asia. Juggling seems like it could cross even linguistic boundaries and provide reasons to start a halting conversation. (and heck, I don't play guitar.)

8. No, seriously, "it's something to do." I have cocktail party trouble sometimes: "what do you do for fun?" "uhh, I do research, and I plan a trip?" Juggling is at least a nice stupid human trick.

I guess all these reasons are pretty well encompassed by Matt Cutts's 4-minute Ted talk. 30-day trials sound like good ways to change your life slowly.

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