5th January 2010

(More Next Steps articles.)

Let's talk about cycles

Should you maximise strengths, or should you minimise weaknesses?

Site logs

I was looking through the Jivetango site traffic logs today (yes, I know, it's sad but it beats working for a living), and I noticed that there's a natural set of "peaks and troughs" throughout the week. Typically, there's a lot of interest in the site around mid-week, but it tends to die away towards the weekend, and then it picks up again afterwards.

So there's an interesting question here: if I assume that people look mainly at the new entries on the site, should I try to use this pattern in some way? For example, should I publish entries on Tuesdays, to attempt to maximise the "peaks"? Or should I publish on the weekend, to bring up the "troughs"?

In reality, I publish entries when I have them to publish, and when I have the spare time to do so. And I suspect that people look at the site when they also have the spare time to do so. However, if I were running a commercial site, then it'd be best to publish material when the most people are likely to see it. So probably, I should attempt to maximise the peaks, rather than minimise the troughs.


Another example: economics.

Keynesian economics, in as far as I understand it, is largely concerned with stabilising output over the business cycle. Basically, it tries to minimise the troughs to reduce the pain, at the expense of also reducing the height of the peaks. I may be simplifying a little here, of course... But countercyclical policies are ones that cool down the economy when it is in an upswing, and stimulate the economy when it is in a downturn.

Alternatively, Milton Friedman proposed Monetarism, which - and again I'm keeping it me-level simple - focusses on price stability, and lets the business cycle take care of itself, no matter what the consequences.

You have a point...?

Beyond wibbling on about economics, yes.

Cycles are common in everyday life. How can they apply to Tango? Let's have a look...

The Tango learning cycle

There's a "Highs and Lows" feeling you get when you learn tango. In summary, sometimes it goes well, sometimes it goes badly. Of course, this happens when learning other dance styles, or pretty much anything for that matter, but for some reason the feeling seems more acute with the Tango learning experience.

In this case, I'd suggest that, whilst the "pattern" is largely psychological, it's also real. There are real breakthroughs; "lightbulb moments" in the learning process. Similarly, there are periods where, rightly or wrongly, you feel like you're not making any progress at all; you'll feel stalled, or maybe even feel that you're going backwards.

There are a number of coping strategies to deal with the "lows"; I outlined a few in my previous article. But in line with the theme of this article, an interesting follow-up question is: should you go with this cycle, or attempt to alleviate it? In tango, should you be Milton or Keynes?

Keynesian Tango

A Keynes-ian approach to tango would be to learn at a constant pace, no matter how you're feeling about your progression.

Personally, I tend to bull my way through regardless; so I guess I'm more in the Keynes camp. But there's also a very good case for saying the opposite: when you're "in the zone", make use of it and push it, and when you're stalling, take some time out and relax.

One of the benefits of this approach is that you can keep to a constant schedule of learning. If you go to a class or a practice every week, then you've built yourself a routine, and you're forcing yourself to learn and work on your dancing, no matter what. So there's predictability and regularity built-in.

One of the problems of this approach is that you may, some of the time, be wasting your money, because you're simply not always ready to learn what is being taught at any given time.

Monetarist Tango

A Milton Friedman tango approach would be to take advantage of your times of greatest productivity to learn the most, and to avoid classes in times of stagnation.

One of the benefits of this approach is that you can gain the most bang for your buck - when you're learning in a good state, you can get the most from the process. Similarly, when you're in a stalled phase, you can relax and maybe do something else.

One of the problems of this approach is that you don't always know when these periods occur - they're often only realised when you're either in the middle of them, or in hindsight. It's very rare that you can predict when you'll be in a good place to learn, and when you won't; sometimes these "cycles" are day-by-day fluctuations.

So what to do?

So, what should you do? Should you recognise this pattern? Should you try to take advantage of it? Or should you try to "manage" it?

The short answer is, I have no idea.

With web sites, it may make sense to maximise the peaks. With the economy, it may make sense to minimise the troughs.

I suspect, as with all learning, it'll vary for different people. But I think there's worth in posing and considering the question, even if you don't have an answer.

~ David Bailey, 5th January 2010

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