Friday, July 16, 2010

Hot Air Ballons, Weight Loss, and Piano

The Internet has covered a lot of off-the-wall topics since Al Gore gave it to us decades ago.

Bacon taped on a cat.
Bluhd ("not funny!").
"My-lah-HEE! My-lah-HOO! My-la-HA-HA!"

(You choose your own 15 minute phenomenon.)

But never in the history of the Interwebs have these three topics mashed into a cohesive whole. I will now attempt to rectify this unfortunate gap in our collective consciousness.

I am told, from those who know considerably more about it than I do*, that piloting a hot air balloon requires two things: careful attention to detail, and the ability to plan well in advance. The reasons for this are few and simple. First, you only have so many controls at your disposal. You can add heat to the balloon to increase lift. The same effect can be derived by reducing weight, which requires throwing things or occupants out of the basket**. Your other control is to do nothing, thereby gradually cooling the balloon, and decreasing lift. That's it. That's all you got. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of the wind, updrafts / downdrafts, or rope tethering you to the ground.

* - I know basically nothing about this, so it wouldn't be hard to find someone who knew more.

** - Is that what they call it? I wanted to use the word "Canopy" here, but I couldn't pull the trigger on it. See, I told you I know very little about this.

The main difficulty here, and the thing that requires careful planning, is that any adjustments you make on these controls take quite some time to manifest themselves. Depending on conditions, it may be 30 seconds, perhaps even a minute before you notice any change in the balloon's behavior. Novices, then, tend to over-correct course, out of fear that they didn't do enough. This can be a little dangerous, as once a balloon builds momentum in a certain direction, it tends to maintain it. Extreme corrections will produce extreme results, just not right away. An expert balloon pilot, like an expert automobile driver, politician, surgeon, teacher, athlete, or what have you, gets the job done effortlessly, with few adjustments and a keen eye on subtle results.

I have a weight loss / fitness level theory based on the concept of piloting a hot air balloon. Over the years, I have tried to foist this theory onto my poor wife about a dozen times. As an Exercise Science major in college, she is significantly better informed on this topic, which makes her approval of my thoughts and ideas in this space very important to me. So the fact that I have yet to get her to buy into my theory is a little deflating*, I must say.

* - Heh. See what I did there?

Anyway, my theory goes like this: losing weight (and achieving a desired fitness level) works just like piloting a hot air balloon. There are only so many adjustments you can make. The course corrections you implement take longer to manifest themselves than you'd think. Folks can think that their efforts are in vain, and give up before results should have been expected. You see the parallel here, I hope. The most important thing is to stick with the plan, then make subtle adjustments downstream as necessary. Because once positive momentum is obtained, it actually isn't that much tougher to keep it going in the right direction.

The corollary is that this works both ways, of course. Negative behavior patterns may not manifest themselves immediately, either, but it's the negative momentum you generate that is the bigger problem. One day sitting on the couch* makes sitting on the couch the next day just that much easier. Skip a day on the treadmill, and the next day is much more likely to be skipped. Eat badly one day, and you may as well have those potato chips the next day, too, what does it matter? And so on.

* - We need a new metaphor here. I know of nobody who actually sits on couches, by the way. We have four couches in our house, and they go pretty much unused. Recliners, on the other hand...

Now to piano. Works the exact same way. I don't believe single practice sessions, single lessons, or even learning single pieces of music make a measurable impact in my ability to play the instrument. It's the cumulative effect that does the trick. And the effect is not easily observed. In fact, not at all observable at first (at least, not for me, anymore). But the day-to-day improvement, derived from consistent contact with the piano / keyboard... this is where it is at. The more you do this, the better you get, and the more, in turn, you do this. Positive momentum begets more (both qualitatively and quantitatively) positive momentum.

And, unfortunately, it works both ways. Skip a day, skip a week. Bemoan your lack of progress. Skip another week because, wow, this is hard, and you haven't really improved in a few months. Is this even worth it after all?

In each case, piloting a balloon, building a better diet / fitness regimen, and practicing piano, the answer to fixing the problem is the same: do something. Nothing drastic, but change the unwanted pattern. Then be patient as the results come, which they inevitably will. Once you see those, observe them closely, and make subtle changes as necessary.

- Aw2pp, preachin' the Blues.

1 comment:

ral said...

I just attended the Stanford Jazz Workshop Residency program -- a week of total immersion with fellow music students (all ages, all skill levels).

One of the big points the teachers made in the piano master classes is that progress in music is gradual. Don't expect to learn something new or make a big jump overnight.

One example: in practice, incorporate an exercise where you play each and every note with total clarity. If you can't manage it, slow down until you can do it every time. Then, set a long goal (say, 2 months) of increasing the tempo, but each day or each week increase the tempo only a little bit. Use a metronome! After 2 months, you will have more than doubled the tempo.

It was a fantastic experience -- a little bit of terror (I had to perform on a big stage with a combo) but I learned a huge amount, including a years-long list of new things to learn.