Saturday, March 29, 2014

Degrees of Freedom or N minus 1

When choreographing a song, there are an infinite number of possibilities of what movement to use.  As I go through a song, the possibilities are narrowed because (for my purposes) I really only want to have 3 or 4 combinations, as this makes the dance easier to learn.

In statistics, there is a term, “degrees of freedom.”  This means that if, for example, you are working with 10 subjects in an experiment, when you choose the first subject to study, there are 10 choices (or degrees of freedom).  When you choose the second subject, you now have 9 degrees of freedom, and so on.  When you get to the 10th subject, you have no other choice, so “degrees of freedom” is defined mathematically as n (the number, in this case 10) minus 1.

I found this concept fascinating, especially because I was considering it from an adult perspective rather than the teenage/young adult point of view I had when I first learned about it.

When I am going down a certain path, whether it is a personal or professional issue, I try to make the best “right” decision, moment-to-moment.  It’s like, “OK, what’s the next right step NOW?”  I used to (and it’s a hard habit to break) try to look ahead and make decisions based on what I imagined was going to happen.  It didn’t work well.

I find that we do have degrees of freedom in our lives.  We make one decision, and then take the next step and the next until finally there is a point at which there is only one decision, one door, to choose.  When enabling a person we love, we choose every step to “help” – but sometimes those steps are not helpful.  Yet we try them again and again because we can’t bear to choose that last degree of freedom.  It’s too scary.  So instead of going forward, we go backward or in circles. In the end, though, we are faced with that last degree.  There’s one choice left.  So we close our eyes, take a deep breath, and choose that last degree of freedom because nothing else has worked.  

There is a strange comfort when we are finally faced with that one choice, the extreme, the one we swore we’d never do.  But when it’s the only one left, we just have to take the leap.

What I’ve found is that, even though that final degree is the scary one, every step I took that I felt was right led to this final one.  And this final choice, no matter how hard, has produced results that I thought I would never see.  It was worth it.  It put me and those I love on another, better path.

I am forever grateful to this process.

What is your final degree of freedom?  When you get to your n-1, it can set you free.