This month an interesting thing happened. I suddenly became productive! Or you’d think so from looking at my Bullet Journal’s month tracker (if you don’t know what a Bullet Journal is, check it out). For the last few days, at least, I’ve been checking off all eleven of my daily language learning goals.
This is unprecedented. I’m usually happy if I meet half my goals for the day.
This example is a reminder of the importance of setting smaller goals. I have just as many goals as ever, but I’m meeting them all now because I redefined them to be smaller and more achievable.
Three of my tasks are flashcard decks. My goal used to be “do all the review reps that are due today.” In the past I’d look those three piles of cards waiting for me to review, cringe, and go find something else to do. This month, my goal became “do at least one review from each deck.” Now I look at the three decks and think “I can do that. Let’s knock ‘em out.”
But wait. Isn’t that cheating? It depends on your perspective. If you believe I was just being lazy before, then yes, by scaling back on my goals I’m just indulging my laziness. On the other hand, if you believe the problem was with my goals themselves, then making them more realistic isn’t cheating at all.
The bottom line is the reality that where before I would often do nothing (and feel guilty about it), now I’m regularly doing one, ten, or even a whole deck’s worth of reviews without hesitation. That’s right: having an exceedingly modest goal (one review!) doesn’t translate into always just doing the minimum. The biggest mental hurdle is usually getting started. Once I’ve done that, it can actually feel easier to keep going to the end than to stop part way.
I made one other innovation this month. I used to have another daily goal, to practice speaking German. This was hard to achieve on days when no language exchange partner was on hand. What was I supposed to do, materialize one from thin air? Building up a language exchange relationship takes time and energy, like any friendship. Again, usually I would just look at this goal, feel guilty, and then find something else to think about.
This month I gave myself an alternative: send a message to at least one potential language exchange partner. Easy enough. Now I have a small, achievable task instead of a big, open-ended project. And the small task is meaningful, because I believe it will help me find more regular conversation partners, and eventually lead to my being able to practice speaking every day. And yes, I’m sending messages every day.
So there you have it: On the one hand, I took an ambitious goal and made it into a tiny, easily achievable goal; on the other hand I took a project and broke it down into smaller, easily achievable tasks. These two ideas are applicable in all sorts of projects and endeavors, but they are especially useful for independent language learning.
Give these ideas a try! How can they help make your language learning goals less intimidating?