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Jun 21, 2012

Live in the (Japanese) Moment

Modern society loves to plan and think ahead. We've got to have a goal and a mission for everything we do. While this can help us to achieve our dreams, it can also hold us back from actually getting started on anything. As part of my attempts to simplify, I've been thinking more about living in the moment. As it turns out, living in the moment is a great principle to use for learning Japanese.

We overestimate our abilities for the day

If you try to set out plans for how you'll study Japanese, odds are that you'll overload yourself with goals. “Learn 50 kanji, add 30 sentences, complete all reviews, read a volume of manga, write an entry for Lang-8...” and so on and so forth. While those are all great goals that would really move your Japanese learning along, you're most likely not going to have the energy for even a fraction of that – especially not when you have such a daunting list of things to do hanging over your head. That's not to say that such goals would be impossible to meet, but the effort would probably make you sick of Japanese within a week.

We underestimate how much we can do in a week/month/year

Instead of setting goals for each day that would leave you exhausted, using modest goals and time can be much more effective. This type of goal-setting would aim to complete less in a day, but repeat those results every day. In place of having a single day with amazing productivity followed by a few days of burn out, you get a constant, gentle forward movement. Maintaining those goals each day will lead to a gradual build-up over a week, month, or year. By aiming to do less in each day, we can do much more in the grand scheme of things. Plus, if you're less worried about rushing to get things completed and instead take your time to enjoy the process, then you're bound to spend more time in Japanese.

Goals are fine and all, but how about...

Instead of worrying about goals and the future so much, we instead think about the present moment. Japanese is a long-term process that is really just a matter of putting in the time, so instead of planning out each step all the way to fluency, just think about the next step. The question that you should ask yourself every moment of every day is, “How can I get closer to Japanese right now.” Forget about being some machine of efficiency in learning the language, just focus on doing something in Japanese. Immersing yourself in the language and spending time actually using the language will guide you to the things that you need to learn. You don't need to follow a rigorous lesson plan, just learn the things you come in contact with naturally.

So what does all of this mean?

Just let go. You don't need to meticulously plan each phase of your learning. Do the things that are fun or that interest you and learn the Japanese that you encounter. Instead of learning random facts that someone else decided were important, you'll be learning the Japanese that is immediately useful to you. Don't put off using the language for the distant future when you're “ready,” get out there and experience it. Live in the Japanese moment and learn what matters to you. 

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