Updates for August 25, 2014:

+The site has MOVED. If you still see this page, please clear your web browser cache and go to

Feb 23, 2013

How to make your dreams a reality

It's hard to find the time or energy to get the “extra” things done in life. We make it to work or class because we have to, but after that it's hard to get into the mindset to work on hobbies or develop the skills we want – such as learning Japanese. Lately I've been trying to find the time for the things that matter, and here's a list of the strategies I've used.

Decide what you want.

The first thing I first noticed when I started trying to "do more" is that I would list everything out that I could possibly want to do. It was a really long list, and with all that stuff to do where was I supposed to start? What did I want to do the most? There's no way I could ever get it all done. That's when I realized that I didn't really want most of it.

I was writing down every little thing that I thought I wanted, but the majority of it wasn't important. Did I really need to organize my socks? Heck no. So to counteract my habit of writing down every little thing that I thought I wanted to do, I made a limit of about three things per day. I honestly don't have the energy to do more than that, so it helps me to find what I really want and get it done.

Hint: Learning Japanese should be on that list every day!

Find the time of day that you get things done.

Most of us like to sleep until something forces us to wake up. Usually it's school or work that finally gets us up and out of the bed, then we rush off to face the day. By the time that duty is over, the day is done and it's time to relax. Who wants to start studying after a long day of work? So we put it off until tomorrow, and then an entire week goes by without any contact with Japanese. A great strategy that I've used in the past, and that I'm embracing anew lately, is waking up early to do the things I really care about.

Now, I'm not saying that you have to wake up at five in the morning every day to learn Japanese, but what you should do is experiment with studying at various times of the day. We all have a time of day that we really get things done – our period of peak efficiency. For me, I found that my most efficient time of day was right after waking up, which meant that I was wasting the best hours of my day going through a mindless pre-departure routine and commuting! How did I fix this? By waking up 2-4 hours earlier than usual to do my real work.

Your peak time of day may be very different from mine. As a good example, one of my roommates does his best work in the middle of the night. So when he has a project deadline approaching, he'll go to bed at four in the afternoon and wake up at midnight, then work on his project all night until he has to leave in the morning. He's found his peak time and he adjusts his schedule to fit around it.

So to sum it up:
  • Find the time of day that you feel energized and motivated
  • Schedule yourself around that time so that you can get things done

Put yourself in position to succeed.

The concept of momentum is quite useful in getting yourself motivated. We often set lofty goals and focus on achieving them as if they were a single, massive chunk. Just as with making a list with too many things to do, you'll be overwhelmed with finding a starting place to ever do anything. So don't make huge goals or focus on making a lot of progress each day – aim smaller.

For an example, instead of setting the goal to learn 50 new kanji every day, set the goal to be sitting at your desk with your kanji study tools and just start learning new kanji. Once you get started, you'll find it easier to keep going. You might even achieve that goal of 50 new kanji on the way, or perhaps go beyond that, but that's just a byproduct of achieving your real goal – to show up and START learning every day.

The same idea applies to many other choices we make each day. If you come home and plop down on the couch in front of your TV, odds are that you'll turn it on and start watching it. Or if you get on your computer with no real goal in mind, you're destined to end up on reddit or refreshing Facebook for hours. Try to think about what you're promoting. If you instead pulled out your Japanese study tools and then sat down at the computer and opened Anki, then you're more likely to start on your reps. Put yourself in a position to do what matters.

Make an appointment with yourself.

We make appointments and schedules for getting to work/school and for getting those assignments done, but what about for hobbies or personal interests? Do we ever set aside a specific time to enjoy those things? Probably not. Instead we say that those things can wait until “later,” which usually translates to approximately “never.” So how do we overcome this tendency to put off what really matters? By deciding exactly when it's going to be done.

Get a planner or a calendar and write down when you will start. For example, you could say that at 5:00 in the afternoon you'll start studying Japanese each day. You can be flexible on finding a stopping point, but make sure that you know exactly when you're going to make the time for learning Japanese, jogging, playing an instrument, or whatever else you may have on your list. Pin that vague “later” down and make your dreams a reality.

Stop making excuses.

This is by far the most difficult step. All of our lives we've trained ourselves to be masters at making excuses for why we can't do the things we want. We're too scared to try and fail, so instead we settle for whatever is safe. We run away from trying new things because we've built up this lie that we should never feel the slightest discomfort, that discomfort is bad. Your mind will try to convince you to avoid the unknown, to not take the risk, but by settling to only be comfortable with your current position, you'll never be able to do the things you dream about.

Learning a language is all about dealing with the discomfort of the unfamiliar. When you look at Japanese text and see kanji and kana that you don't know, you feel uncomfortable. The idea of learning such a different writing system causes discomfort, which leads many people to shy away and give up. But do you know what happens when you face that discomfort and start learning despite it? It goes away.

A good example is James Heisig's method for learning kanji. By the end of the first lesson, the kanji change from foreign squiggles to symbols with meaning. After a week of studying with the book you'll probably find that kanji aren't nearly as scary as they were before.

I know that it's hard to stop making excuses, so try this. If you really want something, whether it be to learn Japanese, start going to the gym, or read a novel every week, then let yourself make all of the excuses you can possibly think of. Write them down if you want – all the reasons you shouldn't do it. Then do it anyways. Schedule out starting points through the week and stick to them. If at the end of your first week you haven't felt those excuses melt away, then reconsider if this is something you want. If you really do want it, then you'll keep going. 

No comments:

Post a Comment