Maintain Motivation

Know Thyself

Have you ever tried using accountability in order to achieve a goal of some kind? For some people, they work wonders.

Have you ever heard someone say, "If you want to do X, why don't you just do it? For some people, it really is that simple.

Or maybe you've heard someone say that waking up early is the key to being successful in life. Because, yeah, that works very well for some people.

But what if one, two, or all three of things don't work for you? Is there something wrong with you? Why can all of these other people achieve success through these methods, but not you?

First, the problem:

Advice is autobiography.

When something works for a person, they are naturally inclined to recommend that method of doing things to other people.

Our goal right now is learning Japanese. And there are a number of lifestyle tweaks and study tactics to make the achievement of that goal more likely. But they differ from person to person.

One of the best explorations of how different people react to expectations (e.g. the expectation that you will show up for that meeting on time, read a Japanese lesson every day, etc.) is bestselling author Gretchen Rubin's book The Four Tendencies.

First, Rubin divides expectations into two categories: inner and outer. Inner expectations are things you expect yourself to do (e.g. New Year's Resolutions, trying to learn Japanese, etc.) and outer expectations are things other people (appear to) expect from you (e.g. making a big dinner for your visiting relatives, completing a work or school assignment, etc.).

She then goes on to divide people into four categories:

  • Upholder (meets both inner and outer expectations)
    "I do what others expect of me — and what I expect from myself."
  • Questioner (meets inner expectations)
    "I do what I think is best according to my judgment. If it doesn't make sense, I won't do it."
  • Obliger (meets outer expectations)
    "I do what I have to do. I hate to let others down, but I often let myself down."
  • Rebels (resist all expectations)
    "I do what I want in my own way. If you tell me to do something, I'm less likely to do it."

So if you're an Obliger, for instance, you probably won't achieve your Japanese study goals unless you are held accountable to one or more other people. In short, you benefit from accountability systems.

If you're an Upholder, on the other hand, you'd probably benefit form using the "Almighty Study Chain" that we'll talk about later in this course. You put studying on the calendar, and it gets done.

If you're a Questioner, then you'll probably stick to this study system... if , after reading it, you think that it makes sense.

Finally, if you're a Rebel, your only hope, it would seem, is deeply wanting to learn Japanese.

I won't get too much into the details of her book, since you can just read it, if you want to learn more about how you respond to expectations.

Rather, the point I want to make is that if you do not understand how you respond to expectations (such as a daily study goal), then you are much less likely to succeed.

I mention Rubin's book because it's the best I've seen on the subject yet. It's also the only explanation I've come across that helped me to understand why I so deeply despise accountability systems. The moment I feel "locked" into doing something, I tend to resist, to run away — to rebel, if you will. Because apparently I'm a Rebel.

I guess it explains why I'm so good at forming new habits that I truly want to form, but I tend to let people down when they want me to do something I don't want to do. (A lifelong problem for me.)

So take some time to figure out the types of approaches that have worked for you in the past. Do you feel like you need a class to learn something, that "just a book" never seems to be enough for you? You're probably an Obliger.

Once you (1) have a study system (e.g. this course!) and (2) understand the approaches that work for you when taking on a new task, then all that's left is to...

Have Faith

Wait. Hear me out, please.

This is not a motivational speech about how you have to believe in yourself... although believing in yourself will indeed make this journey smoother.

Instead, I would like to argue for believing in your chosen study system.

Unless you are a paragon of willpower, a deity of discipline, there will come a time in your studies when you think one or more of the following, maybe all of the following.

I'm not making any progress.

At this rate, I'll never master Japanese.

This isn't working.

There are a lot of reasons that we have thoughts like this. The first is that getting good at Japanese takes hundreds of hours and mastering Japanese takes thousands of hours. (Luckily, accumulating dozens of hours per month isn't very difficult once you reach an advanced level.)

Another reason we have these thoughts is that we are biologically programmed to avoid the uncomfortable, the unpleasant, the difficult. Our bodies seeks comfort, safety.

Unfortunately, self-realization and the accomplishment of life-changing goals require that one be uncomfortable. Studies of high-performing individuals indicate that they are skilled at doubling down when things get difficult. A fantastic example:

I don't count my sit-ups; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.
— Muhammad Ali

To put it simply, the great have grit. There's a nice book on that, too, by the way, which is called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

I think these realizations about grit can be misleading. The conclusion people jump to seems to be, "Oh, I should just tough it out. Stick with it."

Well, maybe. But is "sticking it out" sustainable long-term?

In my case, almost certainly not. One thing that does help me, though, is noticing the logical flaws in my grit-resistant thoughts. Because we don't just get discouraged and then quit. Instead, we get discouraged, then convince ourselves to quit.

So I make a point to avoid letting "loser logic" guide my actions. My subconscious wants me to avoid doing the difficult, the uncomfortable, and it makes up all kinds of arguments in order to achieve this goal, making me think:

Maybe learning a language just isn't for me.

It's not even practical for me to learn Japanese. I'll never use it in my career.

It would be smarter to study something more valuable.

Instead of allowing this loser logic to guide our actions, we should have faith in our study system.

We have already established that consistent, long-term exposure to level-appropriate materials guarantees that we will master Japanese. Other people are proof of this. The "logical" act, therefore, is to have faith that the same will happen for us... if we just stick to our studies.

Maybe I can't always believe in myself, but I can always believe in my system.

But how do we find the energy to get up when we've been knocked down? Knowing a system works isn't always enough to motivate ourselves to follow it faithfully.

As mentioned above, knowing how you respond to expectations and adjusting your approach accordingly, can help. Another thing that has helped me is...

Vision Exercises

A while back, I decided to learn to speak Korean. Half of Rei's family is Korean, and her Korean sister has these absolutely fantastic kids:

I really want to be able to talk to Rei's Korean family. I want to be able to hang out with these kids and chat with them as they grow older. I want to be able to enjoy some drinks with my new Korean cousins, none of whom are very good at English or Japanese. So, I'm studying Korean.

But there's a problem. I can't seem to fit it into my daily schedule. Since I have to dedicate 4-6 hours per day to my writing and translating job, and I also work on this site 4-6 hours per day (usually including weekends), I am pressed for time. And my Korean studies suffer.

I think about quitting all the time. But one surprising thing keeps me going: Taking an afternoon stroll.

I try to go for a 1-2 hour walk every afternoon. It clears my head. There's something therapeutic about being outside, coming across other people and animals just trying to survive in their own way.

On my walk, I listen to loops of Japanese or Korean sentences (more on that later), audio lessons, or, when I'm feeling a bit lazier, podcasts.

I've found that when I listen to loops of Korean sentences I can't help but imagine what life will be like in the future when I am able to speak Korean. I start imagining myself chatting with my family members, ordering a coffee at a cafe in Jeju, sipping makkoli with my uncle-in-law.

As a result, I get excited about learning Korean. And I maintain faith. I don't have time to study right now, but I will have time to study eventually. Until then, I'll maintain a very slow improvement rate via these audio loops, getting ready for the months in the future when I can dive into my studies like a madman.

This is essentially a vision exercise, and it is an immensely beneficial activity.

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