Take Action!

Written by Yuri Karabatov. Meet me on Twitter.

Life today is too hectic and fast-paced for anyone willing to achieve a goal.

If you’ve set your language learning goal according to the guidelines in the post “Set Smart Goals — or Else!”, it is measurable.

Measurable goal means you can track it. Want it done? Do track it.

Language learning is all about taking small steps: learn a few words a day, read a few paragraphs, do a few exercises, say a few sentences, listen to foreign speech for a few minutes, review the material of previous days.

Take a small step every day, and in a month you’ll be so far ahead that you won’t see where you’ve started.

It is crucial that you take that step each and every day, or else you stumble.

After you stumble, you start making excuses: “I don’t have time!”, or “I’d rather take a nap”, or “I’m tired”.

You skip a day, then another. You’re disgusted with yourself and your laziness.

You try to forget the negative experience and skip a few more days.

You give up.

Sounds familiar?

How to never give up

I’ve been through all of this myself — many times. Motivation and willpower just can’t be stretched forever.

Fortunately, there’s a simple technique that works for me.

Look at this:

February 2011

This is a list of things I should do every day. The leftmost column is for dates, other columns mark completed steps. Column names are things to do.

It’s a printout of a text file on my desktop which I’ve made with the free GeekTool. If that doesn’t float your boat, use anything to suit your needs: plain paper or a whiteboard.

You must see it many times a day, upwards of ten. I’ll tell you why in a second.

Why an “X” for every day? “X” is mark that you’ve completed your daily small step towards your goal. If you don’t complete it, a blank space makes you feel bad about it. Putting an “X” gives you a small boost of motivation: “I’ve done it!” It works.

Why a whole month? A week is too short. You can go for a week on your own, without any aid. And you’ll have to make a new list every week, it’s too often. A month is perfect. If you can go for a month, you can go for a year.

Why see it many times a day? The chart reminds you every time you see it that you have to make another small step. You don’t think what to do next: you have a plan in front of you. If you didn’t make a step or two, blank spaces will watch you accusingly. Just kidding :) Who doesn’t like a neatly filled chart?

What to put as column names? I put single-word descriptions, like “Write”: I should write at least 750 words every day, or I get stuck the next day.

For my language goal, I put “Read”, “Write”, “Listen” and so on. These sound a bit vague, so every week I compile a small description for each one, like “Read: read 20 pages of manga”, “Write: 10 kanji 10 times each, 10-sentence-long description of my day”.

Remarks

This technique works very well for me, though you see I’ve skipped a few steps here and there. It may or may not work for you, but give it a try for a month. I was skeptic about it first too.

Remember one more thing: just start. Force yourself to start, and one minute later you’ll be enjoying it. Trust me. Try that yourself for a few times :)

And one more thing. These steps might look like they take hours to complete — not at all! One of them takes less than a minute. The others? Depends on how much I want them done. I set deadlines: I’ll do it in 30 minutes and start the timer.

Believe it or not, this technique saves time. I don’t speak for everyone, but if you watch TV or read Facebook for 2.5 hours and then have only a half-hour before bed to do your language learning, you can easily turn that into 2 hours of intense language learning followed by going to bed and catching up on sleep, which is much more effective. Moreover, though it may leave you tired, you’ll be glad and happy to have made essential steps towards your goal: speaking a foreign language.

In short

This simple technique gives you small bumps of motivation you need to take several small steps towards your goal no matter what life throws at you.

If you have any questions or thoughts, share them on Twitter or in the comments!

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