Setting Short Easy Goals Allowed me to Win at Japanese

The day I started my Japanese-learning journey, I set my first Japanese-learning goal. “I want to be fluent in Japanese by this time next year.” Don’t be too harsh, I was a naive kid. Well, it seemed like a pretty easy goal to achieve at the time. As you can probably imagine my great expectations didn’t last very long.

It’s easy to laugh at now but in reality this is how most people set goals for themselves. I like to call this the New Year’s resolution syndrome because every year, without fail, about half of the U.S. population makes stupid goals like these that sound really smart at the time but never work. “I want to lose weight this year!” “I want to save more money!” “I want to quit smoking and donate my kidneys to the Red Cross!” Then everybody forgets about them a week into January.

The problem with these goals is that they’re too unspecific and so vague that nobody can ever figure out if they’re one step closer to reaching their goal or not or they simply require too much willpower. So today I’m gonna teach you about two things that will make all your dreams come true – how to set specific goals and give yourself quick wins.

Make it specific.

If you actually want to get things done, the first thing you want to do is be specific. You want to make goals you can actually achieve. Let’s say your goal is to watch anime without those ugly English subtitles. What the heck does that even mean? What do you want to do? Be able to watch it? Be able to understand it? Be able to understand every single word and grammar point and cultural reference? I have no idea. Do you want to be able to understand every single anime ever created? The ten on your to-watch list? Your favorite? You need to make your goal specific or you’ll never even know when you’ve achieved it.

2424198118_70c5a5df49_oMake it easy.

The next thing you need to do is give yourself a lot of quick, easy wins. The idea is to basically break down your big, grandiose dreams into small, easily-achievable bite-sized pieces and focusing on completing those.

So let’s say you’ve narrowed things down a bit. You want to be able to understand the majority of 夏目友人帳 (a fine choice if I may say so) even if you don’t understand every line completely. That’s a good goal. You get a gold star.

Next it’s time to break that into small, easy-to-complete tasks that you can do every day or so. Write it down. Maybe your first day is ripping the DVDs and finding Japanese subtitles for it. That’s something you can complete pretty easily. Do that and you win. There’s your quick win.

The second day is using Subs2SRS to make a bunch of Anki cards for it. Spend the next month studying a third of an episode worth of words every day. Spend an hour a day on it and you can get it done. Stick them on your calendar and put a smiley face on each day as you complete it. Congratulations, you can now understand your very own anime series.

Without clear, definable goals and quick wins, you’d probably still be moping that those dumb Japanese people talk too fast. It is very motivating to be able to watch yourself making progress. Having a lot of short, easy goals that will move you toward your main goal sounds a lot better than just having one big goal and hoping or praying or something that one day you’ll be able to reach it.

As much as we like to believe we’re really self-disciplined, most of us really do not have a lot of willpower. I’ll be the first to admit I have terrible self-discipline. Personally I’d rather be playing Touhou right now. So it’s important to do things that don’t require a lot of willpower.

These principles can be applied to any goal you may have, Japanese-related or otherwise. Is your goal to be able to hold your own in a conversation about Gundam? Hey, I don’t judge. Maybe the first step can be to find ten Japanese people on Facebook who really like Gundam. The next step can be to contact those ten people. Want to be able to run a 5K next Spring? Find a specific date for a race. Look for a running program (in Japanese) with easy progressions.

You don’t have to compartmentalize your entire Japanese-learning life into goals, but I’ve found that setting good goals does help you stay on track.

A few other free, bonus tips for getting your goals done:

Don’t take on too many goals.

Having a big long list of goals you want to accomplish is fine, but only take on a few at a time. You only have so many hours in a day. The more things you try to cram in a day will only give you less time to spend doing everything else. I have a lot of goals. I want to learn how to play the piano, be able to draw things that don’t look like crap, write a thousand words a day, learn Japanese and three other languages and start a business. But I realized a long time ago that I’m not going to be able to do all of those right now. That’s okay. I’m a patient guy.

When in doubt, make it easier.

If your mini-goals are still too much for you, make them easier. Maybe instead of reading through twenty pages of のんのんびより a day you think you can only read ten. That’s fine. It’s better to do less than to do nothing because you couldn’t muster up enough willpower to do something that was too much work right now.

Break down bigger goals, too.

Obviously reading a 村上春樹 novel in its original language is a far-off goal if you’re just learning your kana. But you can break that down, too. Maybe your first goal will be to read a children’s book, then a manga, then a light novel, and then your final goal. Then break all those up, too. And so on.

So, what are your goals? Getting any closer to reaching them, and could you find some ways to make them clearer and easier to achieve?

Written by: Eric

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


Setting Short Easy Goals Allowed me to Win at Japanese — 13 Comments

  1. Hi,Eric!

    This article makes me convinced me!

    You’re so talented for writing!

    I like your articles, and I’m looking forward to reading your next one!


      • I believe as long as you talk about what you have already done and not what you plan on having done in X amount of time, then it’s already better haha. But I totally see what you mean

    • Good video. I saw it a while back. I think it can be different for each person, though. I know a lot of people who find a lot of motivation by telling other people about what they’re working on and having them keep them accountable in some situations. I’m with Derek Sivers, though. I’m usually pretty bad at keeping track of my goals once I brag about them to everyone.

  2. I love this article!

    I’m big on goal setting and do a lot of this myself. It helps me evaluate where I am, what I want to do and what small steps this month I can take to get closer to my goal.

  3. My main goals are to improve my listening skills (After a half year I can’t understand almost nothing) and understanding everything if I watch an Anime (but I created mini goals like understanding 50%…). And my last goal is to play Final Fantasy 6 without any problem (works very well because I’ve already played FF 1,2,3,4,5).
    I’m getting better every day and my motivation too ^^

    Sorry for my bad English, but I’ve never learned English properly. Probably I will if I’m done with Japanese ^^ (although a language doesn’t have an end).

    • Good goals! :) One of my goals is understanding a certain anime, too, so I know how you feel. 頑張ってください!^^

      Thanks for your comment! And don’t worry. Your English is great! :)

  4. “The second day is using Subs2SRS to make a bunch of Anki cards for it. Spend the next month studying a third of an episode worth of words every day.”

    Easier said than done… I have just spend the last 5-6 hours trying to get this program to work with no success.. I have heaps of movies, but it is very hard to find subtitle files that match the video…

    Does anyone have a few anime/movie/drama decks they have successfully made? Care to upload to shared decks?

    90% of the links on the sub2srs website are broken…

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