Is it Better to Set your Language Goals Low or High?

We set goals. That’s life. That’s Japanese learning. When we set goals, we want to achieve them. That’s their purpose. While accomplishing a goal is of utter importance, how you actually set a goal can change everything. Do you set your goals high or do you set them  low, and which is going to yield the greatest rewards?

The Grand Goals

Before getting into high/low goals, let’s talk about grand goals. These are the ones that encompass your entire journey to fluency. Everyone has them.


1. Become fluent in Japanese
2. Be able to watch TV without subtitles.
3. Be able to read Japanese books.

These are far reaching goals, that regardless of how optimistic you are, you know will take a long time. These goals give meaning to your study.

But they aren’t the typical goals you set with specifics in mind. You can’t really outline and plan a time-frame, especially when you are beginner and you don’t know how you study yet, how long it’ll take, and what’s reasonable for you. Even as you level up, you never accurately know how much is left until you reach your grand goal.

Grand goals need to be broken down into things that you know you can achieve and can measure what finishing them feels like. They turn into specific goals, and can bet set high or low.

Taking the high or low road

Low. I’m going to read one book this month
High: I’m going to read 4 books this month

Low: I’m going to learn 150 flash cards this month
High: I’m going to learn 1,000 flash cards this month

What are the pros/cons of each type?

1. Setting your goal low

+ You are more likely to complete it, which builds confidence.
+ When you complete it, you are likely to do more than you originally planned.
+ Starting is the hardest part of any goal. Starting on a low goal is easier and once you start, continuing is not a problem.
+ Upon completion it is easy to set your next low goal.
ー Even if you complete a goal, the results are minimal.
ー It takes you longer to reach your grand goal.

2. Setting your goal high

+ You gain more results from achieving it.
+ It keeps you striving for more, and realizing your true potential.
+ It feels rewarding to accomplish a high goal that was a major challenge.
+ Even if you don’t achieve the goal, you may accomplish way more than you thought you could.
ー It’s harder to achieve the goal, and you are more likely to delay or quit mid-way
ー Not achieving the goal can hurt your confidence and make it harder to set the next goal

Which one is best for you? What, you think I know the answer to that? You have to try both, and see which drives you towards your best studying. Everyone will set goals too high and too low at one (or many) points in their studying. The successful person analyzes which creates the greater chance of success.

In figuring out what works for you, I want you to remember one thing:

Don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing your goals.

Every month here on Jalup, people set their goals, and some get frustrated and/or disappointed in themselves when they don’t reach them. While you aren’t achieving your specific goal, you are learning how you study, how you can adjust your studying, and what you need to do.

Whether you set a low goal, or a high goal, focus on what you get out of the experience.

Do you set your goals low? Do you set them high? Which has worked better for you?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Is it Better to Set your Language Goals Low or High? — 7 Comments

  1. One of our VP’s at work is NOTORIOUS for high goal setting. We get (near) impossible goals given to us quite frequently. However, he’s doing this because of what you’ve said here – he’s trying to challenge us and push us as far as we can. And likely, we probably got farther towards where we needed to go than if he had set a reasonable goal.

    However, I find in Japanese I have to use both high and low goals. High goals for things I already like to do – watching TV episodes, reading manga, playing games. Low goals for things I don’t have fun doing or get frustrated with from time to time – RTK, vocab card creation.

    High goals on things like new cards in Anki or RTK studies have burned me a couple of times, to the point of just quitting my decks. I’ve found the lower goals to be really useful here… they’re a good minimum that’s easily doable, and if I’m in the mood or I have time I do more.

    High goals on things I like, however, are just super easy and I don’t feel burned out or bummed when I don’t reach them, as usually the reason I don’t reach them is because I started to find the material boring, or I just didn’t have as much free time as anticipated.

    • That’s a great perspective to choose high or low goals based on your experience with the material and whether it is easy/fun or hard/frustrating. It gives you the best of both worlds.

  2. I go back and forth about how I set my goals. I tend to look at the psychological toll my high goals are taking on me and then lower it once I reach a threshold. I have just set myself up to start another high goal which is to complete Kanji Kingdom before I leave for Japan in a month and then power level while I am in Japan. My new strategy for KK is to not produce the Kanji, but as soon as I say the english for the Kanji I press “space” and associate the English with the kanji in an instant. I hope that works. I think the less time I spend learning the Kanji, the easier it is going to be for me to get through it. 23 days is my current goal. 100 a day. I just started this morning. I’ll report back in 23 days to report my progress.

      • Thanks. I previously got to ~1850 Kanji before I stopped. Most of them will feel like review, so I think that will make it easier.

    • I think one potential issue with waiting until your psychological toll threshold is reached (in anki world), is that it may be too late, as the subsequent pile of reviews can linger on for some time after you reduce the new card amount.

      • Yeah. That’s totally a thing I have had to deal with when I meet that threshold. It usually results in me dropping the deck, restarting the deck, or somehow making the reviews easier than they were before. Like, I add some audio to the front of the card so that I don’t fail a card for the purpose of misreading the keyword. This way I can press good if I know what the word means. Or I might still pass a card if I can recite the reading of the keyword, but not the reading of some other word in the sentence. I anticipate not reaching this threshold over the summer break as usually this threshold has something to do with not having enough time to finish my reviews before the next day begins.

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