You’re determined to learn Japanese. You study a lot and are improving every week. The progress might be small some weeks, but at this pace you’ll surely be fluent within a couple years. There is a will there that won’t go away… right?
That’s what I thought anyway.
I’ve had my share of setbacks and frustrations in my journey, but I’ve never quit. Rather than quit, I just stopped making progress. For five months, I only studied enough to stay at the same level. My Japanese was on autopilot.
Just Cruising Along
To be fair, this sort of thing had happened before. Sometimes a week was super busy and my studying was at a minimum. I would always bounce back, often more determined than ever. This time was different though. Even when the busy times had passed, I still acted as though I had no time for Japanese.
Here’s what this time period looked like for me:
1. I wouldn’t add new cards to Anki.
2. Most of the time I wasn’t even caught up on Anki.
3. Every couple weeks I would finally get caught up, only to quickly fall behind again.
4. There weren’t even that many reviews to do, but I would only spend a few minutes a day reviewing if that.
5. I basically didn’t read my manga at all (maybe a chapter a month)
6. I would watch maybe 3 anime episodes a week. 8 if I went crazy (In normal times I would watch around 15-21).
7. Every now and then, I would remember that I can get some easy immersion walking around with my iPod (I was usually too lazy to put in the small amount of effort).
8. About once a week I would return to Jalup, read the articles, nod, and then go about my day.
Best as I can tell, my skill in Japanese stayed perfectly still. The only saving grace was that I occasionally got small spikes in motivation, usually just for a day and most of the effort was spent on catching up with Anki.
Yet I still had every reason to pick up the pace again. I was taking the JLPT, applying to ALT positions in Japan, and becoming good friends with a Japanese exchange student.
There I was, cruising, with no acceleration.
Taking Control Again
I only recently came out of this and there’s two main things I’ve learned.
1. This “too busy to study” feeling is almost always a lie.
This feeling is usually what starts a lull in my studies. Perhaps some of you remember the “J-J Sentence Siege Challenge” on this site a while back. The goal of it was to add 1000 new cards within 3 months. At the same time as the challenge I had the busiest semester yet at my university. That didn’t stop me, I took that challenge and gosh darn it I was going to complete it. And so, in my busiest semester, I add more cards than I ever had before (and since). Being busy is an excuse, a good one admittedly, but still an excuse.
2. Productivity is a funny thing. There’s a momentum to it.
The autopilot mentality I had leaked into other aspects of my life. Why do homework when the internet exists? Maybe tomorrow. Each decision influences the next. What’s the harm in one YouTube video? The next video I decide to watch afterwards, and the one after that… Each video slowed down my momentum. Two hours later when I finally quit watching videos I had virtually no motivation. And now there’s not much time left in the day, probably only really time for… more videos.
What’s awesome is that it works the opposite way too. I finished that sentence challenge because pulling out my phone to do Anki had become second nature.
Sometimes the best thing I can do for my productivity is take 5 minutes to think. What are the best things I can do with my time? Why in the world would I waste this time on something besides these things? That would be awful. Now I know exactly what to do. My mind is more at peace because of this clarity. All because of 5 minutes. 55 minutes well spent are better than an hour wasted.
I only just finished writing my last article “Japanese was Created by Mortals.” Yet of the four articles I’ve written for Jalup, the one you are reading now is the first that I finished in a day. This is no coincidence. I have many other things to do this busy week, but I specifically choose to write this article because it was important to me. The same goes for studying Japanese.
Being on autopilot sucks. Much of the time it feels just the same as quitting. However, all you need to do is remember where you’re going and have the courage to take the wheel again.