Learning Japanese is a big goal. To achieve such a big goal you break it down. You break it down further. Then you break it down into what you do every day and what you plan to do right now. Many people make what they feel are small goals, yet still can’t reach them. You can’t get your daily reviews down to 0 on a single day. How are you going to ever learn Japanese?
I slightly regret writing this post about the power of 0. It is a realistic goal. It is a goal that would do a lot of good for you. But it’s a bad goal. Realistic goals that are good for you aren’t necessarily good goals. Because you can be lazy and avoid realistic goals just as much as you can impossible, far-fetched ones.
The problem with “Anki down to 0 every day” is that it may prevent you from doing Anki at all. You wake up, and there’s Anki starting at you with a few hundred cards. The thought of what it takes to get that down to 0 will drain your willpower in a second. The result? You don’t attempt that goal today. The worst part is that since you know it is a goal that is good for you, and one you should be aiming for, you tell yourself that you’ll try it again tomorrow when you have some more energy. You couldn’t do it today, but you can do it tomorrow.
Here’s the harsh truth:
A Japanese goal you couldn’t accomplish today, you are most likely not going to accomplish tomorrow. Or the next day. A goal you aren’t working towards is not a goal you want to have.
The problem with just making your goals smaller
In the realm of studying Japanese, people say smaller is better. Just study 10 minutes a day. Just do 50 reviews. Just read one page of a manga. You’ll hear something along the lines of “small goals will build up over time and pave the path towards your bigger goals.”
10 minutes a day is around 60 hours a year. This isn’t nothing, but will make you a very casual learner. If you are trying for anything more than casual learning, this goal is doing you more harm than good. If you want to be fluent, this will be a losing race. With 10 minutes a day, you’ll slowly get better. However, eventually your dissatisfaction in not being able to do what you want will overpower that 10 minutes a day. You will lose your race to immersion.
Small daily goals may be easy. But once you reach the point of expecting results and having nothing to show, they become much more difficult to maintain. You can only support small daily goals while you still have hope and optimism.
The real secret behind utilizing small daily goals is learning how to use deception.
Trick yourself into doing more
You all know the following phenomenon:
1. You sit down to do a small task that you plan on doing for 10 minutes.
2. You end up doing that task for an hour or more, without any struggle or pressure to continue, as though you were possessed.
This phenomenon results from two principles: Starting is hard. Momentum is easy. If you say you are going to do 25 Anki cards a day, while you are doing them, there is a good chance that you’ll do more. Giving yourself a small goal like this tricks yourself into beginning and gaining momentum. This is the reason why small goals win.
However, it’s not that simple. The obstacle you face is that you aren’t stupid. You know this mechanism because you’ve experienced it countless times before.
This is what you can’t think:
I’m going to study 25 cards daily… but if I feel like doing more, I’ll study more!
You can’t pressure yourself like this using deception. The second you acknowledge that you are setting a small number just to get started, but expect yourself to do much more, you’ve lost. You can’t secretively plan on turning this into a bigger goal. You are too smart for that, and your willpower will know what is being expected of it and will try to convince you why it doesn’t feel like doing anything today.
You must actually convince yourself that you will only study 25 cards, and quit after this amount feeling happy, with no expectations of anything more. If you convinced yourself, there will be times it truly will only be 25. But there will be times it will be more. Lose the ulterior motive, and you will be able to trick yourself.
Stop and reflect
Search for what is causing you to miss your goals over and over again. Experiment how you can shrink your goals to get you to the point of actually starting. Follow through trying to meet only those small goals, without secretly planning something bigger.
You can trick yourself to win.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.