Big numbers scare. When you hear you have 2000+ kanji to learn, what’s your approach? Ready, set, go!? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… Just thinking about how much more you have left to do can make your eyes spin. 1,000 J-E sentences? A big headache. A backlog of 500 reviews? You know the pain. When your task seems like it’ll never end, it probably won’t.
This is why you always need to keep the end in sight. Or better yet, an end in sight. This is that simple phenomenon where the easiest part of a task is when you approach the final 10% of it.
Think about it like this: if you had 1000 cards to go, which would you go faster through? Cards #300-#400, or cards #900-#1000? Just by being near the end, you gain momentum, and a burst of motivation to finish it. You go faster and fiercer than ever before, and somehow manage to knock out the remaining amount in record time.
I’ve been experiencing this recently in card linking and creating new cards. The beginning is tough, and I get tired quickly. But once I get towards the end of that large group, it’s like I am possessed to finish it.
How do you always keep the end in sight?
It can feel like counter-intuitive advice, but rather than focusing too much on the big picture, focus on completing your current task in front of you. Avoid total understanding, and gain present understanding.
The major trick is to create small achievable goals. Split big things up into many pieces.
“I’m going to do 1000 cards in 2 months!”
“I’m going to finish 100 cards in a week!”
The former goal will take a while for you to see the end in sight (the final week of the 2 months). The latter goal you’ll see the end in sight within 4-5 days. This isn’t to say don’t have long term goals, but without short term goals, you are doomed.
This is why making only one long-term goal like “I’ll be fluent in a year” produces minimal results. It’s too abstract, there isn’t a real end to it, and even if there was an end, the “end in sight” is way too distant.
Ideal and Reality
Small achievable goals are great, but they have one problem. They are artificial. If you break up a 1000 card deck into 100 card stages, you still know you have 1,000 cards. You aren’t going to get that out of your head. Splitting it up is only a half-solution. The other half of the solution is to not think about it at all.
When you are beginner, knowing that there are multiple levels of advanced politeness that you’ll have to overcome is not going to help you right now. Knowing that grammar has a billion advanced forms is not going to assist your basic understanding. When you ask why too much, your world expands too much, too quickly. RPG adventures start off narrow, in a limited world. They grow from there. If you knew how much you had to go for the entire game right from stage 1, your eyes would glaze over.
I’m not preaching ignorance of the work ahead of you. But limit your vast curiosity in exchange for focusing on the present.
A common theme advanced learners experience is “the more you learn, the more you realize you have left to learn.” This is good. Because it continually grows your Japanese world while not affecting your “end in sight.” It’s not until after you get to an “end in sight” when you realize it wasn’t actually the end. Then you start over, until you get to your next “end in sight,” and repeat.
Stop worrying and overthinking
Obsessing over every angle of the language, every kanji, every piece of grammar, every little bit of hazy understanding will keep pushing your “end in sight” further away. Keep it closer. You’d be shocked at what it can do for your motivation. You won’t be disappointed when you find out there is more than you thought, because you’ll have already done so much.
Oftentimes you like to think “I wish I knew then what I do now.” When I first started studying Japanese, if I knew then what I do now, I don’t know if I’d have the willpower to get through it all.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.