Keeping the End in Sight
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.
This concept is something I heavily preach to my students. The children have the hardest time understanding this and the adults usually get it but not always. Most common complaint I usually have is when our students reach brown belt and it takes them 8 months to get to their next belt they focus so much on how much time they have left and that to them it feels like an eternity. Even the black belts that I teach complain about the time (only 1st degree’s though, 2nd degree and above usually feel the time is too short).
That part about mastery though is so true. The higher the rank I get the more attention oriented I am about my technique.
Wonderful article and I am trying to implement this into other aspects of my life but it can be difficult but it makes everything else so much easier.
Interesting about the belts in karate. I guess they need to add more belts :)
I’ve also been trying to apply this principle into other areas of my life, and it really makes a difference.
I keep my end in sight daily. One of the mantra’s from rehab/ addiction recovery, “One day at a time.” Telling an addict that they have to stop for the rest of their life or even for a few weeks can be overwhelming, but just committing one day at a time. Just gotta make it through today. Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is not yet come. Let’s just make it through today. And if I eventually make it through enough consecutive “todays” I find that its been a week, or two, or maybe two months.
Learning the 2000 Kanji seemed really overwhelming to me at first. I started studying Kanji on February 19th and have committed to doing 22 kanji per day minimum with an overachiever goal of 30 a day using memory palaces and RTK. As of this morning, I finished another 30 for the day which brings me up to 214 (19.5 a day average). Not quite where I want to be, but I focused on today and made it through. Tomorrow, I’ll focus on tomorrow. But this was good for today.
I think you are right, in keeping the large task ahead in the back of your mind, but putting all your present energy into today.