I think to-do lists suck. They all start out glamorous. You write down all the awesome things you’re going to do and why you’ll be such a blooming success and think how good you’re going to feel after you get all of them done. They never actually end up getting done. Somehow, you end up putting them off later in the day – whenever that is – and you get lost in TV Tropes or something instead. Then after a long, unproductive day, you cry yourself to sleep and tell yourself you can’t get anything done. Sounds like fun, huh?
So what does this have to do with Japanese? The problem is treating Japanese study time as a task, a chore, something you gotta get done with a big green check mark next to it on the to-do list, and if you don’t get it done you must be a big dummy. That’s not really the attitude you want.
Automate the Process
Turn Japanese study into a habit. Have you ever noticed how there are some things you never have to motivate yourself to do? I’m talking about things like taking a shower, making coffee, putting on your pants… I mean, when’s the last time you got up in the morning and thought, “Man, I have to brush my teeth today…”? That’s because they aren’t tasks or check-marks on a to-do list. They’re just habits. You’ve worn yourself into them with months and years of practice. You don’t really even think about doing them. You just do them.
So don’t make Japanese a task you have to do to feel good about yourself for the day. Make it a habit. You don’t worry and dread over habits; you do them, simple as that.
Difficulty of Getting into a Routine
I’ll warn you though, getting yourself into a habit can be pretty tough. I prefer to do most of my studying early in the morning, so I started doing an hour (or however long the Brian Eno album of the day is) of Anki reviews right after I took a shower and got myself something to drink. It takes a lot of discipline at first. I know you’d rather check the news or scroll a mile down your Facebook news feed first, but you need to let your brain know that you do Japanese in the morning. It can take a while, but eventually you’ll figure it out and it becomes routine.
I’m not being rigid. Your Japanese habit can be anything from an episode of anime with a cup of tea at seven o’clock to a half-hour of flipping pages through a grammar textbook when you get home from work. Find what works for you.
And please don’t beat your poor mental self up for missing a day or making some other mishap. It won’t help you at all. Just forget about it and do it again the next day. You don’t yell at yourself for forgetting to brush your teeth one day, do you? It’s not worth worrying about.
It sounds like one of those mystical, arcane concepts that only the truly enlightened could ever have hope of mastering, but it’s not really. It’s how your brain works, you just need to program it. It’s not too hard to do. Give it a try.
So how have some of you turned your Japanese study from task/chore into routine/habit?
A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he’s not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.