Recently i’ve endured a big drought in motivation. I’ve barely done any chinese since some time in december. It’s really illustrated to me the importance of organizing your life and habits in a way that keeps you happy and motivated.
I seem to go through a yearly period of prolonged lack of motivation during the winter months. I didn’t realize this until this year, but looking back on my life it makes a lot of sense now. I tend to feel quite bad when i’m not getting much done, but now i feel ok about it. It’s a little like going into hibernation for the winter, but i also think there are some things i can do to negate the situation and get back on track.
Number one is exercise. Every time i get on my bike and go for a bike ride, i feel much better. I just need to go out, race up a couple of hills, feel the wind in my face, and then return home. After that, i magically have motivation back. I did this last week and suddenly i felt compelled to pick up chinese again. I restarted using anki, and i picked up a chinese history book that i hadn’t read in a while.
Another thing that seems to help is identifying the time wasting ruts that i get into. Typically this means websites or online chat rooms that i use to fill time. I can remove these by recognizing them specifically, and doing something else instead. For instance, a couple years ago i was reading Slashdot all the time, and i realized that the time spent there wasn’t really improving my life and was actually making me feel grouchy because i was reading troll posts all the time. What i did was mentally recognize every time i started to type “slas…” in the url bar of my browser, and i’d choose to just turn off the computer right away. Then i’d actually have to sit there in my room and think of all the other things i could be doing with that time.
It worked great. Right away i made a list of 10 things that i’d like to pursue over the long-term, and then whenever i ran into that slashdot situation and turned my computer off, i’d just go look at the list. It all revolved around consciously recognizing that moment when i was about to start surfing the site for hours, and just using the opportunity to choose something different.
These days, a lot of my goals are focused on chinese. I really want to eventually be fluent in chinese, and be able to read all the multitude of good books that are currently too hard for me to read. If i focus too much on the long-term, however, i get a little bit frustrated. You have to find ways to enjoy the day-to-day stuff that will eventually get you to the long-term goal.
The day-to-day events right now are just reading and anki. I want to read for enjoyment, without getting too caught up in gathering up all the new vocab for review, but i also want to scrape together a little bit of that vocab to put into anki. I also want to consistently use anki for 30mins per day, to retain some of that new stuff.
I think it’s pretty doable to set aside 30mins for anki flashcards every day. I especially like the new feature that lets you “time-box” each session to only a certain number of minutes. I set mine to limit me to 10 minutes, after which it says “good job!” and shows me some stats. At that point, i can choose to go again for another 10 minutes, and i usually do. The reason i like this is that i can usually avoid distractions just by reminding myself that i only have a few minutes left until my 10 minute anki session is done. i always have the end in sight, so it’s easy to finish one session at a time.
I’d like to re-evaluate my progress in about 3 months time, at the end of May. until then, i’ll just keep using anki, and finding things to read. I’ll try and read things just for the sake of reading them without spending too much time saving every single new phrase that comes along, which will increase my enjoyment. At the end of May, i’ll take stock of where i am.
At this point in time, i have serious trouble reading a real novel, but i can generally grasp the main ideas and follow the story somewhat. In a real novel i usually find lots of characters i don’t know, usually almost 1 per sentence. In my easier readers, such as the one about the history of the Qing dynasty, i can follow the story quite easily, but i still feel the need to look up more words than are supplied in the glossary at the end of each story.
At the end of May, i’m hoping that i’ll be able to read the history book with ease, knowing all the characters in it. I hope that i’ll be able to pick up a novel and enjoy it more easily, and also know nearly all the characters in it. I think i probably know about 2300 characters right now, so i’ll probably have to learn up to about 3000 total to get to this goal. I’d also like to be able to read articles from Project Syndicate much more easily.
So, self, take note. here’s what i can do now, and what i hope to do. We’ll see what happens. 🙂