Getting back to work after a break

Admittedly, I’ve been pretty slack for the past couple weeks. First holidays, and then some extra stress in my life, combined to take away a lot of possible language-learning time. I find that when I get out of the pattern of spending time on languages every day, then I tend to lose some steam. I lose a bit of motivation, and it’s harder to get back to it.

In these situations, I usually find something else that I waste my time on, and I find that the best solution is to continue doing it, ironically. I keep doing it to completion. You may define completion however you like, but the trick is that once you’ve done this other activity (video game, reading a novel, whatever), and you’ve done it so much that you’ve gotten to the end of it, or at least made yourself tired of it, then it will be much easier to give it up. At least for me, leaving it incomplete will just be a reminder that it’s still there for me to do.

Next, for me, is breaking through the feeling that studying languages has not been a regular part of my routine for a few weeks. Routines and habits are much more important than we’d like to think. Sometimes we think of ourselves as autonomous beings, free from any instinct, and that we willfully decide everything we do. In truth, it is much more the opposite, and much of the day we run on auto-pilot. To study a language well, you need to retrain your auto-pilot so that the default task is to be studying and enjoying the language.

Here, enjoyment is key. Some people have a really strong willpower and are able to force themselves to do any task no matter how undesirable, but the rest of us have trouble doing this. And even when you have enjoyed studying a certain language in the past, at some points in time it may feel like an undesirable task. This is how I felt last week as I was playing a mindless flash game on a website all the time. I couldn’t bring myself to work on languages, because it felt like too much “work”. This is where the past feeling of enjoyment comes in. Once you’ve tied up all the loose ends distracting you, and maybe installed the “leechblock” add-on to firefox to prevent you from going to whatever websites you waste time on, then sit down in a quiet room and remember.

Just try to recall all the “aha!” moments as you discovered things in that language, and all of your goals that you had. Remember any experiences you had speaking or reading it, and what feelings you had at the time. Recall any pieces of your life were connected to you being enthusiastic and motivated to learn that language. As your thoughts wander to other things, perhaps to the various stresses in your life, just acknowledge it and move back to remembering the pleasure of language study.

Next you need your materials near you. Line up a bunch of books, movies, or whatever sort of study materials you have. Spread them out in front of you, and pick whichever one is the easiest or most fun. Last night I watched the animated movie “Robin Hood” in Swedish, since I know the entire dialogue by heart from watching it so many times in English as a kid. After that, I just wandered wherever I wanted. I browsed wikipedia for a while, and then picked up The Hobbit and put on the audiobook. My motivation had returned.

I guess that’s it….finish your distractions and put them away, remove stress from your life and remember all the awesome things about your project, and surround yourself by fun materials to choose from. That’s what got me back on track this week 🙂

3 Responses to Getting back to work after a break

  1. Keith says:

    Hey slacker 😉 I know how it feels when a good habit is neglected and how difficult it is to get back into it. We lose a lot of time, don’t we? I guess we need a certain amount of time each day to relax and goof-off. Keeping busy all the time and using every hour of the day is very productive, for a while. But it’s tough to keep up.

    Last year, you wrote a good post on motivation from stats . I hope that tip is still working for you.

  2. nicopol says:

    Well, time management sometimes is more important than learning itself. Recently, I’m struggling for saving more time. My tactics as follows: put distractions away, but if it’s impossible, then I’m trying to turn them into more useful things. For example, when I have a strong desire to play a computer game, then I change a language version of the game (if it’s possible) for English.

    But, a larger problem is eliminate activities that seems to us as useful e.g TV news (of course, in your native language). Once I used to spend an hour daily watching TV news. What a waste of time. Now, I’ve restricted buying newspaper. It’s waste of time and money. Most of articles I don’t just read. Besides I see no difference between politicians and some journalist, so not reading newspapers I save my mental health ;).

    Recently I read that it is the amygdala which distract us from learning. It regards learning as a dangerous and it’s trying us to pull us away from learning with paying our attention to small, stupid things. So there’s the enemy inside us!

    Knowing it, my target for this year is save time. Of course, Relax is important, but sometimes it seems to me that we have too much relax, so much that we can’t appreciate what we have. It’s sad truth that some people suffer from anhedonia.

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