how do you spend so much time on languages?

This is a response to someone’s question from HTLAL about how much time is enough, or too much, and how do we get all that time in?

For me there’s some sort of turning point once I actually sit down to do something. If I somehow spend an hour working on something one day, then the next day I’m much more likely to spend lots of time on it. If I spend zero time one day, then I’ll probably also spend zero time the next day. It’s sort of a “momentum” thing. The hardest part is starting.

I always have many materials present when I sit down to work. I also like to have a specific time of day where I always start to work. Before I went to china, I had a habit of sitting down every day at 7:30pm, and I’d spread out several books in front of me. Some were textbooks, some were readers with vocab lists, some were half english / half chinese, and some were native materials (like some WeiQi strategy books I had). Nowadays I spread out DVDs, audiobooks, novels, and other materials too.

So I’d sit down, spread out the books, and then pick whichever book looked interesting at that moment. My promise to myself was that I’d spend at least 20 minutes doing anything. What usually happened was that I’d flip through one book for a few minutes, but then I’d switch to another one that caught my eye. Once I started working on it, I’d usually get right into it and end up spending an hour because it was interesting. If I ever got bored of whatever activity I was working on, I’d just switch to something different and try to do 10 more minutes of that. If I was reading, I’d switch to writing characters or something. And normally if 10 minutes went by, then I’d stick with it for longer just because I got into it.

Another thing I like to do is make numerical games out of it. I count up the minutes of reading, or the number of pages or number of words. I make it into something where I can get a “high score”. If there’s a number that I want to reach for the week, then I make a game of trying to get to the week’s goal before the week was over, or trying to get double the week’s goal in only one week.

Combined with this, I like having a calendar where I cross off days where I was successful. I try to get as many successful days in a row as I can. It’s just another type of game. I find it also helps to modify that so that there are two types of “success” for each day. I mark the day with blue if I did ANYTHING that day. If I do nothing, then I get the “bad” color like red or yellow or something. But the second type of success is where I did more than the day’s goal. Then it gets colored green.

The blue color helps me stay consistent, because it’s super easy to just sit down and read something for 5 minutes, and then I’m allowed to color the day blue. But as I said previously, if I already started for 5 minutes, then it usually goes much longer. Reward yourself big for doing that first 5 minutes, because it’s the most important.

The biggest problem was always the start. That’s why I tried to do it at the same time every day. I removed my other excuses and distractions, and made the time and the materials available. I made up new motivations like coloring the day blue, or reaching a numerical value. The rest took care of itself.

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