In my very first post here I mentioned that I do not have to go to school anymore, yet I still study and, if I can be honest, I still find that rewarding and pleasurable. There is little checking of my knowledge, though, since I don’t write tests and I rarely take exams (only the official language level exams, like JLPT or Cambridge ones). If there’s no school, there are no grades, tests and other performance motivators like that. So, how do I find that motivation to actually sit down and study, while being an adult (who has REALLY had enough of official education) with home, family, life and work responsibilities adults usually have?
I really don’t.
This was something I struggled with when it came to my Japanese. When I lived in the city where my university was, I used to go to a language school once a week. It was simple, it put me in a routine, so I went with it and studied for the sake of the course. But as most courses, that came with the usual package – tests, teacher’s questions during the lesson, the urge to impress your course mates with your knowledge. So that worked as a motivator.
But what to do when it just isn’t possible for you to go to a language school? Or to join any other classes or courses? What if you don’t enjoy online courses (that’s my case)? What to do then?
Well, my solution is what most books on motivation say, really (and books on motivation to write novels, too, since I read tons of those as well).
You gotta stick it out.
You just sit down and do it.
There’s no rocket science here.
As there is no “sudden inspiration” in writing (the inspiration when suddenly you feel you have a great idea and you just have to sit down and start writing), if there’s no motivation in you, you create it.
Yes, you basically sit down and start DOING IT.
JUST. LIKE. THAT.
Like this guy says:
This year, on January 1st, for the first time in many, many years, I made a New Year’s resolution: restart my Japanese and do it (almost) every day. And so I did. Something just clicked, I sat down with one of the textbooks I bought over the years and I just started to go over it.
Of course, this is no miracle story, I helped myself. I used the knowledge OF myself that I acquired over the years, the knowledge OF HOW I STUDY AND HOW I KEEP MYSELF MOTIVATED.
This is something you have to do yourself. Observe yourself, test different solutions, take advantage of different factors that motivate you and choose the ones that work best. It took me many, many years to realise that you are the one who controls your studies. What you learn is your choice and it’s a fantastic choice to make. It feels AWESOME when you’re doing what you want to do, rather than studying something which is imposed on you.
This conclusion I came to after so many years of being a model, (almost) straight A student, is something I’m going to share with you below. Here go 7 rules I follow when I study. I’m going to include them here and in the next post if you wanna share them or go back to them without needing to read this introduction again.
1. DECIDE ON THE SPOT
That’s right. I do not plan what I’m going to study when I sit down to do it. I do not make grande plans like “I will do 3 chapters tonight” or “I will focus on book X tonight”. No, I don’t tell myself stuff like that. Instead, I sit down and ask myself: “So, what do I feel like doing tonight?” and I just do it. And it feels great!
Honestly, this was something I found so irritating at school and university. I had a set book to go over. I had set homework to do. I had a set chapter to read. I absolutely hated it! If the chapter was boring, I couldn’t skip it. If a paper or task was dull to write/do, I couldn’t skip it without damaging my grade.
But when I study on my own, of my own motivation – I can. I can skip exercises I don’t like. This is something I also learned to do – if an exercise is a bore, don’t do it. Don’t kill your motivation for the sake of finishing the whole book PERFECTLY. Go to the task you really wanna do. Of course, you have to be moderate with this, don’t skip all the tasks! 😉 I, for instance, tend to skip some writing exercises like WRITE A DIALOGUE, because those bore me to death. And I don’t feel guilty about doing that AT ALL.
Why? Because I noticed that forcing myself to do something I don’t wanna kills my motivation and I don’t want that to happen. Maintaining your motivation helps you sit down every day. Think about this – how many times, while at school, you got sick in your stomach simply THINKING that there’s this mundane homework that’s waiting for you on your desk? And you put off doing it for as long as it was possible? That’s what I’m talking about. It feels much, much better to make your own decisions about your studying process, rather than blindly following every exercise in a textbook or following just one textbook, when you really feel like reading a passage of that novel you bought the other day.
The other thing connected with this point is the amount of work you wanna do. As I wrote before, I do not plan to “do 3 chapters tonight”. Why? Because I’m a working adult with a family. If you share my situation, you know that sometimes plans don’t work out – you’re tired, your family needs you, something simply happens and needs your attention. This is another reason why I don’t plan – I do not feel guilty when something comes up. Yet, I try to do something daily. Even if it’s just flashcards revision, reading a little or watching an episode in my target language.
2. STUDY PLANNER
This was the first thing I did, even before I opened a textbook back in January 2019. It’s not my own solution, I once saw somebody do it on Instagram and I thought “this is it!”. As a bullet journal user, I can totally relate to writing down what you want to study on a particular day. However, I did my planner differently – I write down what I HAD DONE on a day. And it works wonders since it’s connected to no. 1 on this list – I’m not bound by plans. I simply go with the flow. Yet, I track what I do and it feels great to sum up what you’ve done over the month. You look at your planner (in my case it should actually be called a “register”) and say “Hey, I wasn’t fooling around as much as I thought – look how much I actually did!” And that is why my usual study planner month looks like this:
I do take some days off. Sometimes it’s good to just relax and do something different or to take care of something that came up. I mark such days with “OFF”, so I know I skipped studying. It also helps to boost my motivation when I take too many days off. I tell myself „Oi, girl, gotta get your sh*t together! Sit down right now!”. Yes, I do feel guilty sometimes. But it vanishes the moment I sit down again and can mark my progress in the planner.
3. TEXTBOOK TRACKERS
Bullet journal user speaks again here: track your progress with a book/course/tutorial/video series (or whatever else you use)! I do mine this way:
I tend to do it in different ways, depending on the book. I either mark a chapter as a whole or break it down into smaller sections (e.g. reading, writing, listening, whatever the book is structured like), especially if it’s long. After I’m done, I can place a dot. After I finish the whole book, I can tick it off. It feels great to look at it again, seeing and feeling that pride that I finished it. I also track my textbooks on GoodReads – it shows you how many percents you’re in (and how many are left). It feels really good to update my book status both in my bujo and on GoodReads. Plus it can help you track how much time you spent with a book, since GoodReads shows the date when you started reading a book.
4. HUGE GOAL AHEAD
It’s good to have one major goal in front of you – it could be an exam (e.g. mine for 2019 is passing JLPT N3 level), it could be a book you wanna read and finish, traveling goals, people goals (e.g. communicating with your foreign family, friends or SO in their mother tongue) and more! Choose something that feels „big” for you – it doesn’t necessarily have to feel „big” for others and don’t worry if it doesn’t. It’s your choice, your studies, and your progress, not somebody else’s.
5. SMALLER GOALS ON THE WAY
Apart from that big goal, choose several smaller ones while you’re progressing towards your main goal. They can be time-related, like “read 1 book this month” or “learn 100 words this month”. Mine include finishing off a tv series, book, manga or anime series before the month ends, learning a set amount of vocabulary, doing Anki almost daily, doing a section of a textbook, preparing my own flashcards and so on.
Oh yeah, and don’t forget – reward yourself when you achieve one of the goals! I love to treat myself with a bag of unhealthy, fatty, salty chips since I have a thing for them 😉 For the main goal, use a bigger reward – again, “big” is subjective here, just use something that makes you super hyped for the reward and, consequently, boosts your motivation much more than “just” a bag of chips. For example, for taking JLPT N3 this December, I’m gonna reward myself with a limited edition of a Playstation game in Japanese, so I can enjoy it after those exam preparations. I already know it’s gonna be awesome to finally play it after being done with JLPT!
6. SOME THINGS HAVE TO DONE DAILY
Even if you’re taking a day off, make sure to do at least 1 thing every day – in my case, it’s my flashcards. I really recommend using a spaced repetition system (like Anki, Memrise, Quizlet, TinyCards or simple paper flashcards and a box) for your vocabulary. And this should be done every day, unless you want those revision flashcards to pile up, which is counter motivating – if you see too many of them to review, you don’t want to do them. If their number is small, you will go over them more eagerly. Regularity is the key here. This trick also kills your “I haven’t done anything today” guilt, because you’ve done at least this one regular thing, so you’re off your mind’s hook.
7. EVERYTHING COUNTS
I see people studying and being frustrated with themselves, saying “I haven’t done much today” while, in fact, they did. They just don’t count much stuff they do. Some people only consider textbook or class studying as real studying. I don’t. I count EVERYTHING I do in the languages I’m learning. And that includes:
- browsing the Internet in your target language (TL),
- watching tv series for pleasure (no subtitles or with subtitles in your TL),
- reading something (be it a novel, a comic, a magazine, an Internet article, etc.) in your TL for pleasure,
- playing games,
- watching youtube,
- speaking with someone in your TL (either in or outside the classroom, even if you just ask somebody for directions, IT COUNTS),
- creating flashcards,
- revising flashcards,
- writing a diary in your TL, and so on.
Basically, anything you do in your TL, count it! And don’t forget to register it in your planner, so you can later see how much smaller, but still significant, progress you made!