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Most days, I feel happy and satisfied with my habits. I feel accomplished about my learning progress. I have the big picture of what I intend to accomplish in mind. On those days, I feel unstoppable.
But then there are those other days. Those days when things don’t go quite so well, and the bad things start to pile on each other.
Those days when I am so unmotivated that I start to question why. Why do I even bother learning languages. What’s the point, when I’m so bad at it, especially when it comes to speaking? Why not just stop? After all, it doesn’t matter either way…
It’s on those days that I realise that I need motivation.
Life isn’t always smooth-sailing. It’s what you choose to do in the difficult moments that will make the difference. It’s what separates failure from success.
It’s important to learn how to self-motivate, because you can’t rely on others to do it for you.
I want to share the following 3 tips are great for a quick motivational boost that will help you get excited to continue working hard all over again.
Tip 1: Reach Into The Past
Reach into the past. Basically, think back. There are two parts to this.
First, think about why you got started with learning the language in the first place. If it helps, you might want to write it down.
I have found that putting it down in writing makes it more concrete, and more effective than simply thinking about it. You can get any scrap piece of paper to do this; it is for your eyes only.
It is perfectly fine not to have one big reason. In fact, write as many reasons as you can think of, even those that might seem rather insignificant.
In a language class, you might feel obliged to give a reason that sounds acceptable and reasonable. Many of the reasons that I have are personal, that I don’t necessarily wish to share. I hate the feeling of being judged for my reasons, because they seem so impractical. I would always say something generic like “I love the culture” when in truth I had zero knowledge about the culture.
My relationship with languages is complex. I don’t have a single reason for learning any one language, and now, with each new language I learn, many of the reasons overlap, creating a complex web. But all the ones I have are important to me.
That’s really what matters: That you have reasons for learning a language that matter to you.
So write each and every one of them down.
To quote Jim Rohn, when the why gets big enough, the how becomes easy.
Second, if you have been learning the language for a while, then recall the incidents where you felt like you could do anything in your target language.
It can be as simple as the first time you had a meaningful conversation in the language.
It doesn’t even have to be very long.
One of the good memories I have for French is from 2013.
Back in 2013, I was on immersion in Geneva, and I took a day trip to a mountain in France together with some of the other students. From the bottom, there was a cable car that took you near the top, and from there, there is quite a lot of space to walk about.
On the way down the mountain, I met a French family.
The father asked: Parlez-vous français ? (Do you speak French?)
I was shocked, but I replied: Un peu. (A little.)
He asked: Où est le téléphérique? C’est là-bas ? (Where is the cable car? Is it there?)
I replied: Oui. (Yes.)
This was the first conversation I remember that I ever had with a native speaker outside of the classroom context. I didn’t speak much, but the feeling of being able to understand and be understood? Amazing. It was a major victory to me.
It doesn’t have to be something long and convoluted. It just has to make you feel accomplished, and rekindle your passion for the language.
Tip 2: Imagine The Future
This second tip requires you to use some imagination. Imagine what the future would be like for you, if you were to keep going as you are right now. What do you envision yourself to be able to do in your target language?
Start with the general idea. Perhaps you want to be able to speak and write well enough to take a job in Germany. Or to speak without an accent that people mistake you for a native speaker.
Imagine the scenario actually happening. This includes the setting, the time, the sounds… everything you can possibly think of. The more detailed, the better.
Where does it happen? On the street, in a restaurant, on the bus?
How are the surroundings like? Is the weather cool?
This exercise in imagination was something I learnt from two independent sources. One was a book that was more to do with public speaking with confidence. The other was an audio program about goal setting.
The first time I did this, I felt rather silly. I had not used my imagination for so long that it was awkward and foreign. It was downright weird.
But I figured I had nothing to lose. So I used it to prepare for a presentation at work.
I didn’t expect it to work as well as it did. My presentation was well-received by the clients, that I became the de-facto presenter for my team. (We used to rotate.)
That first time, I didn’t even imagine the setting in very vivid detail. I wrote down how I wanted it to go, and some of the reactions of a few people whom I knew would be there.
But as I did it more, it started to feel more natural, and it was effective.
And I thought, why not use if for language learning as well?
I found that it was really useful as a motivational boost, and I also have something to work towards and look forward to.
Just give it a try.
Tip 3: Do What You Love
This is for the present, for the now. Think an activity that you are good at in your target language, and that you love doing.
Ask yourself what you normally enjoy doing. (Normally, because if you’re down on motivation, you might not really want to do anything at all.)
Then do it.
If it’s writing, then write a short piece in your target language. Maybe you love to read comics. Then read a comic in your target language. If it’s listening, listen to some music in your target language. Or perhaps you just want to watch a movie. That’s fine too, as long as it’s in your target language. You can even play a game.
Though, it’s more effective if the activity that you choose is not only something that you love, but isn’t too easy to do. This way, it can fuel your sense of accomplishment when you get it done.
The sense of accomplishment that comes will raise motivation faster than anything else.
Know that it is a normal part of the process to feel unmotivated at times.
I have shared 3 tips for boosting motivation. You can apply them from time to time when needed. However, if you really want to successfully learn a language, what you need to do is to cultivate the habit of working at it every day. That way, you don’t end up relying on motivation to keep going, because motivation only lasts so long and takes you so far. It’s simply not sustainable.
Accept that it will not be effortless. To achieve anything, hard work is required. But when you finally achieve what you set out to achieve, it will be well worth the effort.
Do you have any tips for boosting motivation? How do you normally overcome the urge to give up when you don’t feel up to it?