On giving advice
I feel kind of weird writing as though I’m giving advice, especially since I’m writing this more for myself than you. But I feel if I am struggling with this, some of you might be struggling, too. Or you might know somebody who feels like this. Also I haven’t been blogging regularly, and I wanted to talk about these topics, so I’m turning it into a long advice piece. Which is borrowing a method from Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast, in that I’m talking about something relevant to me, and hoping it resonates with you. And if it doesn’t? Well, I’m trying to blog weekly, so hopefully I’ll have something you like later.
I mentioned on my coffee post that last week was rough for me, but it wasn’t as depressing a setback as these normally are. To delve into the realm of TMI, my depression and anxiety have decreased to the point where I was able to recognize that I was not in a state to study effectively, and took ownership of the decision to not study.
And I think that awareness makes all the difference when you break a habit between getting back to it, and letting yourself come up with excuses and reasons why it’s ok to keep breaking your habit until you’re eaten alive with guilt and the thing that used to fill you with joy is now the thing you dread.
So many times in the past, I allowed myself to take the decision, and pretend it came from god, the cosmos, or an unlucky fate. If I am physically too ill to work, it was easier to face the thought that my body had betrayed me, not that I was taking care of myself by not working when I was incapable of doing so. And I think that is part of the reason that anxiety and depression can get in the way of our goals. They blind us to this one moment in time, dragging us into the past or the future, wherever our fears are strongest. Without being able to clearly see the moment, it is so much easier to give up than to keep fighting.
I have three friends who are also working their way through this defeatist attitude, which makes me think it might be something more common to human nature than depression.
Anni got sick last week, and wasn’t able to get out of bed. She didn’t like her study materials, but she acknowledged that’s what she had, so she listened to those three awful audio books because that’s what she had available to her, and she had her pimsleur. Sure, she wasn’t writing sentences or reading, but she had her earbuds, pimsleur, and audiobooks. She set goals based on her present moment, and kept going.
My friend Kwan went through something awful a couple weeks ago, and he acknowledged that he had to take care of himself, and put the languages on a back burner. It isn’t that he gave up, he needed to process what happened, so that he didn’t take those emotions and fears into his language study (I did that with a novel and do not recommend it).
Leigh is in her senior year in college, and cannot continue studying Japanese in the classroom. Does that stop her? No. She’s still studying Chinese, and practicing Japanese in her free time. But she also acknowledges that there is a limited amount of time in every day, and that she may not be able to learn Japanese as quickly as she wants to.
So I’m happy that last week, I was able to see that moment in time, realize it was a temporary problem, and that I could catch up this weekend. I have studied language for 7 hours this weekend, and haven’t even started today yet! My goal is 15 minutes daily of something language related for my three language, and focused, active learning on a target language which can’t be flash cards, podcasts, or drama. And I’m grateful for the language friends I have to cheer me on, and be there for me when things don’t go according to plan.
Pay yourself back
I have a don’t break the chain sheet, which you can find here, but I use it differently than other people. If I miss a day, I can pay myself back. So if I can’t study for 7 days (like last week), I have it notated, and when I have an extended study session, I can pay myself back by breaking that study up into my daily 15 minute chunks.
So while it may feel hopeless if I miss day after day, I keep acknowledging that I am taking care of myself by not forcing it, and I have a record of the days and times I need to make up. Combine this with my achievement journal, and it keeps me motivated to keep going, even when things get hard.
I’m not giving up, I’m biding my time until I can return.
Be honest with yourself
And I suppose I want to end this by giving you a you can do it! message. In Japanese, I have a mantra,
If I can do it, I’ll do it.
I got through a year and a half of disability and bedrest with that phrase. It was about me coming clean with myself. Was I in pain, or was I wallowing in all the things I couldn’t do? Did I need to rest, or did I need to get off my ass and put the sudoku down? (or whatever app I was obsessed with back then) Did I need to sleep, or did I need to acknowledge I was sleeping to avoid my life?
With any daily goal, we face challenges and setbacks that make our goals difficult. If you can’t dedicate an hour to your language today, can you dedicate three minutes? If you can’t pull out your books or favorite software, can you at least flip through your flash cards, or scribble down a couple words or sentences in your target language? Listen to a podcast or short interview in the language?
Sometimes, the answer is no. And that’s ok. But it’s good to force yourself to be honest, because it’s easy to say no, I can’t do anything today without looking at where that “no” is coming from. Especially if you’ve said no a couple days in a row, it’s easier to keep not doing it, than starting back up again.
And if the answer is still no? It’s not the end of the world. There is always tomorrow, next week. Plan for when you can get back to it. Acknowledge whatever is going on in your life, and acknowledge your limits.
If we remember to pay ourselves back, we will get to the fluency we want. Not today, not tomorrow, but day by day, in these tiny steps we take.