Do you ever find yourself putting off your study? Or perhaps you go through times where you study manically followed by days of doing nothing? Don’t worry. You are not alone!
Procrastination is a common problem. It affects us in many areas of life, including language learning.
I am going to break down the issue piece-by-piece and show you how to solve it. Fortunately, the cure is an easy one but it requires some self-reflection.
Bossing yourself around never works. It never did work and it never will.
“Damn. I haven’t done any Chinese study for days. I have to get back to it.”
Or maybe it’s: “I need to learn more vocabulary for the HSK. The exam is a couple of months from now!”
Or: “Yikes. I’ve missed doing my Anki for the last 3 days. I’ve got to catch up on it or it will be unbearable.”
Does any of the above sound familiar? Take a look at all those command words in there.
Got to! Have to! Must! Need to!
Is this what you are telling yourself? If so, you are most likely stuck in a “school mindset”. It is at the root of your procrastination problem.
Confused? I thought you might be. Make yourself a coffee because this will be a long and soul-searching post.
The school mindset
Think back to your school days. It could be any subject, any teacher. Were you ever asked what you wanted to study? Were you ever consulted about the quality of the lessons? Did you ever get to choose what homework to do?
Of course not. That’s because as a pupil at school you didn’t have the power to choose your curriculum. You didn’t have the right to an opinion about your own learning. You were there to obey the teacher and meet external expectations.
Now think back to your homework. That homework that you had zero input about. Did you love doing it? Of course not. Well mostly not anyway. So why did you do it? Because you had to! You were scared of getting into trouble. Hmm, sounds like a healthy paradigm for learning doesn’t it?
At school, you were coerced into doing what the teacher wanted. And then along came the endless tests and exams. More “musts” and “got to”s all the way up through into college and beyond.
Got to. Have to. Must. Should. Need to.
Let’s do away with this destructive language.
We can treat ourselves better than this.
The truth of the matter is that procrastination occurs for a reason. When you don’t want to do something, you procrastinate.
Conversely, the opposite is also true…
You can’t procrastinate over something you want to do.
Do you procrastinate over eating when you are hungry? No.
Do you procrastinate over sleeping when you are tired? No.
Do you procrastinate over socializing with your best friends? No.
Do you procrastinate over opening that bottle of champagne? No.
Do you procrastinate over having sex? I hope not!
You want to do these things so you do them! It’s as simple as that. Procrastination never even enters the picture. If anything, you have to exert some discipline not to do these things all the time. That’s how enjoyable they are as activities.
Why do we procrastinate with language learning?
Sadly most of us didn’t develop this natural form of decision-making towards language learning.
It’s an unfortunate truth that languages are disliked by generations of school kids, who later grow up into adults with an allergy to foreign languages. It’s quite tragic. What should be a fun activity has been hijacked and turned into something that people dread.
Bossing yourself is counterproductive because it stops natural intrigue and enjoyment from developing. It fuels the procrastination inside you.
You don’t have to study a language!
Wake up and open your eyes. You don’t have to do anything at all!
You don’t have to study Chinese. So you’ll fail your HSK exam. So what? There’s always next year.
You don’t have to study Japanese. What will the consequences be if you don’t? None whatsoever. All those kanji characters are pesky and irregular anyway.
You don’t have to learn Korean. What is going to happen to you if you stop? Well, nothing to be precise. Kim Jong Un won’t come for you in the middle of the night. Nothing will happen that you can’t deal with.
The key to breaking down procrastination is to ask yourself your own opinion
Stay with me on this. I’m not telling you to stop studying! Far from it.
I’m reminding you that you are free to do whatever you like. Most of us live our lives on auto-pilot forgetting that we control our each and every action.
Imagine you are back at your home. Those Chinese books on your desk make you feel guilty because you have been slacking off lately. Then comes the thought:
“All that money I spent on those books. I really have to do some Chinese again!”
Stop right there! We are done with the school mentality. Instead of bossing yourself around, try asking yourself your own opinion:
“Do I want to study Chinese now?”
If the answer is yes, then pick up your books and get started.
If the answer is no then leave those books right where they are. You can ask yourself the same question another time.
With this new freedom mindset, there is no more “have to” or “got to”. There is only “I want to” or “I don’t want to”. So simple yet so liberating.
Take the pressure off yourself and watch your procrastination melt away
If you want to study, then study! If not, then ask yourself what you want to do. Maybe you want to laze around watching movies. No problem. Go and do whatever it is you want to. This is your life and nobody else’s.
It’s a funny old process. Once you remove all that pressure and self-bullying your procrastination will melt away. By only studying when you feel like it, you will actually begin to intrinsically enjoy the language more. This is a huge deal. Next time you see your Chinese books you will want to study even more. So you will. And then you will get better and enjoy it even more. It’s a virtuous circle of awesomeness.
This is part of why we study by ourselves. Self-study is not just about saving money or being more efficient. It’s actually more enjoyable than going to school and contributes to your personal growth. You call the shots now. It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it?
P.S. Few ideas are completely original. The mindset I have developed towards learning and work in general was greatly inspired by Stefan Molyneux. I love his ideas on personal freedom. If you are interested in hearing his views on the subject of procrastination that inspired me to write this article, check out his video here.
Rohan has spent years studying Japanese, Chinese and Korean, and currently lives in Japan. He created the perapera pop-up dictionary plugins to help other learners of Chinese and Japanese.