An object in motion stays in motion. That’s no secret, it’s called momentum. But have you tried to apply the same concept to your language studies?
Consistency keeps you moving forward. Learning in short bursts every day does two things. It creates the habit—which beats motivation (the lack thereof, really)—and keeps the language fresh in your mind. When you start skipping days, you’re more likely to make excuses and skip even more. It also puts more time between what you’ve studied and what you actually remember, meaning more material to review before you can move on to the new stuff.
There is a lot of advice out there about how to be consistent and form good study habits—learn at the same time each day, set up a distraction-free study space, and so on. For most people, those aren’t realistic with work, family, and other obligations beckoning.
Here are a few strategies that anyone can implement to become more consistent:
- Don’t fight your existing routine—build upon it with “if-then” planning. Dozens of studies confirm that “deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal […] can double or triple your chances for success.” Our brains are wired to encode information in terms of x and y (if X, then Y), so approach your goals this way to make sure you’re fitting in time for a little language every day:
- If I take a lunch break, I will spend the first 15 minutes reviewing flashcards.
- If I am taking public transit to work, I will listen to a language podcast on the way.
- If I haven’t already used the language by the end of the day, I will study for 20 minutes right when I get home.
- Set powerful reminders. An alarm clock or an Outlook meeting reminder that can easily be turned off or ignored is not a good enough reminder when you’re just starting to form a habit. Link your reminder to something you do or experience every day so you can’t get away from it. Switch your phone (or your Facebook profile, to start) into the target language. Each time you check your phone (or your Facebook), you’ll be reminded that you need to put in your 15-20 minutes.
- Eliminate choice paralysis. Just like setting a specific time/place to study, you should know what you want to do (and have everything you need to do so). Don’t waste precious minutes deciding how to spend your study time. Create a routine if it helps you stick to your new habit—flashcard apps every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a conversation partner for an hour each Tuesday, reading a target language book for 15 minutes each night before bed. The fewer choices you have to make, the less likely you will be to gaff it off.
- Get in the habit of starting over. Being consistent is its own reward—that’s why it’s so hard to start again when we falter. Don’t fall in to the trap of being discouraged when you miss a day. Hold yourself accountable (or ask someone else to do so) and get back to it; pay a fine (or make a donation) when you miss a day, and double it for each consecutive day you fail to get back in line. Announce your progress on social media or find a partner with whom you can learn. All of these sources of external motivation will help you start over again when your internal motivation slips.
Consistency is king. Start slow, choose manageable daily goals, and keep these best practices in mind. Most of all, don’t forget that even slow progress is still forward momentum.
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