How to Beat Procrastination in Language Learning
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We all procrastinate from time to time (we’re not robots, after all). But if you find that a habit of constantly delaying studying is interfering with your language learning goals, it’s time to make some changes.
There are many reasons why we procrastinate, ranging from fear of failure, perfectionism, or feelings of overwhelm. Procrastination is not about being lazy and it does not make you a horrible failure of a person.
There are several tactics that can help you curb your procrastination habit and start making real strides towards hitting your language learning goals.
Find your procrastination trigger
The next time you find yourself putting off your studies in favour of scrubbing your bathroom tiles, take a step back and ask yourself: “What is keeping me from starting or completing this task?”. Grab a pen and paper and write down any and all reasons you can think of. Be honest with yourself, even if it means having to face some uncomfortable truths.
Keep this up for a few days and you’ll likely find that there is a pattern to your procrastination habits. Perhaps your need to put off your study session stems from a complex emotion, such as feeling you’re not good enough or smart enough to complete the task. Or it could be as simple as being constantly distracted by your phone or the television (more about that in the next section).
Identifying your procrastination trigger can help you understand exactly why you keep putting off important tasks and make a plan to address common distractions.
I recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits (highly recommended). One of the strategies James puts forward is to make good habits easy and obvious and bad habits difficult and invisible. Sounds simple enough, but how do we put this into practice?
It starts with your environment. Since we’re talking about being more productive in your language learning, let’s focus on your study space.
Imagine your ideal workspace. You have a spacious desk and a comfortable chair at just the right height. Your book is open at the exact place you need to start working from. Your pens, pencils and notebook are neatly laid out. You have water and snacks within easy reach. Your headphones are charged and ready to play relaxing lo-fi focus music. Sitting down to study in this space would be easy and even inviting.
Conversely, you can eliminate distractions by removing them from your environment and making it harder to give in to them. If, for example, you know you are likely to be distracted by doom-scrolling social media, remove temptation by putting your phone in another room. Now you’ll have to get up and walk all the way to the next room to grab your phone, making it way more difficult.
Break it down
Often when we procrastinate, it is because we feel we are facing an insurmountable task. For example, setting a goal of ‘learning Japanese’ may seem about as achievable as becoming an astronaut or president or a chess grand master.
But what if your goal is to learn 5 vocabulary words? Or listening to one podcast? Or completing one section in your textbook? Much less daunting, right?
Breaking a task into more manageable pieces is a tried and tested way of achieving big goals. Setting up a realistic study schedule is helpful in this regard. Knowing exactly what you’ll be doing (and when and where) to progress your language learning is far less overwhelming than getting by on a wing and a prayer.
Try the 15-minute rule
Often the hardest part of completing a task is just getting started. I find that I can tolerate just about anything for 15 minutes (okay, except the wall sits my gym trainer is so sadistically fond of).
To get around the pain of starting a difficult task, I tell myself that I need to commit to just 15 minutes of focused work. I give myself permission to stop after the timer hits 15 minutes. Some days 15 minutes is really all I have to give, but more often than not, I find myself hitting my stride about 10 minutes in and end up focusing for far longer than the initial goal.
If 15 minutes seems too daunting, start with 5 or 10 minutes and work your way up.
Spend time with the right people
Learning a new language is a big commitment and the journey can be even more difficult when going it alone. Find a friend or language partner with similar goals to your own and make a pact to motivate and hold each other accountable. There are a lot of online language learning communities out there. Go find your community.
You’ll be far less likely to put off the work if you need to report back on your progress.