Now that I'm about a month into my Turkish mission I can say that things are going slower than expected. I'm behind on where I would normally be at this stage in learning a language.
This has nothing to do with any issues with the language itself; Turkish is actually one of the most logical and interesting languages I've learned in a while, and I'll be sharing my thoughts on the language at the end of the mission as always.
It also has nothing to do with culture clashes – people have been very friendly and encouraging for my entire time here, and even though I'm far from satisfied with my level, people are constantly complimenting me on what I am saying.
The problem has been lack of energy, sparked off by the sleeping problems I've had since I arrived and still not been able to completely recover from, mostly because I generally wake up with sunlight, not alarm clocks, and this apartment gets almost no natural light.
By sleeping in so late (and usually too much), when I get up it's too hot out to go for a jog, so I haven't been getting enough exercise while here. (Living in this very central part of the city has meant that nearby gyms and other clubs are quite expensive)
As well as this, I've been indulging a bit too much in various desserts (“Turkish delight” ring any bells?) and this unhealthy eating is also sucking up my energy; the most frustrating part is that it has a vicious circle effect of building on itself and making it harder to break the chain the next day.
While I was reflecting about the last eight years and what I've learned about life in general, I've also had a chance to think about actual missions and projects I've had; some successful and some less successful.
With all other things being equal, I can see with great consistency that my successes have been very integrally tied to my lifestyle at the time. I sincerely believe that learning a language (as well as so many other projects) can be very easy if you do it right. This doesn't mean just picking the right learning materials and practising a lot, but also having a healthy lifestyle in general so that your energy and enthusiasm levels are consistently high.
With this in mind, I've been thinking about things that have been issues I've had that have brought me and other people to plateaus that cease progress in projects, which are entirely lifestyle related.
As I ask myself these questions, maybe you should ask yourself too if you are having similar lack-of-energy issues that may be caused by one or several:
- Are you eating a healthy balanced diet, with as little processed, fatty and sugary foods as possible? Are you making sure you don't skip any meals?
- Are you getting enough exercise? Doing something active, like going for a brisk walk every day and doing something more demanding like jogging, dancing or playing sports several times a week?
- Are you getting a good night's sleep? “Good” doesn't mean as much as possible. By having a power nap in the afternoon, I can get by great on just five hours sleep per day as long as I get up early.
- Are you getting enough water and avoiding drugs that damage your system when consumed too much (or even a little) like alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and less-main-stream ones? (Not a problem I personally have)
- Are you dealing with stress well, by taking time-outs from work, doing yoga, trying to focus on the positive rather than clouding your mind with bad thoughts and trying to eliminate sources of stress (arguing etc.) whenever possible?
- Are you getting enough breaks from computer and other screens and spending them with friends and family? Hours in front of the TV, or even wasted doing pointless things online or playing games can leave you feeling like you've achieved nothing important at the end of the day. Time with human beings in non-formal and non-stressful ways always enriches our lives more.
- Are you adding structure to your day to prevent you from wasting time? While in Colombia, for example, I shared some tricks I use to force myself to use my time more efficiently.
The way I see it, if you aren't enthusiastically jumping out of bed first thing in the morning, and feel like today you have achieved at least one important thing at the end of the day, then you have to re-examine what is going on in your life.
Many people think it's all down to external factors (and they obviously matter a lot), but I really think that things that you have 100% control over contribute much more in many cases, especially what you put into your body, how you use your free time and if you exercise. I'm answering ‘no' to several of these questions now, and that's why I'm low on energy (and even enthusiasm). I remember living similarly at other times when my projects haven't gone so well.
But during most of my travels, I'm glad to say that I would answer yes to these questions and this is a major reason why I can get a lot of things done that I do. Luck has nothing to do with it. Energy and enthusiasm are the fuel that makes so much of it possible for me and many other people. This energy can be created and maintained by treating your body and mind well.
External factors and sources of stress can get you started into treating your body and mind poorly. In my case it's a combination of sleep issues and some frustrations from my travel style that are a bit more apparent at times. While people think that not having children and being free to move country regularly mean that I have zero stress, there are other particular issues with this lifestyle that I haven't discussed yet (which settled people have to deal with much less or never), but that generally don't pose me problems when I have the energy to shrug them off and work around them.
But rather than just stay in a lull forever, it's important to examine it, understand it, think logically and get out of it. And, of course, to do your best to make sure you don't get back in. For example, my sleeping problems (which has been the catalyst leading to my frustrating recent weeks) persist mainly from the very minor initially overlooked detail of my apartment not getting enough light. Now I know that even a fantastic location and great price should be second to a well-lit apartment in future. I miss my morning sun and look forward to getting it back 😉
Since I generally have mostly good habits, it won't be so hard to get back into them as long as I try hard. If you haven't had some particular good habits consistently before and would like to get into them, then the approach I'd most highly recommend is the 30-day per habit forming strategy, as it is by far the most effective long-term one that sticks.
So, hopefully in my next weeks while I eat healthier and get more exercise, I'll also be making significant strides in my project, and still plan to make a video at the end in the language as always 😉
If you have had similar issues, and found that lifestyle adjustments helped to get over them, make sure to share it with us in the comments below!
And finally... One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.