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Absolutely perfect learning conditions? An unrealistic pipe dream that holds you back


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

While I realize many people think that I have the absolute ideal conditions any language learner could dream of, of “no responsibilities” and an uninterrupted 12 or so weeks of non-stop Japanese learning, the fact is that it will get interrupted. That's life.

For the last week, I've been very sick. I had a deep bronchial asthmatic reaction caused by some allergen, which left me extremely short of breath, and with a whooping cough that would wake me up several times in the middle of the night, where I'd need to stand over a sink to cough out mucus in my lungs for up to an hour straight, and then end up sleeping in late because of all the interruptions.

This is definitely not an ideal situation to be in, at any time, but especially when you have an intensive three month project like so many of us are having this year. When you can only breath in short breaths, this makes you incredibly unfocused (large amounts of oxygen are kind of a necessity for a healthy polyglot's brain!) so I've made next to no progress in my Japanese since last Wednesday (the cough was starting the day I recorded video, and I had to do a couple of retakes until I had one where I wasn't coughing – the next day my breathing issues really began).

I took non-prescription medicine for the entire week, but had to go to the doctor when I didn't see improvement, and he's given me more powerful stuff and diagnosed what I had. He also gave me an injection in the ass-cheek (to help against whatever allergen caused the issue, which I likely got exposed to in a brief visit to Madrid just over a week ago), which I wasn't expecting. Since I did that yesterday, I am still coughing a little, but I can take much deeper breaths and have my energy back, to get back on track with my Japanese as of today.

As well as that, I'm in much higher spirits (the total lack of energy was also sapping my study motivations in the last week) – enough to make the ridiculous photo above to laugh at my own illness and many remedies to cure it, as you can see!

Unfortunately though, I don't have time to prepare for my next Japanese video, and wouldn't have anything to show for it anyway (beyond what I could do last week), so the next video update will have to wait until next week. Sorry about that!

Every mission I've ever had, has had interruptions from my ideal plan

Now, you may think that this is some kind of excuse to present for why things may have to be drastically altered in the Japanese project goals, but far from it!

While six entire days removed out of a project of just over 90 days is very far from ideal, I actually expect something to go wrong and make my plan in such a way that it includes a buffer zone for such things.

In fact, despite a normally very healthy immune system (I only get sick about twice a year), travelling to new places all the time expose me to random health problems; in Egypt this year I had the worst sickness I've had in my life and was bed-ridden for an entire week and lost almost 5kg (11lbs) over just a few days.

In Taiwan during my Mandarin learning mission, I had 3 days where I went deaf in my right ear due to an infection and had to take a day out to visit a doctor to have it seen to, and then I had another 3 days around my laser eye surgery for both the surgery and recovery time. Neither of these was given as a reason for why my Mandarin learning was slower than I would have liked. (My biggest reason was actually stress from lack of social contact in my first two months as a beginner, and why I now prefer to learn in countries I am comfortable in first, as I am doing this time).

Then there are other unknown factors that come to play to take your attention away from the project, like for instance on occasion I have to take an entire day off my language learning project for something related to the blog, like answering a really long interview (such as for National Geographic), fixing a technical issue when the site crashes, and many many other things required with running a huge site, which can't be avoided that overflow into my Japanese learning time.

Something always happens. When it happens you deal with it as quickly as you can, but definitely don't abandon the project because your perfect plan has been interrupted!

If you expect perfect learning conditions, then you are setting yourself up for disaster

6-8 hours a day of complete focus and efficient learning, for 6 days a week, is the ideal and what I aim for, but so far it hasn't happened. I'm going to see if I can get a new wind and make this next week the most efficient one yet to balance out the previous week.

Perfect learning conditions simply don't exist in the real world, and if your perfectionism makes you wait until you have them, then you will be doomed to failure. A warped perspective on other people's situations can also make it feel like they don't have a single problem in the world to deal with and is why they have all the success, when you may be understanding luck wrongly.

A long-term condition of everything being perfect all the time is unsustainable and unrealistic. What I prefer to do is try to make things as ideal as they can possibly get and then handle problems quickly and swiftly, whenever possible, if they come my way so that I can stay on track.

I expect other hurdles to jump over, in the coming 2 months and 1 week, both with challenges the world simply throws at me irrelevant to language learning (“Real Life Problems”), and with issues in Japanese that may slow down my progress. The trick is to be aware that they will happen, and handle them well, and then get right back on the horse and charge forward!

Now that I can take deeper breaths again, I can now charge forward with my rallying war car! Japanese ho!!!!

If you have a challenge that is taking up your time and energy, just remember that it's something everyone has to deal with in some form. Focus on finding some way to solve or reduce the problems that affect your language learning (or any) project, and then you can get the focus you need back.

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Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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