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Do you dream of learning a new language, but then find you rarely take action towards making your dream a reality?
I’ve said before that the biggest factor that holds people back from success is a lack of confidence. Fear of doing the “wrong thing” can cause you to not start in the first place.
This lack of confidence shows up in all kinds of ways. Maybe you find another project to occupy your time. Perhaps you watch television, play video games, or get sucked into YouTube videos.
In other words: you procrastinate.
You might think that an increase in technology would allow us to process information more quickly and get more done. But since the dawn of the Internet chronic procrastination has skyrocketed. According to a study at the University of Calgary, the proportion of us who chronically procrastinate has increased from 5% in 1978 to 26% in 2007. That’s some massive growth!
What if you could hold off on watching your favourite TV show and, instead, spend time focusing on studying a language? What could you get done with that extra time?
Those 60 minutes spent on an episode of TV adds up over time. A 60 minute episode of TV each day, over the 30 days in a month, could mean an extra 30 hours of studying! Imagine how much further you could be with your language learning project with that sort of increase in consistency.
But you don’t have to be a victim of procrastination. My team and I have researched five simple hacks you can use to stop wasting time, all of which have been proven to work by scientific research.
Strategy 1: Give Yourself Some Motivation Mojo with the 2-minute Rule
Procrastination comes from fear. Fear of taking that first step. Fear of yet-unknown challenges. Even fear of success can hold you back.
Fear helps your Instant Gratification Monkey shift attention away from your goals, delaying your ability to begin a task.
But what if you could get started without hesitation?
When you come to a project or a task or a habit you want to build, if it will take 2 minutes or less to complete, then do it immediately. After all, 2 minutes is nothing and you’ll be done before you know it.
What if it’s a task that’s likely to take longer than two minutes to complete? Then spend two minutes getting started. Will you finish in two minutes? Of course not. But since it is the fear of starting that causes the procrastination to manifest in the first place, creating that forward inertia, even with just 2 minutes, makes things much easier to continue.
Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia suggest that taking small actions leads to increased motivation, which in turn lead to more action. Breaking tasks into steps brings up your motivation mojo, and provides the emotional leverage you need to keep going.
Pretty soon you’ll be saying to yourself “This isn’t as bad as I thought. Why not just keep going at it?” and before you know it, you’ll be done!
Strategy 2: Banish Attention-Hogs and Interruptions
A survey of 2,500 people in the U.K. by motivational aid site Webtrate found that over 60 percent of people working on a report or long writing task admitted to being distracted or losing their chain of thought due to email or social media.
Research by Gloria Mark, a leader in the new field of “interruption science” also finds that most “knowledge workers” (someone who deal with information during a task, like language learners) switch tasks an average of once every 3 minutes!
Now if you combine all that with Mark’s additional findings that a single interruption can delay your ability to restart a task by up to 30 minutes, then you’re looking at a lot of lost time!
If you’re going to sit down for a session of language learning, take a few moments to turn off all the electronic attention-hogs that surround you. Go away from your TV, turn off the wifi on your devices, and close down unnecessary applications or windows.
If you are studying via the Internet, then use a plugin like Leechblock for Firefox, StayFocusd for Chrome or Self Control for Chrome, to block Facebook and other sites that will distract you.
Putting these simple routines into place before you study can end up saving you from hours of distraction and non-productive activities.
Strategy 3: Repeat This Mantra: “Multitasking Makes Me Dumber”
Contrary to what some may believe, human beings are actually not set up for multitasking. In fact, we’re terrible at it! Not only that, but it makes us dumber!
A study by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London showed that multitasking actually reduces your IQ more than losing a night’s sleep or smoking marijuana!
And research by Cifford Nass at Stanford University has shown that multitaskers are terrible at fundamental mental actions such as ignoring irrelevant information or keeping information in their head, and it even decreases high level mental tasks like analytic reasoning. All things that language learners need!
So, if multitasking makes us dumber, what is the answer?
Do one thing at a time. Prioritize. Make a decision and stick with it. Single-task.
The more we multitask, the more we crave options, and the less we’re able to choose. Our ability to be effective in life deteriorates as we multitask, so focus on one thing at a time and you will get more of everything done.
Strategy 4: Create a No Excuses Deadline
Sharing your language learning goals is a great way to boost your motivation.
If you work without a system for accountability it can be tempting to let things go or get distracted. After all, who will know?
But creating those systems can help build the emotional leverage you need to push through resistance and start taking action.
According to a 2002 study out of M.I.T., deadlines help control procrastination. But on top of creating the deadline, you must be sure to announce it to someone who will keep you accountable (your boss, your client, a teacher, etc.).
This falls in line with what I’ve said about sharing your language learning projects with friends and family. It’s the reason I share my language learning missions with all of you and why I encourage you to do the same through the Fluent in 3 Months forums or Facebook group.
Strategy 5: Try the Pomodoro Technique and Get into the Flow of Things
As we said above, breaking your work into smaller pieces can help you get over the hesitation of starting your projects and build your motivation mojo. But once you’re moving forward how do you organize your time?
Enter The Pomodoro technique. I use this all the time for my language study sessions
Essentially, the Pomodoro technique works because it improves your focus by breaking up sessions of work into 25 minute intervals, each separated by a 5 minute break. According to one study by researchers at New York University taking these breaks actually improves memory and recall. Nice!
You may have experienced a sensation where you start to get so engrossed in a task you start to enjoy it, and even lose track of time. This state is called “flow”) and it is the ultimate goal for increased productivity. Flow is not only a blissful feeling, but it’s usually when you do your best work. You can think of it like a mental version of a runner’s high.
While experiencing flow isn’t guaranteed every time you work, the more often you sit down with a task, the more likely you are to ease into this super-productive state.
Be Kind to Yourself
Procrastination essentially boils down to overcoming your fears. Whether you fear starting or you fear succeeding, fear causes a barrier to getting started that many find debilitating. Following these five steps can help you work past the fear that paralyzes your productivity.
Break your work into smaller pieces and, using the 2-Minute Rule, a task will be even easier to start. Just by taking initial action you’ll begin to build up your motivation mojo.
Shut down your distracting attention hogs and focus your energy on a single task.
Then, with accountability and a deadline you’ll gain emotional leverage to push yourself forward.
Before you know it you’ll be working in small, productive 25 minute intervals, well on your way to a state of super-productive, blissful flow.
And if you fall off the wagon and find yourself procrastinating? Believe it or not, research by Carleton University found that beating yourself up actually makes procrastination worse! The most important way to deal with a set back is to acknowledge the slight trespass, forgive yourself and move on.
Be kind to yourself and soon you’ll be smashing through your procrastination once and for all!
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.