Embracing a Lack of Progress

Embracing a "lack of progress" is just what the government does already.

There’s an attitude that I think is immensely important with any sort of long form learning or self-improvement project like language learning that doesn’t get talked about very often, at least not in a way about embracing the attitude itself, and that is learning to accept and being okay with not seeing improvement in yourself day-to-day.

Obviously, people are warned that there will be days that feel like that.  The process is slow and methodical, and it’s about putting in the time over the long haul, so from one day to the next you can feel like nothing’s happening, and you need to just take to heart the fact that the growth is happening.  Or there is a discussion of specific times where that lack of improvement is going to be really noticeable, like the “intermediate plateau” and the like, so you can brace yourself and muscle through it.

In general, that’s all good advice, because it can be frustrating and discouraging to feel trapped in a perpetual state of not improving, which can lead to giving up.  What that advice is aimed at, though, is working through that feeling, and what it doesn’t cover, is the mental state itself.  It says, “This is something that will likely happen to you, don’t let it eat you, and you can move past it,” without ever saying, “Embrace it.”

And I get that, it’s a hard thing to want to try and embrace.  Feeling like you’re stuck in a rut sucks.  You end up cycling through a bunch of different mental traps for yourself, questioning your methods, questioning the value of your project, and questioning your own skill level, and being told that feeling like that is a normal part of the process and you can muscle through it is great to hear.  You can start to filter out your own negativity more easily.  It isn’t something wrong with the method, or with you, or the task is impossible, this is just a natural step that you need to distance yourself from.

However, after accepting that it’s a natural step, it seems to me that the best thing to do isn’t to start gritting my teeth and pushing until I break through the other end, it’s to work at being happy and satisfied with where I’m at now, and let the expected improvement that will be coming eventually be something more incidental.

This idea is related to lots of little parts of big personal projects, where it’s best to focus on the daily elements rather than getting caught up and overwhelmed by the intimidating Big Picture, or how it’s important to create a workflow that is inherently entertaining or engaging so you’re getting fulfillment out of the journey rather than just waiting for the end result.  The happier you are doing your day-to-day tasks in a project, the more likely you are to keep doing them day-to-day.  Maintaining that is the most important factor in gauging whether or not someone is going to succeed at a task like learning a language, not the learning method they’re using or anything to do with their personal foundation, skill, or motivation, it’s whether they can stick with it consistently or not.

Regardless of the qualities of the learner, it’s easier for someone to stick with something indefinitely if that something is pleasant to do, and regardless of the qualitied of the activity, nothing is pleasant if it’s tied up with anxiety, annoyance, and frustration.  It’s easy to sour on reading a book—even if you are really enjoying the book—if it feels like you’re wasting your time doing it.  It’s easy to let something slide for a day, then a few days, then a few weeks, if doing it instead always left you feeling annoyed.  People work hard to position themselves in an effort to mitigate or cover up that feeling.  An alternative is work at not feeling that way in the first place.

Now of course there’s a bit of ‘easier said than done’ to that idea, I know, and I have trouble following my own advice here.  I have learned to be happier with the journey and to just enjoy the things that I’m doing to (slowly, imperceptibly) improve my Spanish simply for what those activities are rather than from trying to learn anything from them, but I am hardly a Buddhist monk.  I get frustrated when something that feels like “I should get this by now” remains opaque to me, and sometimes I feel soured on the whole prospect because it doesn’t feel like I’m getting anywhere.

I can’t be purely, unconditionally happy with the process, because I feel like if I was, I wouldn’t feel the need to try and improve past my current level.  The yearning for better is what keeps me working, so I can’t divorce myself from that thought process completely.  Having that goal in mind inevitably leads me to comparing it to where I’m at currently and being left wanting.  It’s a push and pull.

It is something I try to be mindful of, though.  That goal is there and I am aiming for it, but it’s on a different level from what I’m doing today, and what I’m doing today doesn’t matter.  I don’t need to notice an improvement, I don’t need to try and get better, I just want to enjoy where I’m at currently.  And most of the time that works.

Well then, let’s take a look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 9/17

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 9/18

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 9/19

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 9/20

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of El Atlético Invisible, ~30 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 7 episodes of No Hay Tos, ~150 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 9/21

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, 2 episodes of Arte Divierte, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 9/22

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 2% of El Atlético Invisible, 1 game of FTL, ~120 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 9/23

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: Samurai Shodown Thunderstruck Tournament Top 8, 1 episode of La Zona Cero, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/3 books and 1 video game, 600 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 11 YouTube episodes and 7 podcasts, 660 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 21 hours 0 minutes

A more standard sort of week compared to the previous one, with a few standout exceptions.  The biggest weird day was Friday, when thanks to a weirdness of my day job I had a three-hour commute home, and ended up filling most of that time with No Hay Tos podcast episodes.  Sunday I played through another game of FTL because I felt like it, and Monday I watched a youtube broadcast of a Samurai Shodown tournament in Mexico (yes, that’s how the game spells “showdown,” yes, I hate it, too) with Spanish commentary.  I am hopeful I can find more broadcasts of FGC tournaments in Spanish in the future, because I had a really good time watching that.

Outside of those deviations, it’s been a lot of me watching longer form Daniel San GMR playthroughs, many of which I’d watched before a while ago, as that’s the sort of thing I tend to do with Let’s Play content.  I wish he made more stuff like that, but in the meantime I’m on the lookout for similar sorts of people on YouTube to follow.  I do like the more polished stuff like what’s on Netflix and all, but it just isn’t something I watch that often outside of this specific use of practicing Spanish, I barely watch movies and television shows on my own for fun.  Youtube stuff, meanwhile, is something I watch habitually, and it’d be nice if I had more habitual-watch things like Daniel San GMR or La Zona Cero that came out on a more consistent basis.  I’m sure that will develop naturally as time goes on.

On Duolingo this week, on a sentence that featured the verb phrase “log in,” someone expressed confusion because they were under the impression that the word was spelled “login,” which is a word, but it’s an adjective or noun.  This is specifically interesting to me, because I feel like it’s a glimpse in on part of the English language that’s in the process of changing.  Because me saying that login is an adjective and noun, in the context of statements like, “That’s the login page,” or, “I forgot my login,” while log in is a verb phrase, in the context of, “You need to log in first,” is a “rule” that practically nobody follows.  Most people are totally unaware of this “rule,” and use login for all contexts.  You’ll even see some conflicting definitions for the word in different places online if you go looking for it.

In the next couple years, I expect “login” to fully replace “log in” in all informal contexts, and formal contexts to start recognizing and accepting it as a legitimate alternative.  Maybe one day the “log in” spelling will be considered archaic.  It’s interesting to be reminded of how English is a living language that develops and changes as time goes on.

Looking forward, I wanted to end this week on a high note with my numbers, but I am concerned that I am going to have to cut back a little on my current expectations for time devoted to Spanish per day.  Not drastically, mind you, but I am feeling like I’m at a point where I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with my life, and am suffering from fraying at the edges trying to do too much, even if some of the “stuff” doesn’t necessarily take up any extra time.  I’m over two weeks into quitting smoking, which has me feeling like it’s really gonna stick, but doing that wreaked havoc on my diet, which in turn has me struggling with my mood and energy levels and has led to me screwing up a bit on my daily writing from just being too burned out.

I haven’t sacrificed any time from Spanish so far while going through all that gunk, but I am sacrificing bits of basically everything else I’m trying to do, and succeeding at those other things marginally is more important to me than always getting 3 hours of Spanish in.  So, I think I need to cut down a bit on what I’m expecting of myself per-day, at least in the short term until I can re-stabilize everything else.  Maybe that will be after a few days, maybe that will be after I hit a goal weight, maybe that’ll be thrown out the window by something else going on.  Any which way, I’m going to try toning it down to 2.5 hours starting the day of this blog and see how that goes, maybe dropping down to 2 hours if absolutely necessary, and maybe jumping back up to 3 on select days that are otherwise going breezy or are light thanks to not working.  I’m going to be playing this by ear.

Welp, that’ll do.  TTFN.

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