Recognizing When to Scale Back Learning

Well, even if I failed at basically everything else, at least I quit smoking.

A common topic to cover in language learning circles is finding and making time for studying, because doing that is often the key factor in determining whether someone learns a foreign language or not, all other things being equal.  If someone devotes either an hour a week or an hour a day toward language learning, the version of themselves that studies an hour a day isn’t just going to learn the foreign language seven times faster than the other version nor are they they going to learn it a hundred times faster, they’re going to learn it infinitely faster, because the one only going an hour a week isn’t going to be able to learn the language ever.  Time, effort, and consistency are vital to learning a foreign language, so being able to carve out as much time as you can for it is a very important consideration.  It’s a topic I’ve written about a few times myself.  Something that doesn’t get talked about that often, though, is recognizing when it’s necessary to step back from the daily language learning time.

If you were to jump down to the weekly number section of this blog, you’d see that I made good on my conclusion last blog and dropped back a bit on my daily expectations of study time.  I haven’t cut back all of it by any means, I dropped from a target of three hours per day down to two and a half.  Still a pretty high expectation, I feel, but reduced from how it’s been for a while now.  As time goes on, I may decide that I want to up it again, but for now it’s going to stay as it is, possibly dropping further to two hours if I find it necessary.

Cutting back was a bit of a hard decision for me to make.  Working on this project has been a major feature of my life for quite a while now, as we’re approaching two years of time working on Spanish here pretty soon, and as the blog has gone on I’ve been working at increasing my daily time and effort in a sustainable way as much as I could.  Stepping down in effort feels sort of like going backwards or admitting defeat at something.  Here I am trying to do a difficult thing, and I’m making the decision to work on it less.  I must not be trying that hard to do the thing.  It must not be that important to me.  Feeling that way about something kinda sucks.

That all said, it’s important to work at recognizing yourself and how you’re spending your time and determining if what you’re doing is healthy.  This month, I hit a point where I’m forced to admit that it isn’t healthy for me.  Not the amount of Spanish work I’m doing specifically, three hours a day split between reading novels or watching youtube is hardly self-destructive or anything, but rather everything else compounding together into something unhealthy.

The biggest culprit is that I quit smoking at the start of September, which seems to have been the straw that broke me.  I’ve been good about staying quit and don’t plan on backsliding, but that’s pretty much the only thing that’s managed to be easy for me this month, because while I don’t miss smoking or nicotine, I’m suffering from a heightened feeling of anxiety as just the background noise to my life.  My diet’s been shot, with me eating terribly and regaining a bit of weight I’d lost previously, and is only starting to stabilize again this week.  My writing has been entirely shot, with me faltering and stalling out on some major writing projects outside of this blog, which I’ve been trying to stabilize again but haven’t managed yet.

Outside of the really important stuff like other types of self-care and maintaining my job, the only thing that’s really stayed afloat at all has been this project.  Which is good, and I’m grateful that I could have this to focus on and not just feel like my life had spiraled out of control—something that probably would have driven me back to smoking when I really want to stay quit—but isn’t enough for me to really feel good about things in general.  I like writing, it’s really important to me, and I am in a state of mind where I can’t at the moment.  I’m also still a bit overweight and would really like to drop the last 15 or so pounds, and right now I just don’t have the willpower to manage my food intake all that well.

I have plenty of time to be doing everything I want to be doing.  Hell, not smoking and not eating so much should be giving me more time to work on other things.  The problem is I don’t have the mental energy for all these things.  I’m feeling burned out and beaten up, and end up shoveling snacks into my mouth and zoning out when I could be writing or working on something else productive.  And while learning Spanish is still a really high priority for me, it isn’t so high a priority that it comes at the expense of my health and other projects.  So, it was time to cut back.

Making decisions like that is an important aspect to lots of major projects, and it’s something that I think a lot of people fail to recognize and ask of themselves.  Most of the time people just feel a sense of guilt over failing to accomplish the goals they set for themselves and slowly slink toward giving up entirely, or get so focused on a monolithic, all-consuming task they’ve set out to accomplish that the rest of their life burns down in flames around them without them even noticing.  Part of stepping back and being self-reflective is admitting when you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, and judging when it’s better to reduce, if only temporarily, at the risk of dealing a blow to their ego.  After all, it’s better in the long run to go a little bit slower until something’s finished than it is to run as fast as possible to flaming out and never finishing at all.

Now then, let’s look at this week’s (reduced) numbers.

Tuesday 9/24

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Atlético Invisible, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, 2 episodes of Arte Divierte, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 9/25

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 9/26

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Atlético Invisible, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 3 episodes of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Andrea Ga, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 9/27

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of No Hay Tos, 1 episode of Disenchantment, 1 episode of RicharBetaCode, ~70 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 9/28

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Atlético Invisible, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Disenchantment, 1 episode of RicharBetaCode, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 9/29

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 6% of El Atlético Invisible, ~90 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Disenchantment, 1 episode of Miraculous, ~60 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 9/30

  • Duolingo: 20 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 4% of El Atlético Invisible, ~60 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 2 episodes of Daniel San GMR, 1 episode of Disenchantment, 1 episode of Miraculous, ~90 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 140 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 1/3 books, 510 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 15 YouTube episodes, 1 podcast, and 6 television episodes, 550 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 17 hours 40 minutes

Looking a lot like how these blogs used to look a few months ago.  I’m feeling pretty good about the amount I’m still getting done despite the decrease, and I’m enjoying the novelty of switching off day to day between reading and watching/listening practice as the “primary focus,” getting the spare half hour of time investment.  It ends up giving each day a slightly different flavor to it, which keeps things feeling interesting.

It’s taken a bit longer thanks to the drop in time, but I am nearly finished with El Atlético Invisible.  I should in fact be finishing it the day this blog goes online.  I have enjoyed it quite a bit, though interestingly, it was listed as a Rincewind book on the wiki, but barely has Rincewind in it at all.  Considering I was forced to skip reading El Ultimo Heroe (which was an illustrated novel that’s out of print in Spanish, and I am not spending $300+ on a book), that means I read the last Rincewind book with El País del Fin del Mundo back in May.  As this one ends, I have two more Tiffany Aching books, a City Watch, and a Moist Von Lipwig.  The bittersweet is real.

A new season of Disenchantment came out on Netflix, which drew my attention back to Netflix off of the fun binge through Daniel San GMR stream archives and long playthroughs.  I have a decent backlog on there of things I’d like to watch, so it isn’t exactly like I’m running out of content, but there’s something really appealing about Let’s Plays for me, and I’m disappointed Daniel San doesn’t have more available.  In that line of thought, I watched a few videos by RicharBetaCode, which I found pretty followable even in spite of the host speaking European Spanish.  I’m not 100% sure that he’s my style of youtuber to watch yet, though.  I’m planning on finishing the game series of his I started (the game Journey, if you’re curious) before making up my mind whether to keep going or keep looking for other youtubers.

On Duolingo this week, I ran into not once, not twice, but three times, someone confused over the translation of a phrase like todos los meses into every month, and why it is that month isn’t plural.  The literal translation is more like “all the months,” which makes total sense grammatically, but sounds a little odd, since just saying each or every is much more common depending on the context.  The thing that’s extra weird about this is that in Spanish, you could say cada mes, which literally translates to each month, with the same grammatical rule of remaining singular, so the rule in English should be pretty easy to grok.

Overall, work on this project still feels pretty good and manageable, but my anxiety levels have remained a problem this week.  I’m feeling a bit better, but there’s still a ways to go for me.  I tell ya, if I’d known quitting smoking was going to do this to me, I might have thought twice about it.  On the other hand, I try not to think in those terms if I can help it.  There are other things going on with me that are causing stress and anxiety on their own, and framing it as quitting smoking’s fault entirely both makes it more tempting to backslide and also primes me to mentally associate everything with the fact that I’m not smoking and potentially prolonging the actual anxiety in an artificial way.  Brains are stupid like that.

Anyway, as this week perfectly closes out the month of September, let’s take a look at the numbers as a whole.

  • Total Duolingo: 600 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total Watching/Listening: 15 tv episodes, 41 youtube videos, 14 podcasts, and 1 movie watched, 2,690 minutes
  • Total reading: 2 and 1/4th books and 2 video games read, 2,630 minutes
  • Total writing: 1300 words written, 180 minutes
  • Total Speaking: reading out loud, 900 minutes
  • Total Time: 91 hours 40 minutes

And here’s the breakdown for money spent.

  • Dinero a Mansalva, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • El Atlético Invisible, Fiction, Ebook, Amazon, $6.99
  • Netflix Subscription Standard HD Plan, Television and Movie Streaming, $10.99 per month, $10.99
  • Amount Spent on Fiction Books: $13.98
  • Amount Spent on Services: $10.99
  • Total Spent: $24.97

A pretty strong month, especially taking the intentional dip down in daily time investment into account. I had a couple of really strong weeks leading up to that dip, I suppose.  September wasn’t terribly event-heavy for me, which was a big part of it, and even though American Football has started up again, I’ve managed to balance stuff around me watching that without needing to make any sacrifices.  That might be because I’m still too anxious and burned out to do much writing, but we’ll see as time goes on, I’m still digging myself out of that not-writing hole.

Speaking of writing for the month, I have what at first blush looks like an outlandishly abysmal total, with 2,708 words of fiction and 10,581 words of blogs written for the month, for a total of 13,289 words.  This is, however, mitigated a lot by the fact that until writing stalled out for me, I was working on some major edits.  As a result, I had a number of days where my net writing was negative, thanks to cutting out parts that weren’t working and trimming down stuff.  The month was abysmal for writing, as things trailed off and I haven’t been able to jumpstart it again as of yet, but it is not quite as bad as it looks.  Hopefully I can turn it around in October.  I’d really like to get through the edits and back into drafting again, I prefer drafting.

And going into October, my “hopes” are on fixing writing and maybe getting my anxiety level back down, things with Spanish seem to be going pretty good at the moment.  Even through all this crazy stuff, my listening comprehension feels like it’s steadily improving and I’m picking up more and more stuff from harder and harder sources.  My confidence is going up alongside that, and I think I might be able to start branching out into real talking practice pretty soon.  Maybe.  Just the idea of that makes me more anxious to think about, which is definitely not a good place to move my head right now.  I’ll revisit that idea as October goes on.

Anyway, that’ll do for this one.  TTFN.

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