Note: This post is part of a 31 day treatise on habits. For the entire list of posts, go here: 31 Days of Habits
Blogging inspiration can come from anywhere. So can insight.
Today I was listening to my husband and oldest son talk about learning to play the guitar. My oldest picked up a guitar a couple of years ago, and with the help of YouTube, taught himself how to play his favorite classic rock tunes. (His most recent tune is I Hung My Head by Johnny Cash, via Sting.)
Anyway, my husband said that the way he taught himself guitar was to focus on learning one chord at a time. And he would practice that one chord over and over, repeatedly for one day until he had it memorized.
After he said that, the wheels began turning in my head.
I wondered: if he had set a goal of practicing for “X” minutes per day, or simply the goal of practicing every day, would he have been as motivated and successful in learning? I’m thinking… no. Instead, he focused on learning a chord… something that’s easy to measure. At the end of the week, he could celebrate having learned 7 chords.
I got to thinking about my goal of learning to speak French. A big, hairy goal indeed, especially for someone with no French speaking relatives, in a monolingual country. And I’ve done well in practicing French for 4-5 out of 7 days a week for about 3 months now. I’m proud of that… and yet, I realized instantly that this was the wrong way for me to go about it.
At the end of a month, I can say that I practiced French for “X” number of hours… and yet I FEEL as if I haven’t made progress. Of course, that’s silly. I watched a French movie with English subtitles the other day and recognized an amazing number of words. I know a lot more French than I did 3 months ago!
But learning a language is such a huge goal, that it’s easy for me to focus on the end result… something that is YEARS away. That is immediately disheartening and probably unconsciously impacts my learning.
Then I remembered something else. I read a story about a woman who had to lose a ton of weight – I don’t remember the details, but it was at least 100 pounds. She did it, not by focusing on the total amount of weight she needed to lose, but by telling herself, “I’m going to lose 5 pounds.” Which is easy. Anyone can lose 5 pounds. And so she did. And when she succeeded, she told herself, “I need to lose 5 pounds.” And so on, and on, and on… until she was at her target weight. She never worried about the total goal, only on losing that 5 pounds.
So now, with my French lessons I am going to do a couple of things differently.
First, I’m keeping a notebook just for notes on French. In it I’ll write the vocabulary words I’m learning, as well as notes on conjugation and grammar. This way, as this notebook gets more filled with writing, it will serve as a visual reminder of how much I’ve already learned, of the progress I’ve already made.
Two, instead of thinking about “learning French”, I’m going to focus on “this week I’m going to learn 5 new French words” (including pronunciation, spelling and conjugation).
Being able to check “French” off a daily to-do list won’t be able to touch the feeling that looking at this notebook will give me, I just know it. It will feel totally different.
What do you think? Have you ever made a slight tweak to how you approach a goal and noticed that it had a dramatic impact?