Managing Your Motivation

Learning Mandarin Chinese and Feeling Good

So you are learning Mandarin Chinese. Just beginning with it? Are you excited? Do you feel learning Chinese is fun?

These are not irrelevant questions. The reason most people fall short of how far they want to go with learning Chinese is at some point they give up. They lose the motivation they need to carry them over a hump in their learning.

For some the hump was in the middle. But for many, the hump that zapped their motivation and made them throw in the towel was right in the beginning.

Whether it's a slow death or a fast one, most people who set out to learn Mandarin never make it very far.

Don't let it happen to you.

How Can You Avoid This Fatal End?

The answer is obvious. Always keep the process of learning Mandarin Chinese a fun one, not a painful one.

What is not obvious is that you have complete control over how enjoyable the process is for you. I don't care what spot you are in now. You can make learning Mandarin Chinese very pleasant for yourself.

Overwhelm yourself with positive feelings.

Chinese is not difficult. Or maybe Chinese is difficult. I don't know. I don't care. And neither should you.

As long as the Mandarin road is fun - as long as you are feeling the rewards and not overwhelmed by discouraging feelings, you are on the path to success - the path to speaking Mandarin Chinese fluently and accurately.

There are learning activities that make you feel good. Either you already know some of these, or your motivation to learn will lead you naturally to explore and find them. The key is:

Stick to Activities That Energize

Pay attention to which activities you do in relation to learning Mandarin Chinese energize you - which ones make you feel good. Do more of those.

But most importantly of all...

Distance yourself from patterns of thinking or beliefs about learning Chinese or your own abilities that de-energize.

That means bye-bye to negative self-talk.

And you can replace these energy drainers with activities, and methods, that do energize.

Go to the library or the bookstore. Get on the web. Find stuff that makes you comfortable. There are so many great resources out there. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Or, if you'd like, you can spend a lot of money. Just be sure to do it on an informed basis - not in a semi-desperate attempt to find that cure-all for your Chinese learning needs.

The point is, again, find what you like. Don't be satisfied with methods or materials that you aren't comfortable with. Don't be discouraged if you have to wade through a bunch of stuff that doesn't click with you.

Learning a language appeals to so many different parts of your brain, of your personality. It's impossible that you could not find an approach, a set of materials, a podcast, an activity, a class, a tutor that is right for you. They don't need to all be right. Right now, you only need one or two that engages you at your current level.

If you have been settling for methods that are painful for you, the chances are that you have a belief that learning Mandarin Chinese is supposed to be discomforting. But it just 'aint so. Learning Chinese is as enjoyable as you make up your mind that it will be.

When you begin accepting that learning Mandarin Chinese could be rewarding and fun, you open the gates for the methods that are right for you to fall into your lap.

Release Dangerous Expectations or Goals

Unrealistic goals, high expectations will not energize you. They will drain your energy more than they will motivate you. This is coming from both my own experience and also the experience of observing other language learners as their friend and sometimes as their teacher.

In the spirit of maintaining high motivation, I have a very important tip to offer you. But prepare yourself, because what I'm going to say goes against everything our culture tells us about how to achieve. But if you are brave enough to accept it, it could be one of the most effective tips you've received in years. Are you ready?

Set your goals and expectations low. Or if you prefer, don't have them at all.

Yes, this goes against a lot of the success-wisdom out there that heavily stresses super-stardom goal-setting.

If you have had success with such goal-setting activities in other areas of your life, that's great. Keep doing what works.

But if you have not had this kind of track-record with goals, don't be pursuaded that you need them. If you master enjoying the process, the goals could just be added baggage.

Even slightly unrealist goals can sabotage your efforts.

And loosen up on expectations.

Do you find yourself comparing your progress to others? This can be another energy drainer. If comparing with others is sapping your energy, recognize it and free yourself from the artificial and false standards you created with these comparisons.

Accept that you do things at your own pace.

Join the successful Chinese learners. These folks are finding enjoyment in learning Mandarin Chinese. They don't compare, don't fret about their current level. Even if they are not 100% satisfied with their current level, they know next year they will be further along, and they know that the road that will take them there is one they are happy to travel.

You can travel in the same optimistic style as these folks. It's quite easy. But you must do one more thing...

Pull out the Weeds

Over the next couple of weeks, watch yourself - pay attention to your feelings, even to the tension in your body when doing study activities. Do you feel any tightness in your neck, shoulders, legs, arms? How can you adjust either your body or the activity so that you are relaxed?

How about your beliefs? If you have the belief that learning language is hard work, or if you have the belief that learning language may be easy for others, but for you it is hard work, you need to pause. Do you really want to continue to lug this heavy belief around with you?

Question these beliefs you have about learning Mandarin Chinese. Considering that all research points to the fact that anyone who is free from any serious brain damage has the basic equiptment necessary to learn a second language.

Try this: Imagine you are a caring and rational friend of a person with the language-learning beliefs you are lugging around. What would you say to help your friend who feels that learning Mandarin Chinese is not a pleasant business?

How about this example:

I am too old to learn languages. My mind isn't as nimble as a twenty-year-old's anymore.

You know what you, the caring and rational person would say to your discouraged friend. Go ahead and be kind enough to yourself to share the same advice.

I'll tell you what dose of reality I would kindly share with my friend:

Yes, according to research, some abilities related to language learning do seem to drop off at certain age markers, however according to those same researchers, the significance of those declining abilities is really not very significant.

It would be like a 35 year old saying "I won't go shooting hoops with my buddies for exercise, because I'm past my prime basketball years."

Who cares!

But really you don't need my help what to say. You can think of some good reasonable ways to talk sense to your friend (of course I really mean 'to yourself').

You must become this friend to yourself. Put out your antennae for your negative self-talk: "I'm too busy." "I'm no good at learning languages."

If you know you have some of these little bugs in your thinking, then your language learning success depends on redirecting your mental energies.

Become a gentle, reasonable friend to your language-learning self.

Write in a journal if you wish. Speak aloud to yourself for a minute about these issues. Anything you do along these lines, no matter how small, is a big step forward.

Take Delight In Chinese Culture

Researchers on second language learning have found that successful learners tend to have positive feelings towards the culture where the language is spoken.

How fortunate for you that you are learning Mandarin Chinese!

Chinese culture is so rich and has so many delightful aspects, it is a breeze to cultivate these positive attitudes. The language is beautiful, Chinese writing is beautiful, tea culture is delightful, Chinese art is wonderful... the list goes on.

Find out what aspect of Chinese culture turns you on and find some ways to have more contact with it. These pleasures will further magnetize and dispose you toward learning Mandarin Chinese.

Enjoy the journey. That's what it's all about. Being able to speak Chinese won't happen overnight. Far from it. But uncover the joys in learning Chinese and in time, speaking good Mandarin will be the most natural outcome.

And like the Chinese say, "天天快乐", or "happy everyday"!