Lots of owls - not quite the Duolingo one, but they're looking strict nonetheless!

Going Cold Owl (Once More, With Feeling)

Well, friends – I finally did it. I beat my Duolingo Leagues addiction.

Yes, it’s been months in the making. It was back in May last year that I wrote about that tipping point where Duolingo’s gamification switches from incentivising learning, to subverting it. After more than two years in Diamond, my main Duo activity had become all about chasing points, rather than finishing courses.

I’d even sussed out a ‘good’ trick – an easy lesson on Hindi alphabet characters – that I could mindlessly run through to amass points in my idle moments. Then I’d justify it with the two or three daily lessons I’d do that were relevant to my language goals.

Only it wasn’t good at all, in the grand scheme of things. What is was, was a great way to de-direct my learning time on what is otherwise a nice little supplementary app for my language plan.

Surely my idle moments were worthy of something more.

Letting Yourself Fall (and Trusting in a Soft Landing)

Gamified apps like Duolingo are adept at creating a sense of worth out of otherwise valueless tokens. A league title here, an achievement there – it feels good to notch these accolades up. But the real value of a language learning app is never the dressing, it’s the language-y filling in the centre. When it stops being about that, it’s time to stop.

So, in a final moment of take-the-plunge bravery, I stopped chasing the demotion cut-off last week. I let myself fall. And I won’t pretend I didn’t have several fleeting moments of panic when I thought – it’s not too late, I can still catch up!

But nope – I was resolute. And when, on Monday morning, I woke up to – gasp – Obsidian and not Diamond, do you know what? It felt liberating.

I’d broken the cycle.

didn’t feel like I’d left an exclusive club. I didn’t feel like I’d lost anything valuable. I just felt relieved.

Duolingo – Done Right (aka all things in moderation)

Since then, I’ve kept up my lengthy Duolingo streak. But not through mindless tap-tap-tap lessons – instead, through a couple of Swedish and Gaelic lessons to progress through the courses. Just as it should be.

If you’re in this autopilot pattern yourself, ask yourself: what do I gain? Reframing any kind of daily screen-addictive behaviour in this way is the first step in changing it.

Keen on more tips for breaking digital additions? Check out:

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