A bit of self-discipline and soon you'll be celebrating with fireworks. Image from freeimages.com

Automatising Self-Discipline : From Zero to Two Hundred Posts!

This post is a particularly special one for Polyglossic. It marks two hundred weekly posts since the site launch almost four years ago. And the secret to that unbroken run? The old trick of repeating a new habit to the point of completely automatising self-discipline.

It is boggling to look back on the journey. It started as a personal challenge to improve my writing and focus my ideas on language learning. Through sticking with it, it became a habit almost by stealth. And it is a habit I wouldn’t do without now.

Hitting that weekly goal was not always easy, however. Some weeks have involved a long, hard think about fresh and original material. But there is always something to write about, and there is always the joy of writing it. Fortunately, there are the trusty favourite themes to revisit: Anki, Evernote and iTalki tips, amongst others. Exploring them on Polyglossic has been the source of so many valuable discoveries as a language learner.

Automatic self-discipline

But the best part about that weekly writing challenge? The self-discipline to write regularly has now become automatic. Where blog planning was once a deliberate effort, it now happens almost imperceptibly, in the background, without a second thought. Making sure to leave aside a couple of hours on a Sunday for editing and proofing, for example, is so ingrained that it just feels normal.

And that magic can work with any habit we want to adopt, including language learning.

So how do we go from zero to hero with a brand new goal? Here’s how I found the spark to get going – and keep going!

Use All the Available Tools

We’re only human. Sometimes, we forget, especially in the early stages of building new habits. As a helpful initial scaffold, we can enlist the help of all the modern-day tools at our disposal. These include to-do lists (electronic or old-fashioned pen and paper), mobile phone alerts / reminders and planning tools like these nifty time blocking notepads.

Tools like these keep you afloat while your habit is still sinking in, like water wings holding a learner swimmer above water. Eventually, your habit will be firmly established, swimming under its own power, and the supports can drift merrily away.

Likewise, there are ready-made frameworks for planning and organisation that support solid habit-building. The Twelve Week Year is a very straightforward, goal-oriented system, for example, and one I keep returning to. Scour the productivity shelves at the bookshop for gems like this. One bonus: they tend to be pretty short reads, too.

Pre-empt

Forewarned is forearmed. Avoid deadlines creeping up on you by keeping an eye on the calendar. Just because you aim to do Task X on a Sunday, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do some groundwork if you find yourself at a loose end on Saturday.

With a blog, be alert to post ideas during the week, and note down useful phrases or a skeleton paragraph structure as they come to you. With language learning sessions, glance over the material you plan to work through before the time. Search for extra resources and handy links on your phone whenever you have a spare moment. Embed good habits in your life – those that stick are not just isolated islands or quick bursts of activity here and there.

Developing a pre-emptive self-discipline extends to your work or study environment, too. Choose your time and place carefully to avoid interruptions. I find coffee shop working effective – it removes me from home distractions and the bustle helps me focus.

Have Contingencies in Place

We can pre-empt on a longer-term scale than just the week-to-week, too. Since life is often less than plain sailing, have some contingencies in place for disruption.

For blog writing, that might mean having a couple of draft posts almost ready for publishing just in case it looks like you will miss a deadline. More than once I’ve been saved from missing a week by a handy backup post!

For language learning – especially time-oriented goals like X hours a week – calendar slack is your contingency. In practice, this might mean setting aside a catch all hour or two in your week, when you can make up for any slippage. Or it might involve smart planning, where your scheduled ‘hour’ is actually 45 minutes, with some wiggle room either side.

Also think about building in margin to bulletproof your schedule against upsets. By not filling every waking minute, you have some space to hit your targets even when things go awry.

Share, share, share

Taking pride in the fruits of your good habits is important. And interacting with peers over them is an especially warm and sociable way to do that. For some projects, like blog-writing, sharing is a natural part of the process. But telling others about your progress works with all kinds of other projects.

Take the polyglot community, for instance. Like-minded souls use social media platforms to share their hopes, wishes and progress updates. It needn’t even be anything lofty. Revelling in a shared love of dabbling, for example, is a fun way to get others on board with your regular language goals. In return, the likes and comments can be a valuable source of encouragement.

Feeling recognition for our efforts can keep us coming back for more, reinforcing new habits and further automatising self-discipline. Better still, it sparks an exchange of expertise and advice that helps make everyone better.

Want It!

Lastly, make sure that your habits are building towards something you really want, some overarching goal or life plan. Doing it because you want it takes some beating as a motivator.

Polyglossic was born of that initial spark and desire to create, and through those cycles of organisation, repetition and encouragement, the self-discipline to keep the wheels turning has become automatic. That’s proper everyday magic, there. But any of us are capable of it!

Happy birthday, Polyglossic – here’s to the next two hundred!

A new calendar means new language learning resolutions. But how to stick to them? (Image from freeimages.com)

Five Ways to Stick to Language Learning Resolutions

We are well into the New Year now, and – if you are like me – you probably have a list of language learning resolutions as long as your arm. But doesn’t cold, damp January feel like the longest and hardest month for keeping to them? It can seem far too easy to get discouraged.

Never fear: here are some sure-fire tips for staying on track (or getting back onto it). 2019, we are coming for you!

Set reminders

Set your watch for timely language learning

If it’s a case of simply not remembering to stick to your routines, you can employ a little digital help. Setting training reminders on your devices is one of the easiest ways to enforce a new routine and begin habit-building.

My to-do and reminder app of choice is Wunderlist, which is both free, and goes far beyond a simple reminders app. For instance, you can subdivide your lists of tasks into separate sections, like simply ‘Languages’, or even one for each of your languages. It also allows for repeated tasks, which are perfect for daily and weekly learning tactics. Ticking these off regularly creates a real sense of ongoing achievement.

If you are a fan of Evernote (a fantastic, yet unsung hero of language learning!), you can use its reminder feature to similar effect. I use Evernote for longer-term planning, and setting reminders for regular reviews of planning documents is a resolution-saver.

Also worth checking out are Coach.me, Streaks and, of course, your plain old smartphone to-do / calendar apps. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the best.

Tie your language learning to other habits

Our lives are already complex webs of routine and habit. Leverage that by linking your new, desired behaviours into what you already do.

Jogging is a routine you can easily tie new language learning habits to. (Image from freeimages.com)

Regular walk? Use that to listen to target language material like podcasts. Regular commute? Make sure you have plenty of foreign language Netflix downloaded for offline viewing. Spare minutes after getting ready for work? Do your 5-10 minutes of Anki or Duolingo.

You can find multiple points where your existing habits can anchor your new ones, too. With apps, taking advantage of a variety of platforms gives you multiple entry points in your daily routine. I use the Anki app on my bus and train journeys, but open up the desktop app for a quick revise before I start work at my desk.

If apps feature heavily in your language learning life, try chaining them. Piggy-back your new platforms on the back of an already well-established one. Already doing 5-10 minutes of Duolingo every day? Try coupling your Verb Blitz or Memrise right onto the tail end of that.

Enlist help

Strength in numbers - enlist the help of others in your language learning resolutions. (Image from freeimages.com)

Strength in numbers!

Personal goals shouldn’t be a lonely business. Do you have friends or relatives who can lend a hand? A supportive partner to remind you to do your daily Anki every day could work wonders! Tell them how much it means to you to succeed in your language learning goals. Getting them on board will be an invaluable source of encouragement.

A popular concept in peer coaching is the accountability partner. This is a friend or colleague you regularly meet up with to compare progress on goals. Each participant’s goals can be quite disparate, as the function of the accountability partner is to act as a sounding board and motivator. All you need is someone else who is also working on self-improvement goals for 2019.

You can also help others to learn while helping your own goals along, too. We learn, and consolidate previous learning, through teaching. Even sharing an overview of recent progress with others can help you to reflect critically on your own learning. With that in mind, why not commit to sharing progress in your resolutions with your nearest and dearest?

It’s also worth mentioning the immense value a professional coach can offer, if you really want to bring in the cavalry. I circumnavigated some sticky learning impasses in 2018 thanks to working on my goals with a coach.

Get right back on that horse!

Controversial fact: the “New Year” in “New Year’s Resolutions” is the least important part of all!

The truth is that New Year’s Resolutions are lent a bit of artificial magic by dint of that special date of 1st January.

If you have slipped up, there is no need to write off your goals until the next year. The best time to start again is always now. As with a diet, saying “I’ll be good from tomorrow” is a delay tactic that you should never fall for.

It might help to regauge how you divide up your blocks of time. Let’s face it: an entire year is a very long stretch for goal planning. Instead, productivity writer Brian Moran suggests a 12-week cycle, which has worked a treat for me.

Don’t burn out too soon

Finally, make sure to keep yourself mentally and physically in kilter. Pushing yourself too hard means burning out, or worse, coming to resent your own resolutions.

Learning to build pace and pause into your routine is as important a skill as fully-fledged language learning work. Too much rigidity can stifle the most enthusiastic learner – aim for self-kindness by allowing for fluidity in your plan.

Regular audits of your progress help, too. It may be that you set the bar too high for January 1st. Be honest with yourself. Can you scale back slightly before stepping up again later? Better to do that, than give up completely.

A recent example from my own 2019 challenges illustrates the need to be flexible, and revisit / reformulate resolutions on a regular basis. One ambitious target I set myself was to make at least one overseas trip a month to practise my languages. Now, that might sound difficult, but it is quite possible on a budget; there are a number of tools to source cheap flight and hotel dates. But, alas, at the mercy of dynamic travel pricing, it looked like I might miss that target in the very first month.

Not to worry: I’ve reformulated that goal as: make trips to at least 12 different overseas destinations in 2019. Resolution rescued!

Whatever your goals for 2019, let these guiding principles keep you on track for language learning success. Here’s to a fruitful twelve months… and beyond!