Your own personal Darwin

Learn a language; travel and experience new cultures; take up a hobby; lose weight; improve your relationships; get wealthy.

Whether we like it or not, the ambitious linguist falls fair and square into the category of “Self improvement”. Even if our content doesn’t sit in a book-store’s “Self-help” section, there are enough behavioural similarities to be worth considering.

I have been on this language journey for around eleven weeks now. I have very quickly realised that my quest to become a linguistic Bruce Jenner would need more than moderate effort.

Rather than attempting to map out a strict regime/timetable, I decided to make gradual changes. If you have ever embarked on a New Year’s resolution of getting healthier, and attempted the diet, the exercise regime and the reduced drinking/smoking all at once, you will appreciate the value of baby steps.

I gave each “improvement” one week to bed down before moving to the next. The first change wasn’t strictly related to learning a language; more of a parallel change. I decided to stop snacking after the kids’ bedtime.

One week later, I determined that I would recommence getting up at 6am. There was no 6am task – neither learning, nor exercising. The target was just to make 6am wake-ups into a habit.

Something interesting started happening around the fourth week. The cumulative value of the small adjustments to my schedule started to snowball psychologically. There is an idea that success breeds success. I found that the feeling of capability from successfully embedding a behavioural change, meant that I was more positive about the next challenge.

In the same way that evolution is not about a gigantic leap from single-cell amoeba to thoroughbred horse, personal improvement shouldn’t attempt to track an unrealistic trajectory.

Think of it as “your own personal Darwin” (boom badda BIM ba, boom boom badda BIM ba). Set a steady course of small incremental improvements. Wait until you have automated the desired behaviour, THEN move onto the next step. If you need to take a few days off of improvement now and again, that’s fine. Just make sure that you know when you are climbing back on the donkey.

Not a horse – it isn’t about galloping off into the sunset. It’s about the steady bumpy climb up the rocky path.

How is my climb going? Bumpy. I am pretty confident with the Arabic alphabet, just getting around to the Hindi. I have a few phrases in Polish and Chinese, but I am still unsure about the fundamental grammar required to play with the building blocks of the language. I am making haste very slowly in Korean. My teacher has decamped home for a family wedding, but he did point me to a really good (if not always super-efficient) free online resource.

I will continue to attempt incremental improvement. This week’s task is to begin logging (not blogging) my language work. Build up some time data, and see if the Westinghouse effect can take hold.

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One Response to Your own personal Darwin

  1. Pingback: Faster, higher, whatever? | The Babel Project

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