It’s happened to you, and it’s happened to me.
You start out really motivated. You practice writing some hanzi, listen to some Chinese podcasts, review lessons from a textbook. Everyday. Everything is going according to plan. Then, for whatever reason, you miss a day. And then you miss another day. Before long, studying Chinese becomes the elephant in the room. You don’t want to avoid studying, but that’s what ends up happening.
What can you do to counter this? I’ll explain a bit later. But first, we need to look at motivation.
Motivation’s ebb and flow
Motivation is a powerful force. It can get you to perform at a high level, but it can’t do it indefinitely. Motivation comes and goes. Most people study hard when motivation comes, and avoid studying when motivation goes. But some people have found a different way.
Wonderful, sticky habits
Habits are things that you do everyday and are more important than motivation. Why? Because habits are stronger than motivation. Here’s an example:
It’s late at night. You’ve had a long day. You’re exhausted. But no matter how tired you are, you’ll pull yourself into the bathroom and brush your teeth. Your body’s motivated to sleep, but your habit of brushing your teeth trumps your body’s motivation. (I’m assuming everyone brushes their teeth. Let me know in the comments if you don’t.) That’s the power of habits–you do things even when you’re not motivated to do them.
Make learning chinese into a habit
Some people tell themselves they’ll study Chinese at lunch everyday, or study every evening after dinner. They have the right idea, but putting a habit into the middle of your day isn’t easy. During the course of a day, so many situations can arise. Lunch plans can change. Long days at the office can make you too tired to study. If you really want to slip the habit of studying Chinese into your life, you’ll need to start at the beginning.
Wake up: It’s time to study Chinese
The best time to study Chinese is first thing in the morning. Right when you wake up. Don’t check your phone, or the Facebook, or the Twitter. Instead, do something related to Chinese. Read a lesson or an article. Do some flashcards. Practice your tones for a few minutes. Too tired to study? Study anyway. When you’ve just woken up, you still control every aspect of your day. If you use that control to study Chinese, you’ll create a habit that can last.