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Motivation & Procrastination: How to Balance Both to Speed up the Language Learning Process

How consistent are you with your language learning? Do you bring the same amount of progress week after week? Or, do your productivity and motivation levels fluctuate with time, resulting in periods of stagnation keeping you from accomplishing your language learning goals as quickly as you’d like?

If you belong to the latter group of people, you might find it reassuring to learn that you’re not alone. Most people deal with productivity fluctuations throughout their professional lives. 

But how do you find the right balance between bursts of motivation and periods of procrastination? And is it possible to use both of these occurrences to speed up the language learning process?

Let’s find out.


The Role of Motivation in Achieving Results


Over the past couple of decades, there has been a significant amount of research on productivity. And, the ever-growing interest isn’t much of a surprise.

Not only are overall productivity levels on the rise year by year, but new trends keep proving just how much we can boost our output by making the right choices. 

For example, look back on 2020 and how it forced the world towards a remote working model. During the pandemic, most companies expected to see significant production declines. Nonetheless, it turned out that they got the exact opposite – with 57% of people stating that they’ve been more productive working at home than at the office.

Still, when it comes to accomplishing long-term goals, like becoming fluent in a foreign language, tricks will rarely ever get you across the finish line. What science suggests you should look at instead is motivation.

According to a research paper published in 2011, there are two things required to motivate people to do better work:

  1. They need to find meaning in what they’re doing.
  2. They need to have a sense of responsibility for the results of their effort.

And it’s easy to apply these findings to language learning as well. 

For example, if your goal is to become fluent in German, you might find yourself losing interest once the novelty of your lessons wears off. 

But, if you set a goal that you’re passionate about—like understanding a complete Wagner opera without subtitles, relocating to Europe, or hiking the Malerweg Trail all on your own—then your language learning process is much less likely to suffer from (the completely natural) dips in motivation and productivity most people go through.


Why We Procrastinate

OK, but what if you are motivated to speed up your language learning, yet still find yourself procrastinating?

Well, if that’s the case, you need to accept that the problem isn’t motivation or your inability to be productive. If you find yourself putting off tasks and struggling to be disciplined, the problem is more likely to do with your feelings towards language learning.

According to psychologists, procrastination isn’t a bad habit but rather a defense mechanism. It’s the type of behavior we revert to:

  • When we’re feeling outside of our comfort zone (because we know the thing we have to do will be difficult).
  • When we’re overwhelmed by a goal that seems too far outside our reach (trying to achieve native-like fluency in Japanese, for example).
  • When we have doubts about our capabilities we build up excuses to fail before even getting started. 


How to Balance Productivity Fluctuations for Language Learning

Now you know the role of motivation in achieving results. And, you’re aware of the obstacles a defense mechanism such as procrastination can cause. So, you may find yourself wondering: What can I do to ensure that I am learning as consistently as possible, despite the natural ups and downs of productivity levels?

Well, it turns out that you can do quite a lot. And the best thing about it is that it doesn’t necessarily mean devoting more time to practice. Instead, the ideal learning routine for consistent results should rely on working smarter, not harder.

The following are a few methods you should try out:


1. Allow yourself to be lazy

One of the best ways to increase your learning speed without creating a sense of overwhelm or exhausting your supplies of motivation is to approach it with a laziness mindset. Despite what you might think, being lazy about work or studying doesn’t necessarily have to mean skipping your tasks. Instead, it means finding better ways to do them. For example, if you don’t feel like doing vocabulary drills, you can choose to read a book or magazine article in your target language. Or, you can use social media for the purpose of learning. You can even experiment with a few productivity apps and see which ones help you get the most done during the least amount of time. 


2. Try to get into the state of FLOW

Another great way to get more out of your learning sessions is to try and get yourself into a state of mind where you’re fully immersed in the learning process. To achieve this, you’ll have to do four things:

  1. Set a clear goal about what you want to achieve during your learning session.
  2. Eliminate all distractions and time-wasters from your learning space.
  3. Add a challenge to your goal (ideally aiming to do something that’s just slightly above your current level of knowledge).
  4. Make sure you choose a task you’re passionate about.


3. Don’t push when things aren’t going your way

If you’re an ambitious person, you might find yourself frustrated by a period of slow learning in your language acquisition process. But the thing is, becoming angry with yourself won’t do you any good. Instead, it will just nip your motivation in the bud and create a subconscious connection between your language learning activity and the negative feelings you’re experiencing. So, if you see that you’re going through a “down” period, don’t let yourself become angry. Instead, acknowledge that you’re not performing at your best at the moment and allow yourself to take a break if needed.


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Final Thoughts

Achieving progress in today’s fast-paced world can be a difficult and overwhelming task. Especially if we allow ourselves to acquire unrealistic expectations about how fast we’re supposed to be working.

But, the thing is, it’s normal for people to experience fluctuations in their motivation levels. And it’s also completely natural to see dips in productivity or even not feel like working on something.

On those occasions, the best thing you can do is not blame yourself for hitting a rough patch. Instead, accept that motivation and procrastination often come in waves and find ways to make the most of your current state. Because, ultimately, even if you take a couple of weeks off from language learning, your knowledge won’t immediately deteriorate. But, if you push yourself beyond your limits, you’re more than likely to burn out and give up.

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