The Golden Hour.
That time just after sunrise when light can be at its most beautiful.
That time you fix to start out on a fresh new goal.
That time you hit the snooze button and fall straight back to sleep.
Ever been there?
All your enthusiasm and motivation from the night before magically vanishing into thin air?
I certainly have.
The question is then:
how do we transform motivation from that impulsive itch of something we want to start into an irresistible urge to do it every single day?
I started this series describing learning as a journey and how for learning to be truly effective, it needs to integrated as closely as possible into our day-to-day work and life.
The notion of a journey also implies the idea of a beginning, a middle and an end, almost like a line.
In this article though, I would like to introduce the idea of learning being in a circle, more specifically the motivation element of learning.
What are the roots of motivation?
Tell me, what is it which comes to mind when you think motivation?
If we were to break down the word we would get the word motive coming from the old Latin term motivus meaning to move or impel.
And if we were to look at the Chinese term 动机， in the character on the left 动 we find the component 力 meaning force or power or strength.
So simply put, we are looking at that thing inside of us, that force or strength which pushes us to move forward and do something.
Our inner reason.
Which is good.
But how come, even with the best of "reasons", we still fail to pull ourselves out of bed on those dark mornings, instead pulling the blanket round us and hitting the snooze button?
How come, with the best of intentions to learn something new, not even two days in and our brain is already freezing up?
Is our inner reason just not strong enough?
Not big enough?
Not illustrious enough?
Not at all.
It actually comes down to our understanding of motivation in the first place.
It's not just about learning techniques: well-designed learning comes in layers
Now during this ten part series I have shared with you various learning techniques all centred around effective second language acquisition, with a specific emphasis on learning Mandarin Chinese.
We've looked into the heart of what really makes learning effective so each of you can find success in your individual learning journeys.
However effective learning isn't just about black and white technique and theory.
It's also about getting to the real heart of what makes us tick as humans and what makes us learn effectively, above and beyond what traditional learning has fed us as standard for decades if not centuries.
And so while the first eight parts of the ten part series focused more on specific techniques for transforming what most consider to a very difficult language to learn - Mandarin Chinese - into a fully, even relatively easily, achievable challenge, these last two parts have taken a different approach.
This is because too often in learning we learn technique after technique after technique. However, what I want you to discover in this section and the previous one, is how all these techniques have been designed with several objectives in mind, and that no one technique does just one job.
So in 9/10 Discover EIGHT techniques to developing the power of intuition in Chinese language learning we went back over each of the techniques we had discussed so far and I metaphorically added a filter to them, that filter of intuition, as each had been conceptualised and designed with this possibility to not only learn explicitly but also learn implicity and prioritise intuition in the learning process.
And in the same light, instead of submerging you in yet more techniques, I want you to see how various aspects of motivation, specifically designed to optimize learner motivation and bring it to the fore, were written into each of those techniques.
What you will discover in particular, is how motivation in learning goes much much deeper than that initial burst of motivation and reason for starting the learning project in the first place.
It will also radically transform your outlook on motivation in learning and suddenly your brain will be awash with all the possibilities this new knowledge will open up to you.
I will definitely be letting you in on some great learning secrets, so get ready!
Motivation Factor Number One: the need for utility
In rethinking the concept of difficulty in learning Mandarin Chinese the primary focus was the need to create a cycle where we can repeatedly learn and use the language we are learning.
However from a psychological point of view and at a level of motivation, this is very important because it is a key way to reinforce the utility of what we are learning.
Too often in a learning context, we have a lot of input, we take a lot in, for very little output.
This is because many courses out there are curriculum based and there is a necessity to cover a set amount of material in a given period. Because it has been taught (and usually tested) it is automatically assumed that that knowledge has been acquired.
Not only in these cases do we get a serious case of information overload which you can listen more about in Are you an intellectual hoarder?, One tiny seed, One giant tree: The secret to building your knowledge, the secret to making it grow, and Learning and the Fat Issue - Are we becoming 'intellectually obese'?, we quickly feel a sense of frustration because there is all this buildup but no outlet for it.
Coupled with this also comes a feeling of what we could actually term pointlessness, because again, we don't quickly experience that sense of utility.
Note specifically my choice of the word experience here. This is deliberate, because in learning there is a big difference between knowing something is useful and feeling it's utility for yourself.
But more about the notion of experience a little further into this article.
Just remember for now, that creating this cycle where we automatically learn and use something directly serves to give you that sense of utility in learning and creates that balanced input output scenario where knowledge doesn't get backed up and everything runs like a smooth well-oiled machine.
Having that direct input output cycle only makes us want to keep moving forward because we quickly know it is having a positive effect.
After all, isn't that the type of learning you want to experience too？
Motivation Factor Number Two: Motivation and the need for perspective
It is also incredibly important, particularly when it comes to the psychology and motivation side of learning, to keep perspective. Yes, learning can often feel difficult, but many times, this is down to the way we are learning it in the first place, and often it is down to perception.
Just as in life we may naturally fear pain, difficulty actually follows a similar pattern and it is human nature to run from it rather than embrace it. It is a number one factor in giving up, so if we want to succeed in learning, it is essential that we face this concept head on, and very early on in the game.
Difficulty in learning truly is a perception. Sure, something may be complex, but even complex doesn't have to be difficult.
Think about the beauty of taking something complex and turning it into something clear and understandable.
After all, isn't that what learning should really be all about?
If we don't get something straight off, don't be afraid to stop, stand back, and look at it from another angle. Don't be afraid, to stop and break things down into bite size easily digestible pieces of information. Don't be afraid of stopping, mixing things up and presenting it in a completely different way.
The only time and place difficult equates impossible is when we let it take root in our minds.
Keep it out of our head in the first place and you will be astounded how much you actually can learn instead of being constantly held back by the reins of self-disbelief.
Go test it out.
Your learning and motivation levels will never be the same.
Motivation Factor Number Three: Motivation and a strategy of reverse psychology
Lack of understanding is also a major motivation killer when it comes to learning a second language.
Being in a situation where we don't understand anything or very little can lead to a feeling of being lost of being powerless.
It's not nice.
So logically in learning a second language we focus all our attention on trying to understand.
I mean first it's logical, and second everyone does it that way. So it must be right.
Or is it?
The irony is, that in everyone focusing on understanding, racing towards comprehension, focus is actually on the very opposite thing.
You see, the more people focus on trying to understand, the more they actually don't understand and the more they realise how much they don't know and how much they have yet to learn and...
You see where this is going?
On a psychological level, it's pretty much a disaster in the making.
Focus is on what you don't know.
>This makes you feel deficient.
>>Which in turn makes you feel not good enough.
>>>Which then can make you feel you will never get there...
In talking about cycles, this is the very last one I want you to experience, yet it is the one most people go through at some point or other.
In understanding the psychology of learning we have the knowledge and the tools to break that cycle, replacing it with an approach that makes you always feel you are achieving and always wanting to reach that little bit higher.
Already in creating that cycle of learn and use we first talked about, we build that sense of utility and avoid that sensation of going nowhere or wasting our time.
Motivation Factor Number Four: Celebrate your achievements big and small
In taking focus off what we can't do, we start to see what we can do and this feeds into our sense of achievement and desire to make that grow even more.
To do this we need to almost employ a strategy of reverse psychology, a strategy which may come across as completely counterintuitive, yet was clearly demonstrated in 3/10 Never one without two: the TOP secret to optimizing your learning environment in Chinese.
Here we saw, in the context of listening, three things promoted:
1) Listening which is not graduated according to comprehension levels, but rather authentic material right from day one-directional
2) Listening which instead of being active and focusing on understanding, is rather passive and not making any specific effort at comprehension
3) Constant day-to-day exposure to the spoken word-for-word.
In learning this way, even if we may assume we will have a sensation of drowning from the very beginning, this is actually something which disappears very very quickly. Almost like those first three days when you have decided to completely cut refined sugar from your diet.
And in deliberately expecting and setting yourself up to understand nothing, you very quickly start to surprise yourself at what you do understand.
Every small achievement actually becomes a celebration. Every element of comprehension starts to get you excited.
That feeling that you are surpassing your expectations, that feeling that you want to keep experiencing that sense of surprise and discovery again and again and again.
This is exactly that feeling which feeds into that constant desire and urge to keep learning.
That excitement which will have you even throwing off the blanket in the morning to get up and start learning.
It is almost a replica of that excitement we experience as children as we discover the world around us and that incessant quest and thirst to keep exploring.
Like tapping into that inner child who may still want to come out to play.
This is the perfect playground to do just that.
And not only has it given you that huge surge in excitement and motivation and desire to learn more, it has also completely alleviated that frequent sense of loss and failure and inachievement which more traditional learning tends to accord us.
Motivation Factor Number Five: Never confuse the need for a break with failure or giving up
It is that sensation of learning to climb that incredibly high mountain, but discovering you can actually enjoy every step of the way, even when your feet are hurting the most.
And don't forget, while there may be times to push forward, there are equally times when you need a break.
Let's not kid ourselves, climbing that mountain is hard work, but taking a break doesn't mean going all the way back down and losing our progress.
Taking a break is stopping to let yourself breathe and rejuvenate and take in the breathtaking view of how far you have already come.
Believe me, do it right and that will charge up your motivation levels quicker than you can even say the word!
Awesome, isn't it?!
It's just putting a big smile on my face even as I write this :)
Motivation Factor Number Six: Enlightened learning that feeds into motivation
In 4/10 Why learning Chinese characters may actually make learning Chinese EASIER than Pinyin alone we looked at language learning through the metaphorical concepts of foundations and building and the complexities these can entail.
Again, this may come across as counterintuitive, particularly in the light of what we discussed in 1/10: The secret to finally overcoming the phenomena of difficulty in learning Chinese about not wanting to fixate our minds on Chinese being a difficult language to learn.
But in not letting the perception of difficulty become so big it blocks us in our dream to achieve something, we also have to be clearly aware of potential difficulties so we do not let these take a negative hold in our projects very early on.
Many times, as previously discussed, we run from difficulty just as we run from pain.
It's a natural reaction.
But some of our greatest achievements actually come from taking in hand, facing and eventually conquering our greatest fears.
Fear should never hold us back.
But it takes courage and determination to look it in the eye and see it for exactly what it is.
And it is the exactly the same when we want to learn a language such as Chinese which is universally considered to be very difficult.
In acknowledging the difficulty, or rather the complexity, we actually face it head on and in this way can better design strategies and techniques to successfully get past the more challenging aspects it may throw at us.
Sure, many people may try to throw at us shortcuts and fast tracks to success, but just be aware, that very often, such short cuts actually completely miss out essential parts of the language altogether so later on you actually feel more handicapped than if you had made that extra effort at the beginning.
While for most people, focus is on getting from A to Z in the quickest way possible, when it comes to language learning there are some things we need to know in advance:
It takes time to learn a language.
While there are methods and techniques to reduce that time considerably, it still takes a considerable amount of time to learn a language effectively.
It is, as I described in Part 4, very similar in investment levels to building a house.
We may take shortcuts, but is it going to give us a complete house? Or will we find ourselves without a roof or a roof that leaks?
And even if there are techniques to build a house more quickly, it still needs just as much thought and careful design, in fact even more when working on a short time scale, to come out with a creation worthy of that construction.
The key question though is, not how long something will take, but how am I making the very best use of that time I am investing?
It is all about optimizing our learning time to get a very maximum of results.
It is only when we approach learning a second language in this way, with our eyes wide open to what it entails, that we actually face and get through any difficulties with the least amount of casualty.
In knowing the difficulty will be there, deciding from the beginning we will not be phased and building into the process specific strategies to counteract those elements of difficulty, we will find ourselves moving forward with barely a dent in our motivation levels.
Motivation in second language learning, in fact in any learning is a vast topic and this article could get considerably longer.
However, based on what we discussed in Motivation Factor Number One, the first thing we want to avoid is overload.
Take these suggestions, go out there and implement them into your learning programme and you will love the results.
If you would like one-on-one help on implementing them into your personal learning programme, contact me here and we can arrange setting up an initial meeting.