Isn’t it frustrating to understand everything that people are saying around you but feel like you cannot participate in the conversation because you believe your language ability isn’t good enough?

Well it’s time to do something about it. By that I am not suggesting for you to go and enroll in an intensive 20 hours a week English course (although the extra practice certainly would be helpful). It’s time to take control of your learning.

“Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself”
— Chinese Proverb

Keeping yourself going

It’s helpful for you to have a good teacher, but what is even more helpful is to have drive. You need to have a strong desire to learn, and you need to set firm rules for yourself about how you will practice and when.

The first step in achieving this is to set firm goals for yourself (it’s a good time of the year to be thinking about this right now, but you can do this whenever you want). Imagine yourself in January 2019. How is your English?

If you said to yourself “the same as it is now”, then you are quitting before you even started!

Why goal setting is difficult

Most people try to avoid goal setting because it never seems to work for them. The reality is, most people are so careless about their goals that they don’t even bother following or checking up on them once they are set.

The secret to effective goal setting is to be systematic.

But what exactly does it mean to be systematic? It means to have a set of rules and boundaries for yourself that you do not break, and if you do, you punish yourself or make up for it next time.

For example, if you plan to study for 30 minutes this evening but feel tired and spend your time looking at Instagram instead, you have to spend an additional 30 minutes studying the next time.

Sounds simple, right? The problem is, most people don’t have discipline while studying. They say “tomorrow, tomorrow”, and tomorrow becomes next week.

So, in addition to punishing yourself for breaking your rules, you need to reward yourself for keeping to your study plan. 10 times in a row and you get a piece of tiramisu!

Finding your direction

Clearly there is more to discipline than just rewarding or punishing yourself. You need to have a clear sense of purpose. Why are you learning the language?

I am learning English because…

Is it difficult to find a reason? Try defining it in terms of ability. Think about what you want to achieve with your language skills.

Don’t just read ahead. Stop here and really think about what you want.

After you have defined your purpose, compare these two examples of goals:

  • I am learning English because I have to pass IELTS so I can register for a master’s degree program abroad.
  • I am learning English because I want to continue my studies and participate in the international academic community, so I am using IELTS to determine when I will be ready to study abroad in English.

I hope you can notice the difference. One of them is looking at the exam as a barrier, while the other is looking at the exam as a tool.

So what difference does it make? Well, which one do you think is more helpful for your success, a tool, or a barrier? An enabling device or an inhibitor?

Understanding what motivates us

We do things for one of two reasons. We either do a task for our own personal reasons (intrinsic: think interior), or we do it for other reasons (extrinsic: think exterior).

So an extrinsic reason for learning English would be to get a higher salary or a promotion.

An intrinsic reason for learning English would be to communicate with other cultures to explore their beliefs and values. Intrinsic motivations should be explored in more detail to help define your purpose.

Returning to the two different versions of a goal to pass IELTS, you may have already noticed that one of then is intrinsic, and the other is extrinsic.

Dan Pink has done a lot of research to understand our motivations and incentives. One example is an experiment in which three people were paid differently for doing the same task:

a) two weeks salary

b) one months salary

c) two months salary

Who do you think had the best performance? Watch this video and you’ll find out.

As you can see, it all comes down to 3 main factors:

autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We’ve been looking quite a lot at purpose with the previous exercises. We will cover the other two in following posts.

So how do we actually set the goals and stick to them?

Well, we have to be smart about our goals.

Did you learn something? Help your friends to learn too!

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