Making modest goals doesn’t work. They just don’t motivate me enough to make real progress. I find that the results I get from setting several relatively easy goals are usually worse than those I get from setting none at all. Small goals aren’t exciting enough to give me the drive to actually achieve them, yet they are enough to sap my motivation when I don’t achieve them.
A perfect example of this would be the difference between my experiences learning Japanese in college and learning Chinese in Taiwan. When I went back to college after saving enough money to put myself through, I basically poured all of my energy into it. I went from knowing no Japanese at all, save the words everybody knows such as “ninja”, “Toyota”, and “Sony”, to getting a degree in Japanese as one of the top undergrads in the department in only two years. Previously, I’d had no foreign language studying success in my entire life; I’d been horrible in my high school French class. By marshalling all of my resources though, I was able to get to the point at which I could watch Japanese TV and understand most of it, and do so without ever having studied in or even visited Japan.
My experiences learning Chinese have been an entirely different story. The entire time I’ve been in Taiwan, I’ve been working as an English teacher. The results haven’t been that impressive. In three and a half years here, I’ve achieved a lower level of Chinese proficiency than I did with Japanese in two years of studying in America. It’s true that I’ve forgotten a great deal of Japanese over the last three years and that it’s become worse than my Chinese is. There’s no kidding myself about my Chinese skills, though. While I can get around and talk to people just fine, there’s a ton of stuff on TV I can’t understand. The problem with the approach I’ve taken is that even while I was a student at Shida for nine months, my energies have never been completely focused on learning Chinese. In fact, I’d say that while I was there, I was not only unsatisfied with my learning, I was also unsatisfied with my teaching at my part time job. By trying to chase two goals
The way I see it, trying to steer your life in one direction or another is a HUGE undertaking. Taking baby steps doesn’t work… at least not for me. It’s like those people who go on half-hearted diets and do 20 minutes of cardio three times a week. Let’s say they started out 40 pounds over weight. They lose 5 pounds in six months, during which they’ve been lugging that extra 35 pounds through all those cardio sessions. Needless to say, the process is a constant drain on the willpower and most give up. People who go all out, on the other hand may really suffer for six months, but lose the entire 40 pounds, feel motivated, and have the emotional stamina to maintain their exercise habits.
I’m sick of making a half-hearted stab at this and that, every now and then. I’d rather hold back until the time is right and then go for it with all I’ve got. Like everything else, it’s just like poker. You don’t go splashing a few chips into this pot and that pot. No. You wait until you an edge, and then you bet the limit.