I'm in Tokyo now for the first time in two years, and it's mostly familiar. Some things don't change much: the spinach-lentil curry from Nataraj is still a taste bonanza, it's still confoundingly difficult to wrestle a SIM card from one of the phone companies, and I'm still not equipped with a good enough sense of direction not to get lost. But one big thing has changed: all of my gaijin (foreigner) friends here are much better at Japanese.
It's astounding, really. My Chinese friend is so fluent that I assumed he was Japanese and I had just forgotten, another now knows seems to know all of the Kanji, whereas he barely knew any last time I was here, and a third who never seemed to speak before effortlessly chats with Japanese people now. This is the other side that I talked about in Instant Habitual Change.
Maybe it's a result of our instant gratification culture that people don't like waiting anymore. The problem is that some things require waiting, and if you aren't willing to wait you end up missing out on a whole category of experiences and accomplishments.
Like learning Japanese, for example.
No amount of waiting around doing nothing is going to teach me Japanese. I have to supplement my patience with tutoring sessions, trips to Japan, and sounding out every Japanese word I see when I walk through Japan town in SF. Most importantly, I have to execute my practice with respect for the amount of time it will take to learn the language. I pace myself for the marathon by installing good habits and building a solid foundation of the basics before moving on. If I was trying to sprint to learn Japanese, I wouldn't have time for these things.
I used to wish that I could be famous instantly. Every blogger wants his blog to be widely read, and it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that if you just had that one big link on Digg or Reddit that you'd instantly be mega-popular. But, of course, these things don't matter much. You get linked and get a spike in traffic, but those people are mostly gone the next week. What actually builds readership is putting out quality posts consistently. As time passes you become a better writer, get a better feel for your audience, and find your voice. I'm not good enough at these things yet to be famous, but I'm getting closer and will get there some day.
Weight loss is another big example. Try and lose thirty pounds in a month and you'll either fail or gain it all back the next month. Focus on a healthy diet for the long haul and within a year you'll easily get to a healthy weight and stay there. You can instill the habits instantly, but results take time to manifest themselves.
So that's how I get things done these days. I very quickly change my habits and plans, and then wait and course correct to see the changes turn into results.
Nice blog, Tynan. I'm self-teaching myself Italian, I live in Washington DC in the USA. French or Spanish would be easier options, but I want to learn something I'm actually interested in and have passion for. The one stumbling block will be I'm not in a position to travel to Italy regularly. Can a language be learned to CONVERSATIONAL/casual reading/intermediate level through tutoring and self-study? Do you or any readers have any tips or suggestions?
Tynan, I am curious as to if you ever tried to learn Spanish?
I studied for 5 months on my own, and I am now in Chile to live for 5 weeks (4 weeks left) as part of a Study abroad program with the University.
It really is amazing, and I would love to either learn Chinese or Japanese and go to Asia.
Living in Chile is a great experience. I am going to graduate from College, but afterwards, I want to see more of the world, and I love your blog.
The first day, I couldn´t speak or communicate with these crazy chileans, and after ONE week, I have already seen a massive improvement!
Keep blogging, and in the mean time, I will hopefully figure out a way to live abroad such as yourself and run into you one day.
I loved this short but insightful post!
Patience is becoming a forgotten virtue nowadays.
Having learned a few languages myself (including English as a second language) so I know it's a lifetime commitment. Even when you think that you've learned the language, you haven't really! You're still a student and you need to keep that attitude. Then if you don't use the language for a year or two, your brain puts it in a dusty bin somewhere and you have to dig really hard to bring back what you worked so hard for.
It's like that with any skill. Van Halen said that to become a "decent" guitar player you need to practice 5 hours a day for 5 years. Steve Martin said that to become a decent comedian takes decades of practice.
Any skill worth having is worth spending a lifetime to hone!
Thanks for the long focus. Sometimes that's all it takes to remember that my Japanese is far better than it was a few years ago, and my readership is bigger than it was a month ago. And sometimes remembering that is all you need to keep moving forward toward awesome.
I was introduced to your blog by my little brother and have been hooked since. Just love it!
How long are you in Japan for? would be awesome to meet you!
I'm an Aussie and been working in Tokyo for the last year.
Hope to hear from you!
As someone else that spent months and years wrangling with polyphasic sleep, I'm sure you can understand the mixed feelings I have for 'time'. For a long time it just felt like I was constantly in a fight with it.
The past year or so I've really learned that for many goals, time is simply an ingredient to achieving them.
The clearest example was when I learned the Colemak keyboard layout. All I had to do was type every damn day and time took care of the rest. A month in I was back to normal speed.
After learning a new keyboard layout, I figured it shouldn't be too hard to learn piano. And although some piano pieces are difficult _learning_ piano is not.
I just show up everyday in front of the keys, practice thoughtfully and time takes care of the rest.
It's been about 8 months of that and it's really astounding how comfortable I'm getting playing.
Well said, Tynan.
I've been in Japan for just over a week now. Todd and my Japanese teacher, Michiru, just left yesterday. My friend Brian is still here. Michiru took us to a bunch of places we'd never been before, and guided us through the murky Japanese-speaking waters. Todd took a lot of great photos (same camera setup as me -- NEX-5 with 50mm/1.1 lens). While the memories are still fresh in my mind, I'll share a few stories from the trip.
I'm finding that a few minutes of reflection from time to time goes a long ways.
My natural tendency is to get into motion, to take action, to do things. But, I'm starting to see that I jump on trivial and mostly useless stuff sometimes for the desire to be in motion.
I was doing a review of my last week, and I came to a pretty amazing conclusion. If I'm working on big, important stuff with deadlines, the maintenance and day-to-day stuff naturally fills in the cracks, and things are good.
However, when my highest priority is maintenance/fill-in-the-cracks type stuff, I don't get as much done. Surprisingly, when I have less to do, even the little stuff doesn't get fully done.
So I'm starting to realize - just jumping into action without reflection isn't always such a good thing, unless it's clear what the most important thing to work on is.