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Three Speeds of Self Improvement

Yesterday I got a good question from a reader. His email was too long to paste in full, but the gist of the question was that he was trying to do a lot of self improvement stuff at once, and his attention seemed to be too spread to really made a big impact in any one area. How do I manage to make a lot of progress, he asked?

Over the past dozen years or more I've tackled a huge number of self improvement projects. Not all of them have been complete successes, of course, but generally I've been satisfied with my progress. Through that time I've come to classify these projects into three different categories, which helps me coordinate them all.

The first category of self improvement projects are instant changes, which I wrote about here. These are mainly habits that binary, meaning that whether or not you're doing them is very easily measured. Either you're waking up early in the morning or you're not, either you're smoking or you're not, either you're eating healthy or you're not. The process of tackling these sorts of improvements is easy-- you come up with a compelling reason why you MUST switch ("If I don't quit smoking, I will die ten years early and miss seeing my grandchildren") and then you just do it. We have a natural inclination to draw these things out and make them into big deals, tapering them and scheduling them, but I find it much easier to just start now and do it completely. The biggest changes I've made in this category are waking up early, always being on time, and not eating unhealthy food.

When attempting instant changes, do one at a time unless two are complementary. For example, you could quit soda AND sugary food since they're related, but I wouldn't try qutting sugary food and waking up early at the same time. Will power is a strong force and can be harnessed for really impactful permanent change, but it works best with its attention undivided. So make a big instant change, wait 20-30 days or so until it's effortless (possibly more for some habits) and then move on to the next one.

4 Things to Keep in Mind while Learning a New Language

On Ideas in the Making

Learning a new language can be on of the most difficult yet rewarding things one can do with their time. If done correctly, one will fail numerous times, be able to express themselves in unique ways and have easier access to a new culture. Currently Language-learning has been quite the rage, with services such as Rosetta Stone and Rocket languages selling like hotcakes and blogs such as fluentin3months having massive success. New services, such as duolingo and italki are changing the landscape of language learning business and making language learning ridiculously cheaper, and more accessible to everyone. I’ve undertaken learning 3 different languages, with varying success in each, but with each subsequent one being much easier to learn. I’ve tried to see how fast the human mind can learn a new language, especially ones that are radically different from ones native tongue. Currently I’ve  learned a good amount of Japanese, Chinese and German, with my Japanese and German being significantly better than Chinese, but still not good enough to be able to have effortless conversations, which means I must keep pressing on.

I’ve found learning languages to be a very dynamic process. Each language has its own way of expressing itself, Some are very clear, cut and use short, direct words, as I have found to be the case with Chinese. Others are more vague, longwinded, or emphasize particular things, such as Japanese having a verb ending that signals the completion of something. Regardless, learning a new language will definitely bestow you with a new way of looking at the world. Here I want to share 4 things to keep in mind that have radically helped me when learning languages.

1. Spend sometime understanding the aspects of the  language you are about to learn. Specifically try to focus on sentence structure and how meaning is added to the sentence. For example, German is very similar to English, it is subject-verb-object (sometimes its gets mumbled up, but for the most part it is), is preposition heavy and is written in the same scripture, which makes it significantly easier to learn than say Japanese or Chinese. But German is also high agglunative, which means it building meaning by joining words together. German also has an emphasis on cases and gender that is not present in English.

This might seem obvious, but it is very rarely done. Before you embark on the journey of learning a language and learning detailed grammar rules for a specific cases focus on things such as how nouns relate in the sentence, where conjugation happens, and how important is it. A good exercise is usually to get sentences with varying structure and translate them into your target language, something tim ferris suggests in the 4-hour-chef. Exercises like this allow you to find the pattern that will most likely hold true in 80%+ of all sentences. This is makes for a very solid foundation that would otherwise take weeks if one were just frantically reviewing, and learning step by step, instead focus on what the majority of sentences look like, dissect the key elements, and apply them.

2. Find and use a handful of excellent resources at a time; get involved in online communities. The most important thing to keep in mind when one is beginning to learn a language is to find high-quality resources. Find online communities for your target language by googling something like “learn german forum” and see what people are saying, which books their recommending etc. Another good way to find solid resources is to go on Amazon see which books in your target language have good reviews/sales.  When I started learning my first foreign language, Japanese, I bought 4-5 books on Japanese, enrolled in two podcasts, had various decks in my flash card program, ranging from beginner to advanced, and used 4 different websites. This was a HORRIBLE idea. Not only was grammar, and vocabulary introduced at different times in each book, but managing progress was very hard, with notes in one book, flash cards, on my computer, and trying to juggle which activity I should do next.

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