How You Do One Thing Is How You Do Everything

Why you need ONE big goal if you’re a perfectionist language learner

Perfectionists have a fixed mindset in general, particularly around areas that are often associated with “intelligence” such as business, creativity or language learning. I speak from experience as I’m a “recovering” perfectionist.

What is a fixed mindset exectly? Fixed and growth mindsets are clearly explained by Carol Dweck, author of the book “Mindset”:

In a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it.

—Carol Dweck, Stanford University

If we have a fixed mindset, we feel the need to protect our intelligence so we’re afraid to make mistakes or “look silly” as subconsciously we see it as meaning something about us, given that our intelligence is who we are, a personality trait if you like.

What does this imply for language learning?

  • Overthinking things and checking work over and over again;
  • Putting off speaking up in public until we’re perfect, preferring to practice alone at home in front of the mirror;
  • Ruminating over mistakes or worrying about what others (clients, colleagues, managers) will think;
  • And most importantly, setting small goals that are certain to be achieved or vague goals so excuses are easy if they’re not achieved.

You can imagine how hard it is to take action when you’re fearful, frustrated or feeling stuck. I’ve been there.

That’s why you need a BIG energy-infusing and motivating goal to inspire you into action, inspite of your tendency to procrastinate.

Brendon Burchard, Author of High-Performance Habits, calls this type of goal a “D.U.M.B” goal (you can read more about that here) because it is:

  • Dream-driven: you dream big, using the full scope of your imagination;
  • Uplifting: your goals should inspire you to achieve them, they need to spark joy;
  • Method-friendly: you need to set up a sure-fire method to help you reach your goals, one that primes your environment for success;
  • Behaviour-triggered: similarly, you need to have goals that you’ll think of regularly thanks to certain triggers in your life.

Why will this help your language learning?

By defining what you really, really want and how to work towards that, you gain clarity. Clarity creates confidence, which spurs you into action, which creates confidence… and so the cycle continues.

When you work on one big goal which stretches you, this process automatically brings up all your perfectionist tendencies, limiting beliefs, lack of confidence, imposter syndrome, all-or-nothing thinking, feeling of not good enough etc., that are obstacles on your path to reaching it. In short, all the thoughts you have about yourself. And these thoughts are obviously obstacles on your path to reaching anything else too.

Because how you do one thing is how you do everything.

To achieve this one big goal, you’ll need to change your story about yourself, you’ll need to start thinking differently, which will lead to new feelings, beliefs and behaviour.

And this is why this whole goal-setting process has a ripple effect in your life, not just your language learning. You change as a person, you start seeing yourself differently such as:

  • You are someone who achieves HUGE goals
  • You are someone who shows up and takes action even if it makes them feel vulnerable
  • You are someone who speaks up sincerely and connects with clients, colleagues, friends
  • You are someone who reaches out to others
  • You are someone who talks about their performance/services/products with pride and authenticity
  • You are someone who grows their business and themselves
  • ….

So, what is your ONE big D.U.M.B. goal?


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