“Someday is not a day in the week”. Sam Horn
Let me guess.
You need to practise your English. You know that. And that’s why you’re frustrated.
Because you keep putting it off until some day when you’ll finally have enough time.
We’ve all been there.
I know how it is. Despite the good intentions, once you sit down to work, unexpected urgencies and tedious to-dos spring into action and mercilessly hijack your carefully-planned agenda.
And English gets pushed back once again to the deep, dark crevices of your “will-dos”, along with spring-cleaning your exploding closet.
But did you know that this doesn’t have to be the way the cookie crumbles? In fact, let me tell you that you CAN have your cookie AND eat it if you’re willing to do one thing: prime your environment.
Prime your Environment
Your environment plays a big role in supporting or sabotaging your success, which is why you need to design it carefully (i.e. “prime” it).
“It is important to remember that the environment drives our good behaviors as well as our bad ones. People who seem to stick to good habits with ease are often benefitting from an environment that makes those behaviors easier.” James Clear
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, we can follow 3 strategies to design and use The Power of Environment:
- design an environment that makes the good decisions for you (e.g. using smaller plates when you’re on a diet, setting up your phone/computer etc. in English …);
- design an environment where good habits “fit in the flow” of your normal routine (e.g. joining a gym that is on your route home from work, listening to English on your commute to work, or when you’re cooking …);
- remove negative influences from your environment (e.g. putting unhealthy foods out of sight, placing your English book(s) at eye level, removing distractions when you’re practicing …).
In short, by setting up an environment for English that clearly supports what you want to focus on, you accomplish more and with ease.
Suddenly, there’s less noise.
You feel lighter, more relaxed and less stressed.
And what happens when you’re relaxed? You enjoy it more, you learn more.
When we’re stressed, we can’t focus. Our brain tends to go into what we call “fight or flight mode”, which greatly reduces our ability to concentrate.
So I guess your next question is: who can help me prime my environment?
I’ll tell you who can: myself and…. Marie Kondo!
How the Konmari method can prime your environment for English success
Now, if you’ve been hibernating in the chilly confines of your office over the last few years, the one question you’re probably asking now is: who exactly is Marie Kondo and why should I care?
Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant who guides people on how to simplify and organize their home, once and for all.
Her first book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” became a bestseller as thousands of people vaunted the merits of her method, which has even been trademarked “KonMari”. She started 2019 with her own show on Netflix.
So what does Marie Kondo have to do with helping you learn English?
Quite a bit! And by the end of this post, you’ll understand why. I’m going to summarize in my own words the softly-spoken rules she gently sets out in her book “Spark Joy”.
These rules will spring clean your mindset and brush away dusty, old beliefs so that you can revive your motivation for English.
Rule 1. Commit yourself to tidying up
Tidying up using the KonMari Method can be challenging at times, just like when you’re learning a language. It takes consistent effort over time. But the rewards are endless.
- Make a commitment in writing to yourself that you will do what it takes. Sign and date it. Place it somewhere you can see it. You need to be committed to the process.
- When you’re hesitating about doing something else instead of your English practice, be clear about exactly what you could be giving up. Example: when I say “yes” to doing this instead of my English, I’m actually saying “no” to …. (…a potential promotion, more clients, greater connection, better cultural relationships etc.).
Rule 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle
Marie advises us to visualize what kind of house we want to live in and how we want to live in it. Similarly, knowing what you want, as well as why and how, is also essential when you’re learning a language.
It’s like when you go on holiday. You don’t just decide to get in the car, throw your case in the boot and speed off, tyres burning. You take the time to plan and prepare your route, you know exactly where you’re heading and you’ll know for sure when you’ve arrived.
As Lewis Caroll said: if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.
But I know you. You don’t just want any road. You want the direct, no-deviation, fast lane to fulfilling English.
- First of all, remind yourself about the enchanting new horizons that English can offer you. What difference could it make in your life? Why do you want what you want? How will you feel?
- Paint yourself a picture postcard of “what could be” so that you can then rewind back from there to work out your action plan. You can do this with your coach who will help you with the “how”.
- Then, focus on this question: Who will I have to become to make this happen? Maybe you’ll need to change certain behaviours or habits for example.
Remember, doing and being are both important.
Rule 3: Finish discarding first
We can’t get organized if we don’t create space first. We need to get rid of things that we don’t need or want anymore. Things that add to the “noise”.
The same applies to our English. We also need to let go of the unnecessary. “Unnecessary” can be both physical items or mental blocks/assumptions.
- Physical: over our language-learning journey, we continually accumulate books, files, videos, notes and tips. When we add this visual clutter to the already increasing clutter in our own mind, we get an overwhelming feeling of too much stuff/information/things to learn. We lose motivation. We stop practicing. So give away the books and delete the files you find you never use and just keep the few essentials that you enjoy and are the most helpful.
- Mental: we all have our limiting thoughts at times about what we can and can’t do. But if we want to progress, we need to let go of assumptions like “I’ll stay stuck at this plateau forever”, “I’ll never be able to speak as well as her”, ‘I’m too old” etc.
- If you’re not sure what you need to keep or let go of, use the 80/20 rule to assess which activities bring you the most results/enjoyment. Vilfredo de Pareto was an Italian sociologist and economist who concluded that, in general, 80% of results are produced by 20% of causes. So the question you need to ask is: what 20% of my English activities am I getting 80% of my results from? These are the things you’ll keep.
- Change your language during this process. Instead of saying “I have to”, which halts your thinking and gets you in victim mode, replace with “I choose to….”. It’s much more empowering. You take back your control. Simple but effective.
- Make a list of your assumptions and ask yourself if you’re 100% sure that they’re true. Test them. By doing so, you’ll realize that in general, they’re nothing but stories you’re telling yourself.
Rule 4: Tidy by category, not by location
Instead of tidying up, room by room, when we might just end up shuffling things from one place to the next and not actually making any progress, Marie tells us to tidy by category. So, you start with clothes for example, then move on to books, papers etc.
So what advice can we glean from this for our English?
Don’t multi-task in each practice session by trying to wade thigh-deep through a pool of grammar-idioms-presentations etc.. We don’t have to “do it all” at once to progress. What we do need is to concentrate on ONE main area for each practice session.
As Gary Keller pinpointed in his bestselling book “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results”, multi-tasking is not the answer to success. Focusing on one thing is.
On what is this one thing/area based? On what is essential for us and what we enjoy (the two are usually aligned!).
For example, for one practice session, just focus on speaking so that you can really get into the flow. Go deeper. Don’t worry about mistakes, this isn’t a grammar session. The main objective is to get your message across. You can:
- do some oral journaling using your phone to record your voice. (Then when you have a listening session, you can play it back and see what you liked and what you can improve). I tailor my journaling prompts for my clients to fit and further their interests, passions and goals. Believe me, oral journaling will soon be the new black! To get an idea, you can find a long list of prompts to play around with here: Journaling Prompts
- hire an English coach to help you plan and organize your English journey, support and encourage you between milestones and hold you accountable so that you’re sure to arrive at your chosen destination.
- find a language partner to practice with you, on a platform such as italki.
Rule 5: Follow the correct order
Marie tells us not only to tidy by category but also to follow the correct order of priority, which is: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous and sentimental items. This order of items helps you gradually build up your tidying skills before you arrive at the most difficult one: things to which you attach a sentimental value such as photos.
We also need to prioritize in our English learning. You need to:
- know your inspiring/ideal destination in English (see Rule 2) so that practice becomes meaningful, due to it being an essential priority.
- break this goal down into clear, doable, bite-sized chunks, alone or with your coach, so that you have the clarity you need to focus.
- eliminate potential obstacles on your path by priming your environment.
In this way, you’ll be able to calmly go through your “flight-plan” and not get lost in thoughts about the past, distractions, FOMO or other people’s priorities.
Rule 6: Ask yourself if it ‘sparks joy’
Marie’s criteria for choosing what to keep is asking yourself if the item sparks joy for you.
She encourages you to hold something firmly in your hands and study the response of your body when you do this. A spark of joy is like a little thrill running lightly through your body. If the item doesn’t spark joy, your body will feel heavier and you should discard it (after saying thank you and goodbye of course!).
So, how can you get your English to spark joy?
- First of all, your ultimate goal/desired destination in English should thrill and excite you, otherwise you’ll never find the motivation you need to make time for it. So, if you’re not getting a spurt of inner energy/sparkle when you think about “what could be”, think again.
- What do you love doing? Make a list. Now, insofar as possible, do it in English. If you enjoy hiking, find an association of English-speaking hikers you could join. If you love reading, join an English book club (or create one!). If you love yoga, join an English yoga class. Welcome English into your lifestyle like a long-lost friend and your reward will be progress.
- Marie shows us that tidying up should be a special event, not a daily chore. Likewise, English should be something you look forward to and make time for. How can you make it more of a thrill? If you’re not enjoying it, what is missing and why? Fill that gap.
What Marie is actually doing is helping us define what makes us happy and designing our home/lifestyle around this.
I have the same process when I’m coaching English.
Now, you know why.
To revive your motivation, you need to prime your environment by tidying up as follows:
- Commit in writing
- Visualize the what/why/how of your English goal and who you will need to become
- Prioritize by defining the essential and setting up your environment to filter out the unnecessary or unimportant
- Eliminate unneeded clutter, whether physical or mental
- Don’t multi-task, concentrate on ONE area during your practice sessions so that you can get into the flow
- Spark joy in your English!
By constantly making room for what really matters, i.e. the things you love and that add meaning to your life, you’ll feel more fulfilled.
So, it’s time for my last question: do you want English to lead you into your ideal future?
Then remember the following three words each day: less BUT better.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash: by Tu-tu