Identity-Based Language Learning: How To Never Lose Motivation Learning Spanish (Or Anything Else)
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If you’re like most people, this is what learning Spanish looks like:
Day 1: Get inspired by a video, resolution, or upcoming trip. Start learning, full of enthusiasm
Day 2: Learn a little bit, tell yourself you’ll do more tomorrow
Day 3: Skip learning since you’re “busy” with other stuff
Day 4: Back on it! 30 whole minutes
Day 5-7: Busy again…
Day 8: What’s Spanish?
Day 9-??: Waiting period before inspiration strikes again.
If you’ve ever struggled with maintaining motivation to keep learning, this post is for you.
In fact, this framework will help you maintain motivation with almost anything. It’s exactly what I’ve used to train myself to take cold showers, get up earlier, put on muscle, learn Spanish, go to the gym, build businesses, and more.
All habits, or things you do in your life, follow the same ladder.
Stage 1: Enthusiasm
Stage 2: Habit
Stage 3: Preference
Stage 4: Identity
Let’s break that down.
Ladder Rung 1: Enthusiasm
Let’s say you’ve decided to start eating healthy.
Maybe you just watched a video, a talk, talked to a healthy friend, made a resolution, had a health problem, want to get in shape for the summer, or any other of a myriad of inspirations or reasons to get started.
The most common course of action at this point is to harness your enthusiasm and attack your goal, using your “unbreakable” willpower to keep yourself from drinking soda, having fast food, eating more vegetables, etc.
The problem is, this only works for a short period of time. That’s why new years resolutioners fail every year.
If your goal takes more than 1-3 weeks, this burst of enthusiasm will go to waste, unless…
…you use it to build a habit.
Instead of using the enthusiasm and willpower to hold yourself to eating healthy for a particular end goal, you use it to build a habit.
People who focus on a goal fall off at this stage, and go through this constant cycle:
People who focus this inspiration and enthusiasm on building a habit get to the next rung of the ladder.
Ladder Rung 2: Habit
If you leverage the initial enthusiasm correctly, you now have built a habit of eating healthier.
At this point, it doesn’t take much, if any, willpower to maintain the habit.
You may not really like eating healthy that much, and still have cravings for different foods, but you’re not struggling too hard to eat well.
This is a much more sustainable phase, but this habit is short-lived, and your habit of eating poorly is much more heavily ingrained. So the risk of regressing is still there.
But, if you can hold to the habit long enough, and educate yourself on the WHY behind eating healthy – know the research, understand rationally the benefits, have experienced wins in your life because of eating healthy – you will then get to the next rung of the ladder: preference.
Ladder Rung 3: Preference
At this stage, you PREFER eating healthy. You don’t just have the habit of eating healthy – you actually prefer those steamed veggies with steak over the Big Mac. You don’t really even want the unhealthy stuff anymore.
Once you reach this level, you won’t be regressing to eating poorly anytime soon. You prefer eating healthy anyway, so it’s easier than eating poorly now.
But if you can get to the next rung, you’ll never regress to eating unhealthy again.
Ladder Rung 4: Identity
At this level, you not only prefer eating healthier, but it is PART OF YOUR IDENTITY.
It’s part of who you are to eat this way.
To eat a basket of fried chicken and twinkie would not only not be enjoyable (because you prefer healthy food), but it would go against your very self-defined identity of who you are.
It would go against the all-powerful stories you tell yourself about who you are.
It would be like a die-hard democrat calling for lower taxes for the rich. It just wouldn’t happen.
Once you’ve reached the identity rung of the motivation ladder, eating healthy is not just a habit, not just preferred, but it’s just who you are. It’s just you, being you.
This rung takes a long time to get to, but you can use a weaker, “pretend” version of it to help you build from the habit to preference stage.
How Does This Relate To Learning Spanish?
Here’s what the stages look like for learning Spanish, roughly:
- Enthusiasm. You leverage this to start taking Skype classes an hour a day and doing a few minutes of vocab training while in the bathroom each day.
- Habit. You have a habit of learning or practicing your Spanish every day, so you are constantly improving, though you may lose the habit still.
- Preference. You prefer doing Spanish every day to not doing it. You’d rather use Spanish than not.
- Identity. You’re the type of person who is always working on their Spanish, always making progress. It’s just who you are.
Most likely you are at rung one right now. That’s OK – that’s where we all start. But build a habit first, don’t use willpower.
Do that, and you’ll never lose motivation learning Spanish again. And you’ll be conversational, then fluent, before long.
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