Motivation and effectiveness, and how I learn languages.

I’ve written about this before, but I think the topic is quite interesting, and it’s worth revisiting.

There is one extremely important principle that should be kept in mind every day and adjust your life to it. It is the absolute basis of our existence, around which everything revolves, controlling our every decision – and most of us are not aware of it at all.

It’s all about the principle of “ego depletion.” Each person has only a certain amount of “willpower” that he or she is capable of allocating to making decisions or doing anything at all. This was demonstrated very nicely in a study

where, in the first part of the experiment, obese people were divided into two groups – one of them was to watch a movie and refrain from an emotional reaction (to use up their “ego” resources), while the other went straight to the second part. In it, in turn, these individuals were offered a gourmet meal. As it turns out, when someone had to force himself to do something before – he no longer had the “strength” to restrain himself from eating.

The consequences are really quite big, if you look at them from the right perspective. First, each of us has only a certain amount of “resources.” If we use them up on something unnecessary, we won’t be able to “afford” the essentials. Someone who devotes his entire life to the gym or ultradistance running, for example, necessarily has to devote less energy to his family, work, self-improvement in other areas. The second very important thing – persisting in toxic relationships, in which we constantly have to force ourselves to, for example, hide our emotions, or to do activities we don’t really feel like doing (even if it’s just going for a walk together), literally “sucks” the ability to act out of us. The term “energy vampire” is much closer to the truth than it might seem.

If we want to achieve any goals in life, no matter what they may be, it is worth remembering this principle and adjusting our plans accordingly. Let me give the example of my language learning.

It is possible to perform an activity in a way that does not consume “resources” at all.

Here a very good example is reading books, or – which is much more beneficial – listening to audiobooks. When learning English, I loaded on my smartphone several audiobooks that I had previously read in my native language. While looking for mushrooms or taking regular walks, I could listen to something that interests me, while unconsciously learning, so to speak.

An element of competition or other fun can be added.

The same activity is perceived quite differently by our “ego” if it is combined with some symbolic struggle, in the form of a game, for example. Learning from (highly recommended!), I’ve added whoever I can to my friends list, and I try to make more points than they do. This is a minor cheat, turning “work” into “fun”. A miner, after 8 hours of making big holes in the ground, will happily dig up his garden, making small holes this time. Runners began to break their life records when they started using apps that turned training into a game, where kilometers earned “levels.” Pokemon go makes obese people, unable to force themselves to walk 500 meters, walk 20 kilometers at a time.

Routine activities do not consume “resources” the way things that are new to us do.

This is a very important thing. If we think something should be in our lives – we make it a habit. Slim people do not need to refrain from eating, it does not cost them any “willpower”, because they have the habit of eating normally. The obese have even developed a habit of overeating. Changing such a habit should be gradual, you need to make small changes until it becomes as much of a daily routine as brushing your teeth. I set myself a point limit in memrise that I have to do every day, and I do it. After a while, it stopped bothering me in any way.

Activities can be done in a much more efficient way.

And here again I’ll mention memrise (no, I’m not being paid to advertise this, it’s a free program). We are given to repeat only those vocabulary words with which we have problems. As a result, the learning time is significantly reduced. In addition, each word is repeated at increasing intervals (4 hours, then 8, 12, 24…), which studies have shown is a much more effective method than repeating it every day.

Some examples not related to my language learning:

Giving up unnecessary things frees up “resources” for the important ones.

Sometimes you may encounter the nurtured myth of “strong character,” which is supposed to be expressed by doing a certain thing every day just to prove to yourself that you can do it. This is not a heavy burden, as habits are quite benign in this regard, but a burden nonetheless. Similarly, it will be a burden to immerse oneself in some activity that doesn’t do much, and isn’t even particularly enjoyable for us. By interest, I know plenty of people completely immersed in helping animals – supposedly it’s fun and enjoyable, but suddenly a person wakes up at age 40, without a partner, without a family of their own, surrounded by a herd of cats or rats. Similarly, “making a career” can take away all the youth, suddenly we realize that all our lives we worked not for our own family, because we didn’t manage to establish one, but for the family of our boss. We are very much burdened by all kinds of interpersonal contacts, which are not beneficial to us in any way, like boring meetings after work, where everyone gets tired, and so on. Human contacts are, of course, very important, but it is better to meet with someone who is important to us and vice versa.

Persistence in a toxic situation can eat up all resources.

Here – unfortunately – nothing wise can be said. Everyone is full of good advice for others as they watch from the sidelines, but strangely enough they can’t help themselves. I’ll just hint that toxicity is not only a relationship with a person. I know people who have wasted their lives playing computer games, with no future ahead of them, and all the “energy” they could spend on changing this state of affairs is wasted on maintaining the illusion that it is fine and nothing needs to change.

Diseases can suck out all the energy.

A very good example is depression. The ill person is unable to undertake any activity. Same for anemia, thyroid disorders and so on. And here is my advice – it is worth giving up other activities to fight the disease. If someone devotes the rest of his “energy” to, say, learning a language, he won’t find it for a trip to the lab and doing blood tests. Paradoxically, taking up sports, although it should “use” our willpower, changes the metabolism to such an extent that at the end we have much more energy.

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