This is a feeling we all suffer from at some point. It can be awful, frustrating, and even tortuous.
When we are learning a language, and we hit a plateau–we feel like no matter how much we practice, we remain at the same level–we barely progress.
The reason why this is such an unpleasant feeling is because we start out learning so quickly. It seems like a huge victory the first time you have a conversation with a native speaker, or the first time that you understand the television or radio.
Soon, however, what were before great accomplishments become commonplace. They no longer seem like something to reward yourself for.
This quiescent period does not have to be permanent, nor should it be. So today I am going to tell you what is really keeping you from fluency and from reaching your true potential in everything you do.
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Who is to blame?
A lot of my friends and students tell me that they would LOVE to follow some dream, to go on some adventure, or accomplish some goal–but they can’t.
Because of their job, because of their family, because of money, because of time, because it’s too hard, because of societal expectations or obligations…
In a perfect world they would go after that dream, but because of all of these external factors or because of other people, they can’t.
However, what all of these excuses really are saying is, “It’s because of me.”
Think about it, you are the only one who sets limitations for yourself–and we ALL do this. It’s easy to blame everyone else, but it all boils down to fear and resistance. We give ourselves a million excuses (some of which are very convincing):
- What will they think of me?
- Where can I get the money?
- What will I do without this job?
- I have a family to take care of.
- I’m tired; I’ll start tomorrow…
Prioritizing Your Values
Stagnation can also be a result of one’s own values.
I’ve met many people who have told me that they would love to travel, but they just don’t have the money. They then continue to show me their latest version of a new fancy smartphone or tell me about the crazy party last weekend (where they of course spent 50 dollars on drinks).
So they say, “I don’t have money,” but what they really mean is, “traveling isn’t a priority.” Be honest, how many times have your spent money on something that you do not need?
The reason that we do this is simple (even though it might be hard to overcome): A life of comfortable stability is safer than actually following our big dreams, so we resist our desires saying, “someday.”
- Someday I’ll be fluent in English
- Someday I’ll travel to far away, exotic places
- Someday I’ll talk to that beautiful girl at work
- Someday I’ll tell my idiot boss that he can shove it
You are only guaranteed this one life; don’t live it with regrets.
There are seven days in a week and “someday” is not one of them
How to overcome excuses and live your dreams
Enough of talking about all of the excuses that we know we all make; it’s time to talk about a solution.
There are many important steps that you can take to make yourself more productive and successful (in everything you do!) like setting goals, journaling, exercising, and learning about self-development, but what I’m going to talk about today is something that is absolutely crucial to your growth in anything; it’s simple:
Do things that make you uncomfortable
I did not say that it would be easy, but stretching yourself is the fastest way to get closer to any goal.
Sure, you can stay in that spot where you feel comfortable, but you can only expect the exact same results that you’ve had.
However, if you’ve ever complained because you want things to be different, you want to improve at something, or you want to do something new, then you’re going to have to push yourself beyond your current limits. You’ll have to make yourself uncomfortable.
The only way to accomplish this small goal is to try every day, but it’s not enough to just reach down, you have to push your fingertips towards your toes until the backs of your legs are uncomfortable, AND you have to do this every day.
At first it won’t feel good; depending on your flexibility, it might even be excruciating, but over time you will get closer and closer to touching your toes, until eventually, one day, you are finally able to touch them! Not only that, but if you keep this habit, eventually it will be easy to bend over and hold your toes for minutes, and you can move on to bigger goals, like complex yoga poses.
This is like when learning a language, if you keep doing the exact same comfortable thing, your level will probably stay the same as it’s been. You’ll stay on that plateau. But when you really push yourself to a level of discomfort is when you have the fastest growth, and you learn the most.
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For example, the first time you open your mouth and speak you are terrified about so many things (am I making a lot of mistakes? Do I sound stupid? Is the other person going to laugh at me? Are they bored?), but if you want to get better, then you have to push through that discomfort until it becomes natural.
Here are some examples of things that you can start doing to stretch yourself in English (or other languages):
- Shy? Talk to Someone
- Make friends and speak to them online
- Repeating sounds, phrases that are difficult
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
Call to Action
I wrote this article not to criticize lazy language learners, but as a reminder to myself.
I sometimes find myself wasting time or money that I know could be better spent on traveling and language learning. I have recently had to overcome my own resistance and shyness to talk to people via Skype–but it has been well worth it to help myself conveniently improve languages I’m learning.
I’m not saying that we all need to be completely strict on ourselves, never go out, and sit inside working or studying all the time–not at all. I believe in everything in moderation. However, we have to remember to not let temporary fun get in the way of our dreams or keep us from our higher potential. We need to make those small investments every day that will contribute to reaching our full potential.
If you consistently stretch yourself a little bit, try to be a little bit better every day, then, little by little, you are bound to reach your goals.
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