Goals and motivation, part 4 – Micro goals

This post is about micro goals. To see the introductory article about goals and motivation in general, please follow this link.

Micro goals

Just like long-term and short-term goals, micro goals have already been introduced, but let’s start from the beginning, shall we? To start with, I think the importance of micro goals is very dependent on personality, even though it should be an important tool for most learners. A micro goal is what it sounds like, a very, very short-term goal, perhaps only an hour or two.

Here is a number of examples:

  • Learn the words for the basic colours
  • Enter words from a chapter in your textbook to your computer
  • Read one chapter in a book
  • Write one diary entry
  • Post a contact add on a forum
  • Review your long-term goals

As you can see, many of these coincide with the short-term goals. For instance, you might have the short-term goal of writing ten diary entries this month, so writing one of them is considered a micro goal because you can probably do it within an hour.

Use micro goals whenever you sit down to study

You can set micro goals whenever you plan to study. Before you start, you simply think through what you want to do and then set about completing the task. If they relate to you short-term goals, you can make notes on that sheet of paper to see how you progress towards those goals. Again, this gives you a feeling of movement, you’re actually learning something.

Another important aspect of micro goals is that they limit your studying. If you just sit down to study characters in general, you might lose focus and feel pretty bored. That might happen if you have a micro goal as well, but the good thing is that you have already said how much you’re going to learn. If you know that you’re going to learn 10 radicals and one sample character for each, when you’ve done that, you’re done! If you want to continue, set up another micro goal.

Micro goals are flexible

For me personally, I seldom write these goals down, but I do try to be conscious about them at all times. If I plan to review vocabulary and have a huge workload (let’s say it would take two hours to review everything I should), I simply say that I will review intensely for 15 minutes and then take a break. This kind of time limited goal is usually called time boxing (please refer to Timeboxing Chinese). If I don’t feel tired, I set a new goal. I never sit down and just review without knowing what I wand to achieve, however. If you feel that writing micro goals down, by all means, do so! This is a tool, just like the other goals, use it intelligently.

Goals and motivation, part 3 – Short-term goals

This post is about short-term goals. To see the introductory article about goals and motivation in general, please follow this link.

Short-term goals

As we did in the previous article, let’s repeat the basics again in case someone missed them in the introduction. If long-term goals stretch over months and years, short-term goals would stretch over days and weeks. These goals are as important as the long-term goal, but because you complete them much faster, you’re going to have to deal with them more.

Image credit: sxc.hu/profile/bredmaker

Here are a few example of short-term goals:

  • Pass the exam on March 5th
  • Go through all the sounds in Chinese
  • Read five short texts
  • Write at least ten diary entries
  • Find a language exchange partner
  • Learn the lyrics of five songs

Note that except for the first goal, I haven’t specified any deadline, but that’s something you should do. Each goal should have a specific time when it should be accomplished and it should be realistic. Don’t overdo it. If you find that ten diary entries is to easy to do in one month, you can write a few extra anyway. Don’t set goals you can’t reach, it will only make you depressed. Be realistic and increase over time instead.

Take a blank sheet of paper or open a blank document. Write down a couple of things you want to achieve within the coming weeks. Some goals might have a deadline this weekend, others in a month. Compare this list with your long-term goals. Are you lacking anything or are your short-term goals reasonable stepping stones to the higher levels? Remember that it might be hard to focus on everything at the same time, so you might have to favour some areas over others for a time and then switch.

If you’ve done this using a computer, print it out! I’m not joking, this is important. You can’t paste your laptop to the bathroom door (or any other place you pass by frequently), so you need a printed version. Put it somewhere where you can’t miss it (I have my goals on my door).

Clearly stated goals and accountability

The reason “I want to learn Chinese” is a bad goal is because nobody knows what it means. Similarly, “improve my reading ability”, “talk a lot” and “learn more characters” are equally useless. These are directions, not destinations! A goal is good if you can put a box next to it and when you know that you’re done, you can put a tick there. Not only does this make you aware of the fact that you are learning something, that you are moving forwards, but it also gives you the opportunity to think for a few minutes and replace the old goal.

Some people find it useful to make themselves accountable in various ways. If you take a course in Chines, you will naturally receive bad grades if you fail, but what about these goals you have defined for yourself? There are many ways to do this and I don’t think they are all suitable for all kinds of learners, but you should at least try them out once!

Tell people about your goals

Start a blog, write on Facebook or Twitter, talk to your family, anything you can think of, but do something to let other people know what you’re doing and when you’re supposed to be done. Ask people to ask you how it’s going, have someone check the deadlines for you. This is usually a fairly powerful tool to achieve short-term goals, but don’t overdo it. Only create hard goals for yourself when you know what you’re doing. Also, you have to realise that simply stating your goal is not the same as achieving it. When I say accountability, I mean that someone should actually check how’s it going, not that you just tell people about your goal.

Make yourself financially accountable

Pick a friend you trust (or a family member) and give him or her a significant sum of money (I’ve been using roughly one hundred dollars, which is quite a lot for a student, but this should vary according to your situation; the importance is that it feels like a significant amount money for you). Then you say that if you haven’t achieved a given goal before the deadline, they can keep the money (see why the goal has to be clear here?). It’s vitally important that you give the money and then get it back when you’re done, don’t promise to give money away if you fail!

These are only examples, some of them hopefully suit you, others perhaps not so much. In any case, you need to try and you need to be creative to come up with ways that work for you.

Keeping a record

I think it’s motivating to keep a record of short-term goals I have accomplished. Either you can move them all to a separate sheet or file on your computer where you simply list all the things you have done. In case you every feel like you’re not learning anything or that you’re studying is standing still, take a look at the list. I usually find that I’ve learnt more things than I think I have!

Go to the next article about micro goals.

Goals and motivation, part 2 – Long-term goals

This post is about long-term goals. To see the introductory article about goals and motivation in general, please follow this link.

Long-term goals

Let’s start from the beginning, let’s answer the basic question: What’s your long term goal? What’s your final destination, so to speak? I can hear lots of “I want to learn Chinese!” when I ask this question (I’m not sure about you of course, but this is a common reply from real students).

Stop, right there!

What do you mean when you say “I want to learn Chinese”? Before you say anything, I’ll list a few goals that I know many people have.

  • Be able to chat with my Chinese friend
  • Understand a film in Chinese
  • Be able to do business in China
  • Be able to read The Journey to the West in Chinese
  • Teach Chinese in your country
  • Pass the highest level HSK exam
  • Pass a university course taught in Chinese

I think these are all reasonable interpretations of what “I want to learn Chinese” means, and they may all be right for different people! As you can see, these goals are wildly different. It might take a thousand times longer to achieve the proficiency needed for the last goal compared to the first, for instance. And no, that’s not an exaggeration.

If you want to read classical Chinese or pass a written exam, you don’t need to care very much about pronunciation, but that becomes extremely important if you plan on teaching Chinese in the future. Handwriting isn’t necessary if you want to be able to talk with Chinese people while travelling in China, slang is useless if you want to read history books. And so on.

To be honest, we already know that you want to learn Chinese, so let’s break it down a little bit, shall we?

Start with the list of motivations you should have made after reading this post and think what kind of long-term goals are related to what you’ve already written down. Sometimes, the motivations and the goals will be almost identical, sometimes not. What you want to achieve is of paramount importance, so don’t just jot something down quickly and leave it like that. Think carefully, discuss it with a friend, take a walk.

What long-term goals do you have? What is long-term, you might ask? I would say anything that takes more than a couple of months can be said to be long-term, but the time might stretch up to a lifetime. This means that you can and should have more than one long-term goal.

For instance, I had these long-term goals when I started learning Chinese:

  • Explore Chinese enough to know if it’s worth continuing with
  • Pass all courses and learn the material, not just pass the tests

These goals are modest enough and reasonable for a person who has never studied Chinese before. My course stretched over two semesters, so as soon as I knew that I wanted to learn Chinese properly, I formulated some new goals:

  • Be able to function socially with Chinese-speaking people
  • Be able to read a novel
  • Pass a university course taught in Chinese

As you can see, these goals are on different levels again, but they are still long-term. To pass the university course, I definitely need a reading ability that enables me not only read a novel, but read it quickly. However, even if you can survive a university course, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can socialise in a relaxed manner with natives, because the skills involved are very different. Also note that long-term goals can change faster than they are achieved. Just because you have set a long-term goal doesn’t mean it will be there until it’s reached. Goals need to change according to your life, general situation and motivation for learning Chinese.

Look at what you have written so far and try to break it down further. You don’t have to remove anything, but if you think it will take years to achieve your long-term goal, you definitely need more easily attained milestones. For instance, if your taking a course, formulate a couple of goals that describe what you want to have achieved at the end of the semester.

Analysing long-term goals

I tend to separate my learning into the five areas of speaking, listening, reading, writing and vocabulary (as I have done on this website as well, see the menu to the right), not because they are entirely separate areas, but because it’s easier to handle that way. It also helps you to analyse your goals and see how to accomplish them.

When you go through your long-term goals, please have this in mind. How much do you need to focus on speaking, listening, reading and writing respectively to achieve your gaols? This question is very hard to answer, but asking more advanced learners or teachers is a good idea. For instance, is reading more important than listening if you want to pass a certain exam? Is writing really necessary if you only want to chat with friends?  Do you need to spend time polishing your pronunciation or not?

Go to the next article about short-term goals.

Goals and motivation, part 1 – Introduction

I think everybody knows that motivation is something you need in order to succeed. I’m naturally going to assume that you have some reason to learn Chinese (otherwise, why are you reading this?), but that’s not going to be enough. Do you know why you want to learn Chinese? Are you the ambitious entrepreneur? The curious student? The involuntary learner? The Chinese culture aficionado? The linguistics nerd?

Be specific

Image credit: sxc.hu/profile/zandi2000

Even though it’s helpful knowing what drives you to learn Chinese in general, that’s not enough and even if you feel that you fit in one of the above-mentioned categories, reality is seldom classified that easily. Thus, you need to create your own language learning profile. Naturally, this will change over time, but that’s okay, the point is to make you aware of what you are doing and why. You can revise your profile as your attitude and your outlook change.

A strong motivation is necessary to succeed with any task that requires an extended period of time to accomplish; learning Chinese is definitely not an exception. I’m not going to delve much deeper into how to maintain motivation at the moment, but try to be aware of what makes you move forward.

Goals

This is yet another buzzword that most people have heard in close connection with education and learning: you need to set goals for yourself! What goals? Lots of them, in fact, on many different levels. You need to set long-term goals as well as short-term ones. Sometimes, you can also use micro goals that only spans a couple of hours. It’s absolutely essential that you understand these concepts to gain anything from the rest of the articles on this website, so please pay attention.

Why are goals so important? Because they can tell you what you have to do and what you don’t have to do. Efficient learning is a lot about being able to ignore things you don’t need and spend the time you thus save on studying something really useful. Simply defining your goals won’t make you able to do this, but it’s as good a place to start as any. Goals is also a way of measuring progress, and since learning things makes most people feel good, achieving goals likewise make you feel that you are getting somewhere, you are taking steps down that thousand mile road.

This post serves as an introduction to goals of different kinds, but there is one article for each kind of the goals mentioned below. This articles simply aims to introduce them and point out their main uses. Please refer to each articles for more details and some hand-on tips.

Long-term goals (click to read the article)

A long-term goal is something you can’t achieve within a few days or weeks, but something that takes months or sometimes years. By definition, they will take a long time to achieve, but they are very important because they allow you to focus your learning process towards a few specific goals, which helps you to avoid distractions and formulate goals that can be more easily achieved.

Long-term goals are destinations on your language learning journey. You wouldn’t set out in your car without knowing where you’re going and then hope to arrive at some specific place, would you? There are many kinds of long-term goals, some are reasonably easy to attain, others extremely hard.

Here are some examples I think are quite common for Chinese learners:

  • Be able to chat with a Chinese friend
  • Understand a film in Chinese
  • Be able to do business in China
  • Be able to read The Journey to the West in Chinese
  • Teach Chinese in your country
  • Pass the highest level HSK exam
  • Pass a university course taught in Chinese

I have written more about long-term goals in the second article about goals and motivation.

Short-term goals (click to read the article)

If long-term goals stretch over months and years, short-term goals would stretch over days and weeks. These goals are as important as the long-term goal, but because they change a lot faster, you’re going to have to deal with them a lot more. Short-term goals are created by breaking down long-term goals, asking the question: What do I need to practice doing to achieve this long-term goal?

Here are a few example of short-term goals:

  • Pass the exam on March 5th
  • Go through all the sounds in Chinese
  • Read five short texts
  • Write at least ten diary entries
  • Find a language exchange partner
  • Learn the lyrics of five songs

Setting short-term goals is an art that requires lots of practice. It also requires a lot of knowledge about yourself and how you work as a person. Setting deadlines and making yourself accountable in some way (perhaps just by telling other people what you’re doing) are usually good ideas, but there are many more things to keep in mind.

I have written more about short-term goals in the third article about goals and motivation.

Micro goals (click to read the article)

Micro goals are, just like the name implies, very short-term indeed. They should be achievable in one sitting, perhaps even less than half an hour. The idea here is to be able to stay focused on something concrete and tangible, while the other goals (long-term and short-term) linger in the background.

Here are some examples of micro goals:

  • Learn the words for the basic colours
  • Enter words from a chapter in your textbook to your computer
  • Read one chapter in a book
  • Write one diary entry
  • Post a contact ad on a forum
  • Review your long-term goals

Staying focused even for short periods of time is sometimes incredibly more productive than aimlessly learning words or otherwise studying without a specific goal in mind. Micro goals needn’t always be written down, but it’s good to be aware of them.

I have written more about micro goals in the fourth article about goals and motivation