Hacking Chinese

A better way of learning Mandarin

Chinese habit formation challenge, November 2019

It’s time for a brand new type of challenge, a habit formation challenge! The goal is not to accumulate as much time as possible like most of the other challenges, but instead the aim is to establish one useful habit.

The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to establish good habits is that frequency, or how often you do something, matters much more than duration, or how long you keep at it.

Therefore, the goal is to select an activity and do it at least once every day, for at least one minute. You can keep going after that, but unlike other challenges, you can’t go on a rampage on day one and then slack off, or do nothing for two weeks and then catch up towards the end. This is something you do for at least one minute per day, every day.

Chinese habit challenge, November 2019

Please note that this is a new type of challenge! For earlier challenges, you select an amount of time to accumulate before the end of the month. This time, the goal is to finish at least one “unit” (different for different people, so just called “unit”) per day. If your goal is to do something once per day for the duration of the challenge, you should select 21 units as your goal. If your goal is to do it twice every weekday for the duration, you should select 30 units. Your graph in the “statistics” tab should show a straight line if you follow the instructions and do something every day.

Join by following these steps:

  1. Sign-up (note: signing up via email doesn’t work; please use Twitter or Facebook)
  2. View current and upcoming challenges on the front page
  3. Join the habit challenge
  4. Set a reasonable goal (see below)
  5. Report your progress on your computer or mobile device
  6. Check the graph to see if you’re on track to reaching your goal
  7. Check the leader board to see how you compare to others
  8. Share progress, tips and resources with fellow students

Please note:  The challenge starts on November 10th, so if you join before then, you won’t be able to report progress until the challenge starts.

You can of course also use any of the multitude of streak or habits apps and services available, but since this is a challenge run on Hacking Chinese Challenges, I will use the above procedure.

What kind of habit should you choose?

Anything that you ought to do more of, but for some reason keep putting of or don’t find enough time to do. Here are a few examples:

  • Listen to a podcast
  • Record a voice message
  • Read a story/book/text message
  • Write a diary entry
  • Review vocabulary
  • Practise your handwriting

Please note that the goal here is not to achieve something in any of these areas before the end of the challenge, the goal is to create a habit that will enable you to invest much more in this activity over time, which will lead to tangible results in the end. You should only choose an activity that you genuinely think ought to be a habit and that you would benefit from doing every day!

How to form a habit

I’m working on an article about habit hacking, but for now, I will point to an older article where I discuss some basic ideas. Here, I want to stress that your habit should be specific:

  • What? Make it crystal clear what you are supposed to do. There should be no doubt in your mind how to get started, what exact activity to engage in and so on. Example: If your goal is to read, specify what text and make sure it’s available.
  • When? Choose either a specific time (might only work if you have very rigid schedule or if if you get up or go to bed at exactly the same time every day) or something relative to something else you do every day. Example: Commit to reviewing flashcards for one minute the first thing you do in the morning.
  • Where? Another contextual hook is location, so you can decide to listen to listen to at least one minute of Chinese audio the first thing you do when you get in your car to work (or whatever).

Remember, the goal here is to perform the activity as regularly as possible. That way, the effort required to do so will drop gradually over time. Once it’s so easy to perform that it almost requires an effort not to do it, you have successfully formed a habit.

It’s also important that you choose a habit you really want to have. Picture the benefits. What will you be able to do once this habit is established? What benefits will it bring you? Keep those benefits in mind and don’t lose track of the goal.

You should also take practical issues seriously, such as plain forgetting that you were supposed to do something every day. If you lead a regular life and November turns out to be an ordinary month, you might be okay without reminding yourself too much, but as soon as something extraordinary happens (travel, unexpected problems in some area, anything that upsets your other routines), it’s easy to forget about your new habit.

There is no simple solution to this, but setting reminders is simple but powerful. If you want to listen to podcasts every time you get into the car, put a sticker on the car door or a post-it that covers the ignition so you have to remove it (and therefore think about the habit) before you start the engine. The two questions above about location and timing are both meant to make this easier, because if-this-then-do-that things are easier to get done because they get automatically triggered by other things you normally do.

My challenge

My goal for the challenge is to read at least one minute before going to bed. This can be in any format, but it has to be long-form content (books, articles and so on), not bite-sized chunks (social media, text messages, e-mail). My goal is to do this every evening for the rest of November, without exception. So:

  • What? Read for at least one minute every day.
  • When? Before going to bed.
  • Where? Bedroom (obviously).

Your challenge

So, what are you going to focus on? Please leave a comment and share some inspiration with the rest of us! Include the answers, to what, when and where, as well as anything else you commit to. Good luck!


Preliminary challenge schedule for 2019

This is the first challenge for 2019, and the goal is to run monthly challenges throughout the year. The length and focus of each challenge will vary a bit, but those of you familiar with the schedule from last year will not see any major changes.

Since I believe listening and reading are the most suitable skills for challenges like this one, there will be more of these than last year. In between each listening or reading challenge, we will focus on something else for one month.

Here’s a preliminary schedule for challenges in 2019.

  1. February: Listening
  2. March: Writing
  3. April: Reading
  4. May: Translation
  5. June: Listening
  6. July: Vocabulary
  7. August: Reading
  8. September: Listening
  9. November: Habits
  10. December: Reading

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