It was a chilly day despite the fact that summer had already begun. I sat on the bus in deep contemplation. “Should I stop procrastinating and continue the audio book I’ve been meaning to start for a while or should I just continue listening to music?” I thought to myself.
I deliberated for a couple more minutes and then decided to start.
Action generates motivation which results in more action, remember? Click the highlighted link if you struggle with motivating yourself!
I listened to the audio book until I got close to my stop. As I got closer to the stop, my heart started beating faster and I began to get nervous because I was afraid that I’d miss my bus connection. I get to the stop and rush off. The lady in front of me seemed to have the same idea. We both rushed to the bus and to our surprise, the bus driver wasn’t even on the bus! He was off doing something else or going to the bathroom or something. It was kind of anticlimactic because I was expecting an epic chase and to either narrowly miss or catch it. The lady beside me seemed to be feeling the same way. She made a comment about either the bus or the bus driver. (I can’t remember anymore). I heard an accent… Y’all already know where this is going…!
I instantly went from, “Get home” mode to “Polyglot grind time” mode. No, I’m not a robot, but phrasing it that way makes everything sound more epic!
I try to make small talk to get the lady to talk a bit longer so that I can try and figure out what accent she has, but the small talk doesn’t go very far for some reason… This always seems to happen when I’m trying to figure out what accent somebody has and I don’t understand why. When I’m reading a book and DON’T want to partake in small talk however, the other person always insists on continuing to talk. Isn’t it funny how that works?
Anyway, I didn’t have much to go off of other than the fact that it sounded eastern European, so I decided to purposely make an incorrect guess in the hopes of it generating more conversation or even a polite correction. “Are you Hungarian?” I politely asked the lady. “No.” She responded without elaborating. “Damn it… this is the part where you’re supposed to correct me and say “No, I’m from….” I thought to myself. “Are you from Europe at all?” I ask. “No, I’m from Asia.” She responds. At this point I was very confused. This was the most slavic looking lady I’d seen all day and her accent was clearly also slavic. How on earth was she from Asia? “Is this a joke?” I thought to myself.
I figured anything was possible given the fact that it’s 2019 and travel is super easy and people settle in different countries all the time, so I asked her where in Asia she was from. “Siberia” she responded… “Are you kidding me? Siberia? I didn’t guess that?” I thought to myself. I almost wanted to ask this lady, a random stranger I had just met, to slap some sense into me, but I figured that would either spoil the interaction or leave a mark on my face. Still though… How did I not guess Siberia? How much more obvious could it have been?…
I asked the lady in Russian if she spoke Russian and her face lit up with shock and disbelief. We then proceeded to speak Russian a bit longer until my level and limited comprehension got the better of me.
Wait a minute though… We spoke what until my listening comprehension got the better of me? Russian?!
I had to reread the last sentence to make sure I was reading it correctly too… and I’m the one who wrote it!
No, I can’t speak Russian and never claim that I can. If I can’t speak Russian, then what happened with that lady on the bus? Let me explain a little phenomenon I like to call the “Speak before you rationalize why you can’t” phenomenon.
I’ve dabbled in Russian on multiple occasions. I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I’ve started Russian only to drop it after a couple weeks or months. My level has never gotten higher than that of a Russian 2 or 3 year old at most. I was able to make very basic albeit grammatically incorrect sentences and understand very basic responses. That was while I was actively studying Russian.
I try to always stay aware of my levels in every language that I speak, so I know I should struggle in a Russian conversation, but hold my ground in a German or French one… At least that’s what my conscious, rational mind tells me.
So what on earth happened on that bus? How on earth was I able to have a conversation in a language I can barely speak? The answer is simple!
I spoke before I rationalized why I couldn’t! I just started speaking before I could mentally tell myself to not bother because my Russian was too bad. Everything happened so fast! The fact that I shouldn’t have been able to hold that conversation didn’t reach my conscious mind until later on in the interaction.
The Discovery Channel.
Brace yourselves, folks! I’m probably about to misquote a lot of scientific research in the following paragraph, but its for a good cause, so I guess that makes it acceptable!
I remember watching a discovery channel special on amazing human feats when I was younger. One of them really caught my attention. A boy was sitting inside keeping busy while his dad was outside under the car fixing it. The mechanism that was holding the car up failed and the car fell onto the dad. The boy heard the commotion and ran out and in an adrenaline fuelled blur, lifted the car high enough off the ground that his neighbours could pull his father out from under the car. The dad survived the ordeal thanks to his son’s heroic act.
Before anyone tries to call bullshit, the son didn’t lift the car and throw it like the hulk, he just lifted one side of it high enough that there was space to pull his dad out. Some people are capable of such feats, but this kid was extremely, extremely skinny which is what made it stand out.
Discovery channel brought the boy into their labs and hooked him up to machines that showed his brain and muscle activity. They then had him lift things he knew were too heavy including a car that was similar to the one that fell on his father. As expected, he was unable to lift the objects and the machines he was hooked up to mirrored these results.
At one point they had the boy stand with his arms out and held one of the heavy objects that they used in one of the earlier tests in front of him. They dropped the object without warning and the boy caught it and was actually able to hold it briefly whereas he was completely unable to lift it before. The muscle and brain readings showed an increase in strength.
The people on the show went on to say that one of the reasons that chimps are able to take such advantage of their strength is due to the fact that they don’t possess the cognitive capability to rationalize why some objects should be too heavy for them, they just lift them.
I saw this show yeeeeeeeeaaars ago, so I honestly don’t know how sound the science is, but it was on discovery channel, so it must be true… right?
What do monkeys have to do with Russian?
I’m glad you asked! Chimps are able to tap into their full strength because they have no reason to believe otherwise. If chimps can do it, why don’t we?
I’ve used this technique in many different areas of my life. I’m a shy person by nature, so I shouldn’t be able to go up to a stranger on the street and have a conversation with them, but If I just do it before I can rationalize why I’m too shy and why the conversation will be awkward, I normally end up having an interesting and smooth conversation. Some of the best conversations that I’ve ever had have resulted from this and conversely, some of the worst and most awkward interactions I’ve ever had have come from me overthinking to the point that I ruined the conversation.
The good ol’ High school weight room!
The earliest memory I have of this magical phenomenon is from the 9th grade. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t bench the bar and two 45 pound plates (135 pounds). I tried once only to be paralyzed by fear so strong that I think I almost dropped the weight on myself and had to have somebody help me before I could even get a single rep out. Despite all this, I was still able to bench two 35’s. It was difficult, but I was able to do it. One day, some guys in my class asked me to try bench pressing with them. I told them I could only do two 35s, but unbeknownst to me, they put one 45 pound plate on each side instead of the 35s. I sat on the bench, leaned back, lifted the weight… and began repping it. It was hard, but I got quite a few reps. I racked the bar, got up to stretch and noticed that I had just benched two 45’s. I was shocked. I could do it the whole time, I just needed to get out of my head. As with most things I write about, I’m sure that you, the reader have experienced this phenomenon at least a few times in your lifetime. Maybe your training wheels fell off your bike as a child and you had to spontaneously learn how to ride a two wheeler.
Maybe you told your friend you were into the person sitting in front of you in class, but were too scared to talk to them. Maybe your friend was and asshole who tapped the person on the shoulder knowing full well they’d think it was you. Maybe you had no choice but to wing it before you could rationalize why the person wouldn’t like you and actually scored a date! This phenomenon manifests itself in many different ways and once you become aware of it, you can take advantage of it.
Although I’m still not going to claim that I can speak Russian because I actually can’t and it doesn’t fit my criteria for being able to actually speak a language, I will admit that my actual level is higher then the level I believe I have and that conversation with the Siberian lady on the bus proved that.
Next time you want to try something, just do it! I say that even though I wasn’t sponsored by Nike… Just do it! Do it before your rationale kicks in and tells you that you can’t. You’re capable of a lot more than your conscious mind leads you to believe!