I was going through old social media posts earlier today when I stumbled upon a post I made 2 years ago. Don’t you love those “On this day X years ago” reminders on social media? There was a picture of a medal that I’d won when I finished my first year of Chinese class back around 2012. The post itself talked about how we should celebrate small wins in language learning and life in general. That rang true two years ago and it still rings true to this day. Celebrating small wins in language learning is tremendously important and I’m going to explain why!
The most improved in Chinese class?… Wait, what?
As a child, growing up, I never thought that I would ever decide to learn Chinese. I would’ve laughed at you if you came to me and told me that I’d win the “Most improved” award in a Chinese class or that I’d pass the class with a really good mark.
A really friendly and caring lady who worked in the kitchen at my high school caught wind of the fact that I enjoyed learning languages. She told me about a Chinese class that ran from 9 to 12 every Saturday and that her son went there. I was still pretty shy at this point, but decided to just go for it because I had already started dabbling in Chinese and a few other asian languages a few months earlier.
I remember walking into the class and being the only black guy. I didn’t really care that much, but I remember that that was one of the first things that stood out to me. I was very intimidated and the fact that this was the third class in didn’t help. That’s what I got for signing up late, but luckily I got in on the last day before they stopped accepting more people.
I was given a course book and I began studying. I remember learning basic things and how to write very basic characters. It was all very intimidating. Mandarin kicked my ass. It was not easy by any means… It’s not as hard as you probably think it is, but it’s not the world’s easiest language by any means. It was also a completely new language family.
Despite all the hurdles, I decided that I was determined to learn the language and began studying outside of class too. I put in at least an hour a day, every day. I remember that I’d always try to speak to my teacher in Chinese during class, but would never really understand her responses and my tones were always off. I was making progress, but it felt slow. I remember that I finally had my first proper conversation where I understood her responses at the three month mark. I was ecstatic! It felt great and motivated me even more.
Fast forward a couple more months and the class was coming to an end. We had an end of the year party and I was excited, but don’t remember what I expected from it. I remember spending time with my classmates I had become friends with the lady who told me about the class’s son at this point too. I remember they had an award ceremony and they started calling people up. My teacher had told me earlier on in the day that she had something to give me later on, but I didn’t really think much of it. I definitely didn’t think that it would be an award.
To my surprise, they called my name. I got up and walked up onto the stage and was given an award. “Most Improved” was engraved on the award. I was really surprised. I went from starting the class late and rushing to catch up to everyone else… to the most improved in the whole class. Not only had I won that award, but I also won the ability to speak Chinese. Am I trying to brag here? No! There’s nothing to brag about, I wanted something and worked hard to get it. There’s nothing “brag worthy” or special about that. What I do want to highlight is the fact that this wasn’t the biggest accomplishment in my life, but it was still an accomplishment and I still used it to motivate me to work even harder! It was still progress!
What is a small win?
I define small wins as any form of progress towards a goal and I try to always remind myself to either celebrate or at least acknowledge them. Tell me if this sounds familiar to you; Your friend tells you they want to jog every day in order to eventually run a marathon. She gets tired and has to stop after only 4 minutes of jogging for the ENTIRE first week, but despite this she pushes on. She averages 8 minutes on the second week. She plateaus on the third week, but is able to consistently run for a whole 15 minutes by the 4th week. Fast forward a couple months and she flies 3 hours away to attempt her first Marathon. She runs for an hour and a 11 minutes and maintains a decent pace the whole time, but eventually loses her rhythm, gets tired and needs to throw in the towel early. She’s DEVASTATED. She put in all that work and couldn’t even complete the entire marathon! What a failure, right? WRONG. WRONG. WRONG! Let’s rewind a bit and highlight a few things in this example. How long could she consistently run without stopping on the first week? 4 minutes. The second week? 8 Minutes! She DOUBLED her time! She went from hardly being able to run for 5 minutes to ACTUALLY attempting a marathon and running for a whole hour and 11 minutes. Look at how far she’s come! Every week leading up to the marathon was a win. She made consistent improvement. It doesn’t matter that she didn’t end up finishing the marathon because the fact that she even tried was a win in and of itself. Does that mean that she should just settle for her results and give up on her training? No! She should keep pushing herself, but she should also stop to acknowledge and celebrate all the small wins that got her to this point. When you set ambitious goals for yourself and pursue them, it’s extremely easy to lose sight of how far you’ve actually come. It’s very easy to allow yourself to view the goal as this unattainable thing that is always just outside of arms reach. You feel like you’re soooo close, but so far at the same time.
Take time to stop, take a breather and allow yourself to recognize all the small wins and achievements that you’ve attained along the road. You’ll be surprised at how far you’ve actually come.
A Russian rap song
I’ve recently gotten back into studying Russian. I’m DETERMINED to learn it this time. I don’t know how long I’ll end up learning it for in total, but I’m a lot more driven this time than I was the others times. I’ve been at it for about 2 months now and I’ve been practicing every single day. I’m not allowing myself to make excuses this time. I decided to listen to a Russian rap song that I stumbled upon back in 2017 or 2018 and decided to listen to it while reading the lyrics using Apple Music’s new lyrics feature. To my surprise, I was able to understand the gist of the song. I wasn’t even close to understanding even 50% of the lyrics, but I now at least have a basic idea of what the song is about. I only understood a word or 2 when I first heard the song a few years ago, so I felt great! Am I fluent in Russian? No… Not even close, but this is still an accomplishment albeit a small one. I took a moment to stop and look at how far I’d come, yeah, it’s just one song, but it’s one song more than I could understand 2-3 years ago. Being able to understand that song motivated me even more to keep studying Russian!
The steps from hell
As you already know if you’ve read about my trip to Machu Picchu, I decided to attempt to save money, by forgoing the train and the bus and climbing the “Steps from hell” to the entrance of the park.
It was a loooot harder than I expected it to be… Like I’m talking A LOT harder. I remember that I met an American and a German girl at some point during the hike and we decided to walk together. Having a bigger group helped me maintain a consistent pace, but I was still utterly and completely exhausted. Despite this, I pushed on. The fatigue got worse and worse with every step and I remember seriously considering giving up at one point. It seemed like I’d been walking FOREVER. It seemed like I’d NEVER reach the top. I seriously started to question how much I really “Needed” to save money. “Maybe I can just wave down a bus and get picked up” I began to think to myself. Just as all of these negative, defeatists thoughts raced through my mind, the American girl yelled “Look!” I looked out onto the horizon and saw the mountains. That snapped me out of it right away and instantly made me aware of how far I had come. I also instantly became aware of all the small wins. Every step forward was a win. Every time I forced a defeatist thought out of my mind and kept going was a win. Being adventurous enough to walk instead of taking the bus was a win. Pushing my comfort zone enough to chat up the American and German girls despite feeling a little shy was a win. I instantly became aware of all of this and it motivated me to push on and reach the entrance at the top! See what acknowledging and celebrating wins, no matter how small can do?!
We’re all human and it’s perfectly normal to get discouraged and forget how far we’ve come when we set goals for ourselves. One of my goals is to get more people to read my blog in the hopes that I can help at least one person to think more positively the same way that other people have helped me in the past. I started this blog in 2018 and although a lot more people read it now than when I first started, it still hasn’t really started snowballing yet. I could be sad and beat myself up for this, or I can just recognize that I’m winning and progressing EVERY time I sit down and write. Tons of articles go unfinished/Unposted and many of them feel lacking or like I didn’t convey my message as well as I believed that I could have. Despite this, I just stay at it and I always try to look back at how far I’ve come. I went from a guy who dreamed about starting a blog that helps people to a guy with a blog… that I hope it helps people! You should do the same! Not the blog part, the celebrating small wins part, silly!
I’m kidding, you can start a blog too if you want!
Have you been studying Dutch for 3 weeks, but are still struggling to understand basic things? Great! At least you committed to 3 weeks! That’s three weeks longer than somebody who says they’ll learn Dutch, but never actually starts. That’s a win!
Did you sign up for the gym only to put it off for the first week? Sweet! signing up is the first step! You can’t set gym goals if you don’t have a gym to go to. Pat yourself on the back for at least getting the membership and that will motivate you to actually go! That’s a win!
Wait, wait, wait! I’m not saying that you should be lazy and settle for mediocrity. You shouldn’t jog ONE day and then say “Great! At least I did it once and I’m satisfied.” You also shouldn’t buy a German language course and then say “Well, I took the first step and bought the course. That’s a win and I don’t need to actually put the work in!” You still need to put in the actual work, but you need to acknowledge and recognize your progress as you go.
Progress is progress no matter how “Insignificant” it may seem!
Never forget to look back and remember how far you’ve come! You’ve probably come a lot farther than you think!