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Intermediate Angst: Dealing With Feelings of Suckage

This entry is part 3 of 14 in the series Intermediate Angst

Thus spake Hangul Fangirl (‏@HangulFangirl):
“[Dear Khatzumoto,
You are handsome beyond comprehension. And also very slim. Your delicate, schoolgirl figure is an inspiration to us all.] How do you get past the feeling that you’re not progressing and end up forgetting to keep going? Self-study is hard for me :[[“

“…don’t believe a thought you think.” ~ T. Harv Eker

A lot of actual psychologists and proper New Age people have talked about these ideas in a much more detailed, accurate and elegant fashion than I am about to, so you might want to take their advice instead. All I can offer you is my personal, very anecdotal experience.

To be honest, I think my advice is crap; it’s just infinitely better than the mindless, unintentional defaulting to social convention that many people do, but then that’s not saying a lot, considering how wrong conventional wisdom can be.

For the record, there’s nothing automatically wrong with defaulting to social convention; we can’t be original in all things. The problem comes when that default setting doesn’t work or even causes harm. Which is definitely the case with languages. The problem isn’t so much that language classes suck as it is that they have no intention or mechanism of improving themselves; they are so blindly arrogant that they’re not even aware that they suck.

So, back to you, and the feeling you’re not progressing.

Feelings can be like having an emotional drama queen attention whore friend living inside you who thinks she’s clairvoyant. That’s…an awful lot of misogyny in one sentence.

Don’t feed the inner troll. Pay it no mind. It’ll run out of steam. It’s kinda like how paying attention to a baby or toddler sometimes makes them start crying or (if they’re already crying) makes them cry harder. I don’t have children or even younger siblings, so don’t take my childcare advice. But I’ve heard and observed that sometimes ignoring the kid helps them get over it, while getting attentive and freaked out simply escalates the emotion out of all proportion.

Sometimes your feelings are wrong and they need to STFU. Ignore them and move forward.

Almost by definition, your feelings are illogical. So, sometimes I find it helps to illogical-ize (?) your motivations, to NOT have a good reason for things you do. So your new reason is “coz I feel like it” or “coz it’s there”. You can’t argue with that because there’s nothing to argue with. It’s openly reckless. Reasonless. It’s like when you tell a guy his mother’s a whore and he goes “I know, right? She totally is — when can I pencil you in for an appointment? Oh, and she said to ask you to stop crying after the deed, because it’s a real turn-off.”.
No traction.

Some research I read about appears to show that people with no emotions (due to highly localized brain injuries and stuff) can’t make decisions. So perhaps the problem isn’t having emotions, but tuning into the wrong emotions.

Move the dial away from WAMIMAKINGPROGRESSFM. Tune into happiness and boredom and interest and happiness and curiosity and I don’t know if all those count as emotions, but they are mental states…

Scour your memory. Become aware of repeating patterns in terms of what gets you going, and look to amplify those patterns. It could be a certain type of situation or a certain type of media, or a certain auteur 1. Mere “progress” pales in comparison to “oh sweet, this looks cool”.

“…if you’re not satisfied with the little successes, you’ll never be satisfied with the big successes.” ~ Anon. (quoted by Barbara Sher)

Being fluent in Korean is not going to make you happy if the process didn’t. Because you’ll be there and you’ll find something to hate about it. Something to put yourself down with.
Maybe you’re fluent in Korean, but you only know Standard Korean, not a cool dialect.
Maybe you’re fluent in Korean, but…what about these other languages? Mandarin. Japanese. Mongolian.
Maybe you’re fluent in Korean, but…you can’t write like the best Korean author of all time.
There’s always a reason to feel bad, the key is not to play along.

If you want to win the long game, stop playing it.
Stop running the marathon and start sprinting instead.
Start running and playing and winning short games instead.

Don’t learn Korean.
Learn the chorus of this song.
Don’t learn Korean.
Play this movie. Don’t even watch it. Just play. It. Audibly.

Shameless plug: These tiny, (sub-)atomic, so-small-it’s-insulting activities are, incidentally, central to what Neutrino is about. Neutrino gets you hooked playing short games so you can, as Werner Heisenberg might have put it, forget about your position and focus on your momentum.

Play the short games.
Be sensitive to the little things. The tiny, winnable games. The small victories. Immerse yourself in them.
What does it matter whether or not you’re making progress? You don’t need to be making progress in Korean; you like it anyhow; you like it because it’s there. You’re winning right now. Not in some nebulous fluency future.

Call it the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of learning languages: you can’t have any momentum if you’re busy worrying about your position.
The reason you seem to have no momentum in Korean is because you don’t, because you spend way too much time worrying about your position and whether it’s changing. How far could a car drive if its occupants stopped every five minutes, took out a tape measure and ran back to their point of origin to make sure they were progressing? You’re thinking: “that example’s belabored and stupid, Khatz”. Well, your constant freaking worrying’s belabored and stupid. You should be too busy moving forward to be worrying about this.

And if you were really serious about making progress in Korean, you would be making progress in Korean, not worrying and Twittering about it in English. What you’re doing right now is the equivalent of asking your friend, every five minutes: “Hey, bro! Are we friends? Are we bros? Are we besties?!”. Shut up and just be friends. Enjoy your time together. Enjoy the moment. Get lost in it.

Imagine being on a couch, making out with someone, and every two minutes they go: “hey, so are we making out?”, “what base is this?”. You would have to conclude that this person was crazy and/or uninterested. Korean…feels like that about you right now 😛 .

Anyway, that’s all from me for now; I didn’t expect to resolve this question in one post and I don’t think I have. But hopefully you’ve gotten some use out of this rampage of metaphors 😉 . I leave you with the emphasis-added words of Norman Lear:

“Success is how you collect your minutes. You spend millions of minutes to reach one triumph, one moment, then you spend maybe a thousand minutes enjoying it. If you were unhappy through those millions of minutes, what good is the thousand minutes of triumph? It doesn’t equate… Life is made of small pleasures…Happiness is made of those tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. If you don’t have all those zillions of tiny successes, the big ones don’t mean anything.” ~ Norman Lear

Tanks fer readin’. Do you have a special way of dealing with feelings of suckage? Enlighten us with your technique 😀 !

Series Navigation<< When Will I Get Funny?Strategies for Overcoming Burnout >>


  1. (my favorite example: if you like a certain movie or TV show, you’re almost certain to like other work by the same director and/or screenwriter; in fact, in my experience, although actors and genres are more visible, directors and screenwriters are a far more reliable indicator of whether or not you’ll like a given work)

  21 comments for “Intermediate Angst: Dealing With Feelings of Suckage

  1. jose
    April 27, 2013 at 02:14

    Dope post man. Inspired.

  2. Otacon512
    April 27, 2013 at 05:09

    I actually like feeling like I suck at Japanese. Well ok, of course I don’t like it, but I find it really helpful. Because when I realize I suck, I’m also reminded that I don’t want to suck anymore, so I go and learn more 😉 It all adds up one day. I think the key to learning anything is having the patience to see it through to the end no matter how slow the progress sometimes feels. You can only fail at something if you give up before you win.

  3. さんたく
    April 27, 2013 at 09:12

    “There’s always a reason to feel bad, the key is not to play along.”

    It took me about 35 years to figure this out. Hopefully someone will read this and learn it the easy way. 🙂

    • Aspiring
      April 28, 2013 at 13:47

      “The Now Habit”, Neil Fiore and
      “The Power of Now”, Eckhart Tolle
      These are two amazing books I suggest to everyone.

    • Lazysan
      January 24, 2014 at 04:51

      Not to brag, but it took me 5-6 years.

      It was a slow process not to mention painful. That and being surrounded by people who truly did not like me one bit(I was did not notice a few of such either to be honest). My parents put said people in my life, some of them are still there to this day too(You know, the people who think they RULE you’re entire life, the type whose arrogance makes you sick).

  4. Pingfa
    April 27, 2013 at 20:58

    The best way to do get over doubts about a language is to put aside the doubts and break down what you know you can do for sure.
    You can learn words. That’s a guarantee. Maybe you won’t always understand the context, but it’s easy learning a word. Look it up, look it up again, win.

    Even if you know absolutely nothing about the sentence structure, one thing anyone without a significant mental retardation is guaranteed to be able to do is learn a word. Learn all the words within a sentence and you can piece them together. Even if you know all the words within a sentence but don’t know the context of that specific sentence, there’ll be sentences you can piece together that further clarify those sentences.

    So keep being exposed to words. Keep absorbing words, and eventually you will be able to piece those words together to form a coherent sentence. It’s like many pieces of a puzzle, once you’ve figured out how one piece fits with another and another piece fits with that, you’re on your way to making a bigass puzzle.

    If on the other hand, if one has doubts not so much about their capability but about their motivation, I believe the best way to maintain motivation when you are lacking comprehension is to seek out media you enjoy as is without the need to understand it. Enjoy some pretty visuals. Watch dubs of movies you already know the dialogue to. Don’t concern yourself with learning if you don’t want to, put your feet up and enjoy the ride.

    You might think at some point, ‘I really should learn more’, but that’s really not necessary to maintain exposure. As long as the language continues to surround you, you will solidify what you’ve learned even if you don’t actively learn any more.

  5. 魔法少女☆かなたん
    April 28, 2013 at 00:23

    Ha! This is max truth. Once you get past that good old beginner stage, it becomes more and more difficult to measure your progress. No longer can you count the number of words you know, or the grammar points you know. At this point, everything becomes a blur … or at least that’s what I told the police.

  6. Magdalena
    April 28, 2013 at 03:24

    Great post as always. I keep forgetting about this rule to keep going. I need a reminder from time to time. Your posts never fail to motivate me. Thank you!

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