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Just Do One: Lowering Your Standards and Using Patterns from Addictions to Achieve Success

This entry is part 9 of 11 in the series Mediocre Excellence
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Wide Standards

I’m not the first guy to ever write about this kind of thing, not the best, and not the last. But, let’s give it a shot.

I don’t know if that comes out in this blog, but I can actually be a bit of a perfectionist. And this is a bad thing. I have over 300 drafts in my Gmail inbox that are “not quite right” and therefore not sent. I have about 40 long posts for this blog that have yet to see the light of the Internets. There are pages upon pages of comics that have not been put up because they’re “not good enough”.

Are we seeing the pattern here? The problem with perfectionism in all its forms is that…it creates this incredibly high standard, whereby you either meet the standard or you do not do the job at all. Or something like that. And, like, you know, you see the entryway to perfectionism in statements like “do it properly or not at all”. I used to love that phrase but now I freaking hate it. No, now I say “do it”.

When I look at how most of my projects were failing, it wasn’t from half-donkeyedness. No, it was from sadness brought about by standards that were functionally impossible to meet in anything but ideal conditions. My projects weren’t dying from chronic malnutrition, they were dying from outright starvation (preceded by some guilt-induced starve-binge cycles). And when I say project death, I mean everything starting from the daily level to the long term (since a long term project is nothing but a sequence of daily tasks and sub-projects anyway, but more on that later).

One of my largest continuing projects is the Japanese/Chinese project. And part of that involves doings my daily SRS reps. I noticed that I generally either did 0 reps or all my reps, but rarely anything in between. Multiple consecutive days of 0 reps were starting to eat away at my conscience and no doubt my skill. Why? Because I always set out with the goal to do…all my reps. Listen to Chinese every available waking hour. This is a good goal in terms of being noble. But sucky in terms of fragility. Because stuff happens.

Stuff happens. And when it does, people (well, I) tend to throw in the towel. “All or nothing”, remember? And…this is bad. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some days you’re tired, the end is so far, yeah, you do your reps but you’re not fluent yet. So what do you do?

Do 1 rep. Just one.

Lower your standards. As Tony Robbins once said, make it easy to make you happy; lower the threshold at which you will say “yes, I am pleased”. Why? Because the more you relax the conditions for you to be happy, the more of the time you will be happy. And, ironically, by extension, the more productive you will be.

Think of when you do something bad, something that wastes time. No one ever goes “right, I’m going to smoke 37 kilograms of crack today”. Or “right, I’m going to spend the next 72 hours surfing the Internet with no sleeping or showers”. No. It’s always one more game. Just one. One more hit. Click on one more link. One more round. One more bottle of whatever it is people drink. One more round.

When you decide to do one of any small thing, inevitably you find it’s easy. In the case of things like drugs and gambling, it doesn’t seem to hurt, maybe it even seems fun. So you go on. In the case of something good, like doing your SRS reps…it’s exactly the same. So rather than say “I’m going to do x00 reps today”, just say “I’m going to do one. And take it from there”.

I was standing at a train station the other day. And the overhead announcement goes: “間も無く、2番線に、快速電車成田空港行きが到着します。” [“the rapid train to Narita Airport will be arriving soon”]. And I went, “だったら、到着しろよ。” [“well then, ARRIVE already!”] just to be funny. And it struck me right then that generally, at an everyday level, in terms of the small things we succeed at every day, we don’t so much talk about arriving somewhere as we do about going there. We don’t write down in our daily planner “ARRIVE at the supermarket”, we write “GO to the supermarket”. But in terms of the bigger things that we seem to fail at — like doing our language practice or making a kajillion euros — the goal statement is often too big and not backed by the baby steps that compose our entire lives.

So don’t say “exercise today”. Say “step outside the door” (computer geeks know what I mean: if you’re not careful, outside just doesn’t happen some days — sit in front of the computer one bright and sunny marnin’, and get up about two minutes later and think “what the DARK?!” — especially if there’s enough milk and Frosted Flakes in the house). Don’t say “do homework”. Say “solve one problem”. Don’t say “make a kajillion euros”. Say “make 1 euro”. Don’t try to arrive at your goal. Just try to go there — and congratulate yourself for it: give yourself credit for only getting it partially right, partially done. And I think you will find that the arriving will take care of itself. ‘Cause, think about it, you can’t only give yourself credit for when you get things completely right, or, well, you can and many people do, but that’s a recipe for sadness, especially since most of your life will be spent in the state of working on incomplete projects. So don’t wait to praise yourself for the whole or you’ll be waiting too long, praise yourself for the small, incomplete things you’re doing right here and now.

I’ve often said that someone learning a new language is a baby. Now that I think about it, so is someone doing anything new: and by “new, I mean “for the first time today”. You’re a baby, man. And you were born this morning! Haha. No one yells at a baby trying to walk, telling her that her posture sucks and if she has the audacity to call that bipedal locomotion then well she’d better think twice, Missy, because the Jones’ baby started walking when she was only 6 months old and at this rate she’ll be in the bottom percentile of walkers and she’ll never get into a good kindergarten or good elementary school or high school or college or job and she’ll end up getting pregnant at 11 and marrying an abusive biker and serving jail time for an escalating spiral of antisocial behavior from shoplifting to drug peddling to armed robbery all because she didn’t walk straight when she was a baby! So, give yourself credit for only getting it half right, especially since no one else will. Be your own mother — the loving kind rather than the beauty pageant kind. Goooood! Look at you! 🙂

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  58 comments for “Just Do One: Lowering Your Standards and Using Patterns from Addictions to Achieve Success

  1. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 12:08

    I’m not sure where to put this so I’ll put it here.

    This is the single greatest resource for your method Khatzumoto.

    I encourage everyone to use this site when they are on sentences.

    for Japanese there are [Japanese: 152710] sentences, Written both in English and Japanese all ready for you to put in your SRS. so I encourage all of you to check it out. *even you Khatz

    • Dax
      March 17, 2011 at 22:47

      Vielen Dank Herr Oliver. Ich will viele Wörter und Sätze lernen . Alles gute.

      Thank you very much man, this will kick start my German .

    • Monochrome
      April 19, 2011 at 06:16

      I also think that I love you for this.

  2. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 12:10

    oh to use, Just search a “phrase” or “word” in the search and it will bring up all sentences that include that phrase.

    i.e search “go” and you will get all results including the word go, such as ex: I will go to the store tomorrow. in both the language you wrote in and the target of the search

  3. Chiro-kun
    January 23, 2008 at 14:09

    これを書いて本当にありがとう!(日本語はどうですか?いいですか? 🙁 )

  4. Chiro-kun
    January 23, 2008 at 14:13

    @Oliver –
    どうもありがとう!まあ今日は僕のラキデーですね。。。 🙂

  5. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 14:20

    @ Chiro-kun

    I don’t speak Japanese !

    I just use this same method to learn other languages thats why I post here!

  6. Chiro-kun
    January 23, 2008 at 14:33

    あのう。。。「たとえば」と言うサイトは Tanaka Corpus を使っています。。。それはいいんですか? 🙁

  7. phauna
    January 23, 2008 at 14:34

    Oliver, I think the Tanaka corpus is meant to have some mistakes in the sentences, or some unnatural ways of saying things, so it’s perhaps not so safe to use unless you check the sentences carefully.

  8. Chiro-kun
    January 23, 2008 at 14:34

    Oops…sorry 🙁
    Anyways “thanks a bunch” was what I wanted to say on that post 🙂
    But they’re using Tanaka Corpus for the Japanese sentences, which is supposed to be full of errors and duplications…..

  9. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 14:36

    ^^ I don’t know what your saying. But it has other languages than Japanese(maybe you talking about that) who knows

  10. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 14:37

    oooh! well I checked over the french ones and they all the ones I saw where right.

    so maybe ust the japanese is crappy? lol

  11. Chiro-kun
    January 23, 2008 at 14:42


    Lol well I’m not on a level where I can judge whether sentences are crappy or not 😀
    Actually, the sentences I checked out were perfectly fine but when they said that their source was Tanaka Corpus….if it’s the original file, it should contain thousands of errors but then again, they probably edited most of it.

  12. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 14:44

    ah! I guess once someone who is at that level gets on we can find out if the Japanese are crappy or not.

    But I’m about to go over some spanish and see if those are crappy lol as I am at the level to judge wether sentences are crappy or not in Spanish or French. lol

  13. Oliver
    January 23, 2008 at 15:25

    received my e-mail reply from the webmaster

    [De:”Trang HO” Ajouter au carnet

    Objet: Re: your website

    It’s quite common. From my own experience I’d say 10% ]

    so apparently 10% of the sentences are messed up lol.

  14. nacest
    January 23, 2008 at 17:00

    What K. said in this post obviously applies very well to those doing RTK.
    The advice is basically of the same type of the “enjoy the ride” one. “praise yourself for the small, incomplete things you’re doing right here and now”!

    Only, maybe a word of caution should be used here. You (khatzumoto) seem to have, like ナルト, a huge source of motivation chakra (which you undoubtedly built over time), so advising you to be more forgiving to yourself is ok.
    But some people (count me in on the bad days) tend to be already quite forgiving. And too much forgiveness leads to nothing. So, maybe, lower your standards, but don’t let them satisfy you completely.
    What do you people think?

    • kai
      February 4, 2013 at 09:15

      Well I’m not sure it should be about forgiveness. I’m thinking if you want to learn the language, if you like the language, if you want to learn a Kanji, you will learn a Kanji. So yes you may be satisfied after learning one Kanji, but if you enjoyed the experience you would still learn another one, but only because you would enjoy it, not because you wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself otherwise. Basically the more easily something can satisfy you by giving you a sense of achievement of something you love, the more addictive it should be, and the more you should want to do it. I understand what you mean though. Like if you feel accomplished then you might feel like slacking, if the accomplishment is of something you love, and it’s easy I would think it would urge you to do more.

  15. quendidil
    January 23, 2008 at 19:00

    Lol, if you put it that way, Khatz, I think I’m a perfectionist in many aspects of my life too. I sometimes suffer from that 0 or all reps problem too; I totally get you on the “exercise today” thing. When I’m at the gym and have already started the workout, I usually manage to complete it, but when I’m sitting in front of the computer, the thought of stepping out completely does not appear.

    This problem applies particularly major parts of my life as well; I was aiming to get into the top junior college in Singapore, with a very vague back-up plan if I failed. But, 2 weeks before up till the preliminary exams were going on, I was doing Japanese sentences 8hrs a day. I don’t even know why. I’m a bit anxious now, since the results of the national exam will be announced tomorrow, but sort-of resigned to it.

    Sorry I’m rambling a little. I’m going through a minor existential crisis now.

  16. Rob
    January 23, 2008 at 23:10

    I’m with Nacest on this. While I agree with the main message of doing something instead of nothing and rewarding yourself for doing so, the post seems to be leaning away (a bit)from the All Japanese All the Time theme of the website.

    It is still a great post as usual, but I think some might construe the message to mean it’s okay to not do AJATT as long as one does some or a little Japanese each day. As Nacest said, maybe a post script should be added remind readers that while we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for days when “stuff happens,” we definitely need to “keep the water boiling!”

  17. quendidil
    January 23, 2008 at 23:21

    BTW, people, many of you might not know of the existence of Japanese-native P2P. Google perfectdark and share. I’ve found quite a lot of dubbed movies there. (The Little Mermaid, Shrek, 300). Though there are fakes too. I downloaded a 1 gig file which claimed to be the new Evangelion movie part 1 and it turned out to be some 36sec news report.

  18. khatzumoto
    January 23, 2008 at 23:44

    Yeah, you guys are exactly right. I don’t mean that “a little bit is enough”. It’s not. I mean, TELL yourself you’re only going to do a little bit and use the INERTIA from that to take you all the way. It’s like quendidil mentioned:
    “When I’m at the gym and have already started the workout, I usually manage to complete”. The key is to get yourself outside and in your sneakers, after that, things take care of themselves.

    Drug dealers know this. The first hit is always free. So, be your own “drug dealer”. Get yourself started. Get yourself to “just try it”. And then get “hooked” [at least for that day] and do Japanese the whole day. Any time you find yourself straying, coax yourself back with a “come one, just one drop of Japanese, man”.

    The other thing I was hinting at was not to freak out if part of a single day has not gone perfectly. Dust yourself off and pick up. Say it’s almost noon and you have hardly done any Japanese/reps/whatever that day. Instead of giving up, start from NOW — salvage whatever’s left.
    That’s what I mean. Two quite distinct things and the article is too abstract and doesn’t make this clear. Sorry for failing to get that across 🙂 .

    I’m still Khatzumoto 8) and I’m still zero-tolerance on BS. What I want is not for you and me to be content in the sense of complacency, but to be HAPPY. Self-congratulation for every little step, I think, works better than derision and “it’s still not enough, you lazy punk!” — praise for things done correctly rather than negative criticism for things done incorrectly. Nowhere is this more crucial than when the steps are many — hundreds of reps, thousands of kanji — the end is far, so give yourself a pat on the back for each step; enjoy the journey.

  19. khatzumoto
    January 24, 2008 at 10:04

    Now that I think about it…the words “lower your standards” are misleading. It really should be saying “shrink your standards”, “compress/shrink your time horizon”. Time horizon is the main issue here. That and thinking.

    Have you ever noticed that we can watch TV for hours on end? Why is this? I propose that it’s because TV doesn’t require us to think very far beyond what is on the screen right now. This is both the greatest strength and the greatest danger of TV — shrinking people’s awareness to focus only what is on screen right at this moment. This allows us to focus deeply and get a lot of TV-watching done. Can you imagine if we had to worry about what frequency the radio waves are and how thick the cable is and who invented TV and just how many electrons are passing through that cathode ray tube and am I getting enough TV…it would be hard to get any TV done.

    Now, why not apply this to other, more gainful activities? “Because they’re not as fun as TV” you say? I say, no — the only thing that’s stopping us doing our valuable work with as much abandon as we do our TV-watching is ourselves. Basically, we think too much. Thinking is waste of time unless it’s the very intense kind of thinking where you’re actively figuring out what to do, that kind of thinking has its place: I had to think of how to apply these methods, but the ratio is (or should be) 0.1% thinking to 99.9% doing. So, think less and do more. And when you must think, consider thinking in very short time frames (again, there are time when you need to sit back and plan a day, a week, a year, or even a lifetime, but that kind of thinking should take up only a tiny, tiny, fraction of your time, even if you’re a big planner). Think: “what can I do in the next 3 seconds to help my Japanese/whatever language/long-term project?”. Yeah, 3 seconds. Maybe even less. Focus your attention on the present, on this moment, ignore the past and the future. If you find your mind wandering into the big leagues of time spectrum — hours and minutes — stop it and bring it back to the 3-second level.

    In a sense, I guess I’m repeating this:

    Hmm…sometimes with articles like this, I get the feeling that it’s just advice to myself disguised as something for general consumption 🙂

  20. mark
    January 24, 2008 at 11:03

    “And when you must think, consider thinking in very short time frames (again, there are time when you need to sit back and plan a day, a week, a year, or even a lifetime, but that kind of thinking should take up only a tiny, tiny, fraction of your time, even if you’re a big planner).”

    Ah, yes Khatzu-san – this is a very good point. I have tried the ‘focus on this moment only’ method before, but ended up worrying whether I was focusing so much on the moment that I might be forgetting to do something else important 🙂

    The solution may be to have a certain period of time (say 10 mins) everyday when you consider the ‘bigger picture’. The rest of the time can be spent as an automaton, I think!


  21. zodiac
    January 24, 2008 at 19:37

    @khatz are these sentences mentioned –
    safe? I’m getting slightly sick of yahoo dictionary. Especially their tenses (somehow most of it seems to end in past tense, which is ok for reading…) and if I search for verbs I rarely get good results…

    ooh, me Singaporean too. Too young for JC. Wonder if there’s anyone else here.

  22. Oliver
    January 25, 2008 at 07:07

    @Khatz & everyone else..

    For people Learning Chinese(or any European Language) this is a great website I’ve found.

    It’s European news, written in all languages of Europe and Chinese.
    and by that I mean the same story is written in all the languages THE EXACT SAME!!!
    so its a great place to mine sentences since you can see it in your native and target.

  23. Meshi
    January 25, 2008 at 08:17

    Right on Khatz.

    It was that attitude that got me through RTK1 and enjoying the ride. Actually when I tried to make a hard goal like “Study 40 per day” the only thing that was consistent is the lack of consistency :p.

  24. Tommy
    January 25, 2008 at 09:13

    Hi Khazu,

    I am very interested in self-improvement and I have noticed that you spent a great deal of time on that yourself. I’m currently trying to build my personal library and would like to buy some self-help books. Seeing that you are experienced in that domain, what books would you recommend? You made a reference to Tony Robbins, are his books good? How about Brian Tracy? And other others as well?

    Anyhoo, I really admire you and I want to know what books you would recommend me to read. (Books for success, motivation, procrastination, self-esteem, etc.)

    Thanks 🙂

  25. josh
    January 25, 2008 at 10:57

    I thought that I found something about an SRS homebrew on the Nintendo DS. Do you know what it is? Thanks.

  26. quendidil
    January 25, 2008 at 16:37

    lol. Hello, fellow Singaporean!
    I believe Khatz once said that the Yahoo 和英 sentences were unnatural. Here’s a tip: You can just Google whatever word you are looking up at the moment and take some sentences from there.

  27. quendidil
    January 25, 2008 at 16:40

    Oh yeah, and Google can correct your grammatical errors either indirectly or directly.
    I was talking with a friend who had been studying Japanese too on MSN, and when she typed いいだと思う, I felt that it was wrong but I wasn’t sure, so I just googled it and lo! Google corrected it :p. You can also search for two variants of a way to say something, the one with more hits is usually the correct one. (いいだと思う only turned up hits by 外人 bloggers)

  28. ハイジ
    January 25, 2008 at 16:57

    Thank you for a great post!! I am exactly the person you are describing. It’s either 100 reps or 0 and not much in between. Either 10, 15, 20 kanji a day but on days I think I don’t have the time it’s automatically 0. It’s really something I have to work on and this post has given me even more encouragement to correct my bad habits =) Thank you!

  29. Nivaldo
    January 26, 2008 at 02:40

    Hey, Khatz! No real question, just wanted to apologize myself for my latest comments. I’ve been thinking about them and came to the conclusion that I was being childish, I mean, I was asking for help on a problem but man, who doesn’t have a problem, I was really being childish almost crying. It’s time to be a man. So, sorry for bothering you with things like “what would you do if blah blah blah…?”. Apart from being childish I’m not giving myself enough credit. There is nothing (or almost nothing) easy in any journey especially this one. So, sorry and NO MORE BULLOCKS (got the meaning of “bullocks” from the context) from me now on.

  30. Charles A.
    January 26, 2008 at 04:53

    I have to add caution on the other end of the spectrum. Remember that if learning Japanese becomes addictive, you may need to put some limits on it to keep it in control. For example, with Kanji, I reviewed more than 100 in a day and studied (missed or new cards) no more than 30 a day to force my workload to spread out. Reason I add caution is that many here probably have other things going on in their lives. It’s very easy to let other (important) things slide to get extra Japanese study.

    Basically, learning Japanese is not a tightrope nor is it a freeway. More of a wooden suspension bridge you see in adventure movies. Take it one step at a time, keep walking, don’t look down, don’t look at the destination, just keep moving. God, what a horrible analogy.

  31. January 26, 2008 at 14:04

    Hi Khatz,

    I sent you an email, but it must have gotten lost somewhere. The Anki website you link to has moved to Would you mind updating the link?

    Also, I stumbled across today. What’s the relation to your site? They look remarkably similar.

  32. quendidil
    January 26, 2008 at 14:16

    “I have to add caution on the other end of the spectrum. Remember that if learning Japanese becomes addictive, you may need to put some limits on it to keep it in control. For example, with Kanji, I reviewed more than 100 in a day and studied (missed or new cards) no more than 30 a day to force my workload to spread out. Reason I add caution is that many here probably have other things going on in their lives. It’s very easy to let other (important) things slide to get extra Japanese study.”

    lol, totally get you. If you start doing more than 7 hours of reps a day, that’s going to consume a significant part of your life outside japanese.

    That jjtfblog seems to outright copy large parts of the formatting and the text of this site. “Dude, I am/was a native speaker of Mandarin (through disuse I understand way more than I speak now, but when I finish Japanese or if I go to China, I’ll take care of that) and I had NO IDEA that Mandarin was a tonal language. I just thought that was how it sounded, that it was the only way to pronounce those words, that there is no other way.”
    wtf!? He just changed Dholuo to Mandarin. I don’t know about Dholuo but we are taught at least the 4声 in Chinese, there’s no way a native speaker wouldn’t know about those.

  33. khatzumoto
    January 26, 2008 at 14:32

    The relation is plagiarism.

  34. Sarah
    January 26, 2008 at 15:21

    ^^ I’m having the same problem! I’m so bent on catching up that when I don’t have the time, I just let it be until 300-500 start piling up and it seems impossible to finish it all, yet I do 100-200 more than I would usually do just that one day. Nice post. :3 It was encouraging :3

  35. Sarah
    January 26, 2008 at 15:25

    @ the plagiarized site: Wow…They copied you word for word it seems. You think they would be a little more creative ^^;

  36. Nivaldo
    January 26, 2008 at 16:29

    In my opinion, only when something is good does it get plagiarized or copied in some way. So, in a way, it’s good, it means that you’re doing nice things and “being recognized” for that. On the other hand, it really shows lack of creativity. Maybe the author should go through Heisig’s book more profoundly and start making nice images to improve his creativity. 😀

  37. quendidil
    January 26, 2008 at 17:51

    Khatz, I found a few part time jobs that are going to allow me to practise Japanese. One is a sales job and the other is some other job where you talk to Japanese students to convince them to enrol in some course. What are some phrases that I would need for the sales job?

  38. Kym
    May 15, 2009 at 18:05

    Yo Ive gotta say what you are getting at is very Zen. One breath, only one breath. This moment is the only moment that exists. Very cool. I will try to practice this mentality and stop beating myself up!^^
    There is a saying in the Dhammapada by the Buddha where he says something like… If you spend all of your time in the winter thinking about summer, you will never enjoy winter (which is a huge waste)…

  39. meerkat
    December 14, 2010 at 15:27

    Is this self-deception? Because I’m terribly bad at that, and it seems like the idea is to do all your reps by promising yourself you only have to do one, because you know if you can get started you’ll do them all. But I would go, “Just do one. You only have to do one!” and then I would go “I don’t believe you! If I do one you’re just going to keep telling me to do another, no matter how many I do! I am going to do something else instead!”

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