Motivation For Cynical People

If you’re like me…I don’t know whether you actually are, but…you know, if you are, then you came from a country and a culture that largely frowns upon overt displays of emotion. Especially overt displays of positive emotion. Forget displays — simply having a positive mental attitude might be social suicide(?) where you’re from.

As time goes on, you might have outgrown wanting to be cool in the high school sense. You might have decided that your society sucked enough that you no longer cared if you became dead to it. But you still might carry some residual tendencies towards cynicism — so ingrained was the habit of being cynical.

So when a guy like Tony Robbins comes at you with that voice and that grin (that grin :D )…urging you to have a positive mental attitude, when Napoleon Hill tells you that “[w]hatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”, when Mormon girls called Stacy [whose mother, I am reliably informed, has got it going on] smile that Utah smile and offer you cookies, your knee-jerk reaction might be to go “yeah, right”, roll your eyes rather far back into your head, and proceed to dig up the dirt behind these “tricksters”. Anyone that happy has got to be hiding something, right? Or so our culture of mediocrity would have us believe.

And then there’s the (not necessarily inevitable) fact that having hope does carry the potential to set you up for disappointment — especially in the hands of a hope novice: one almost has to learn how to use hope correctly.

My personal solution to all this is to:

1. First, avoid both hope and dread — go for a flatline — and then,

2. Gently bias myself in a positive direction by simply doubting the possibility of failure. Sure, you don’t know if you’re going to succeed, but you don’t know if you’re going to fail either. Indeed, if you did know things with such certainty, you would be effen omniscient and you should be picking stocks or something. But you’re not. You don’t know. And since you don’t know either way, you might as well assume and act in favour of the positive. To quote Dr. Annette Goodheart (who?):

“If we’re going to be miserable we might as well enjoy ourselves [and] laugh.”

So, this sometimes air-headed and always hard-to-sustain “YEEEEEEAAAAH!!! I’M GONNA DO IT, BABY!!!!” idea, is replaced with a calmer, easier “well, I’m certainly not going to fail” orientation. A strange sort of acceptance of positive inevitability. Or something to that effect. This is kind of hard for me to put into words.

More concretely, in terms of acquiring a language, what I’m trying to say is: don’t force yourself to succeed or produce or demonstrate or even to persevere. Give that up. Instead, if it suits you, you might try taking a more laid-back approach of “well, I’m going to dig up some soil, and plant some seeds, and put in some fertilizer and water, and then see what happens”, “I’m going to sow, and see what I reap”. It’s not quite “wait and see”, since that might not get you anywhere, it’s more a “do and see“, an “act and see“.

Do your work and see what happens. Don’t try to force the results; they will come when they come. No matter what you do, at some level, results are always outside your full, direct control. But action never is. You can always do the right thing [and if you don't know what the right thing is, then the right thing might be to go find out what the right thing is]; you can always take the/a right action.

Always. No matter what situation you are in, there is always something you can do. In extreme cases, the the thing to do might be to get out of the current situation. In most cases, it’s as simple as open the book, turn on the TV, plug in the earphones.

Something. Anything.

So why did I get to thinking this? Well, I CAN WATCH AND UNDERSTAND VIRTUALLY ANYTHING ON HONG KONG TV NOW !(T+19 months) Violent triad movies, weird accents, regular TV news, parody news, phone prank shows, Korean-made documentaries about the history of noodles…bring it. In some cases I read the Chinese subs quite a bit for confirmation, but this simply shows how fast a reader I’ve become — I used to be unable to make it across even half a subpicture before it changed…now I can read it 1.5 ~ 2 times in that same brief time window. In short,  my input is almost a Jedi, though my output be at youngling level.

And the weird thing is…I was barely even trying. Not really. I mean, yeah, I have Cantonese TV and movies playing close to 24/7 in my house, and put a laptop in the kitchen so I can watch things like The Simpsons Movie (that’s right, son, there’s a Canto dub…Marge, Lisa, Bart and Flanders’ voices are dead on; Homer’s is “re-interpreted” slightly, but I never liked his original voice anyway) while washing dishes, and I have Chinese comics in the restroom, and Chinese newspapers pasted all over my walls, and Chinese books permanently sitting in my manbag ready to go anywhere I do, and…yeah…and stuff. But once you get those things set up, it’s almost all just a matter of, how you say in the simple English…sitting back and watching. Once you do set up and maintain the right environment, all that’s left is to show up…to exist.

So…just do it already. But don’t wait and worry and weep and wail and gnash your teeth over results. Don’t act like a desperate stalker, always watching, always trying to get the phone number, always trying to get to second base, always asking Mummy if you’re there yet. Sitting by the door checking the clock every five seconds is not going to make the FedEx lady (yeah, my neighbourhood FedEx guy is a girl) come any quicker. Just be cool. The results will call you when they’re ready. They always call :) . You need only act; you need only plant; you need only keep walking — sooner or later [later than you would wish, but sooner than you would fear] the destination will practically be forcing itself into your face.

If you can’t be motivated, don’t be [I can't]. If you can’t feel passion [I hate this word], don’t. Just be curious instead. Just keep sowing instead.

  43 comments for “Motivation For Cynical People

  1. Steve H
    June 24, 2009 at 04:14

    I feel as if this entire entry was written to/about me. The idea of doing something to see what becomes of it and knowing that the end result surely won’t be failure, is what I live for. Thanks for the awesome post~

  2. June 24, 2009 at 04:20

    Well that’s very encouraging to hear about encouragement!

    The site is really great and I’ve been recommending it to anyone who will listen and also even people who won’t. If that dead tramp logs on, I sent him. (“LOL”)

    It’s exciting about your Cantonese. I was glad to see you originally approached Chinese through Japanese – that is my plan but I was scared to tell anyone since it sounded too ridiculous! But really it makes sense to me – I find Kanji difficult, I find tones difficult, why not just do one at a time?

    Thanks very much!

  3. June 24, 2009 at 04:59

    Somewhat relevant (to the whole bog at least, if not this article) is this article which claims that forcing a positive mental attitude onto someone with low self esteem actually makes them feel worse because (but does actually make high selfy-steamers feel better). The theory is that if you really don’t think they can then saying telling yourself that you can feels like a lie.

  4. david
    June 24, 2009 at 05:09

    I like this idea of just doing to find things out. That’s what got me into this whole thing. “Hey, this Heisig guy knows his stuff, and, it’s not like learning all the general use Kanji is going to hurt.” – “Hey this Khatzumoto guy’s got some good tips, and, it’s not like learning 10,000 grammatical sentences from manga, movies, dramas, anime, and websites is going to hurt my Japanese.. let’s just find out.” – And, so on. I don’t see anything as “this is it, if it doesn’t work then there’s no way I’m getting fluent.” I see it more as a “basically this is going to take me as long as it takes, so lets do something that seems right.” Goes back to not caring about how long it takes to get there because you’ll get there eventually if you just keep going. Who knows, after 10,000 sentences, maybe I won’t be natively fluent, but, if I’m not, I guess that just means I need to plug some more holes. : )

  5. Tony
    June 24, 2009 at 07:52

    This post is inspiring. It is good to hear about your success with Chinese. Can’t wait to hear more about your progress. Does your Japanes suffer because you spend all your time on Chinese. I’m asking this because I’m a bit scared that my English can deteriorate if I start learning Chinese/Japanese 24/7.

  6. Maya
    June 24, 2009 at 08:10

    I was literally wondering just this morning why I should even bother continuing with the kanji – it’s like there’s no end to them…

    So, thank you. I needed this. :)

  7. Tyler
    June 24, 2009 at 10:40

    Fergal Daly, that article really proves nothing except that it reminds you of the effects of cognitive dissonance.”The (real) issue is not with positive thinking as such but how it is framed and used.” As one of the comments on the article said,
    “1. Choose an X or state that is realistically achievable
    2. Frame the statement so that X is a future event that you are working towards
    3. Include what you need to do and are going to do to shift from the current state to the future state,” which is essentially what this site’s method runs on: 1.Goal to a certain state of fluency in Japanese. 2.Framing the goal (discipline; remembering what you want). 3.What you need to do and are going to do; immerse yourself in native media and materials.

    But anyways, this is a very truthful article, Khatzu. Thank you once again.

    -~-~T~-~-

  8. Tommy Newbhall
    June 24, 2009 at 11:27

    Im gonna start putting Khatzumoto quotes into my srs. lol.

  9. Harrison
    June 24, 2009 at 11:31

    Great article about being action-oriented (as opposed to waiting-around-for-results oriented). The truth is that every time you spend thinking or worrying about results takes away time that you could be using to get them.

    Also, duly noted is your comment about hating the word passion. If your familiar with kids trying to look “more passionate” to college adcoms by filling up their high school resumes with fancily-named extra-curriculars, you’ll know how hackneyed this term has become. (Source: College confidential)

    But from a more relevant perspective, it’s become one of those attributes lumped along with intelligence and willpower whose sole purpose is to discourage people who ostensibly “just don’t have it”.

  10. James
    June 24, 2009 at 12:42

    Maybe I missed it, but how long have you been studying Cantonese? That was a great post.

    Thanks,
    James

  11. km
    June 24, 2009 at 15:14

    “Great article about being action-oriented (as opposed to waiting-around-for-results oriented). The truth is that every time you spend thinking or worrying about results takes away time that you could be using to get them.”

    Harrison, you are THE MAN! (or woman?) You are ALL THAT!

    Thanks for a life-affirming kick in the pants (seriously).

    Never had a problem with expression emotion or feeling passion about learning Japanese. I burn with them day and night, sometimes to my own dismay (passion is close to desire which hurts sometimes). But either way I still sit around waiting for results too much.

  12. james
    June 24, 2009 at 18:35

    This line really hit home for me

    In short, my input is almost a Jedi, though my output be at youngling level.

    Thats how I totally feel and at times, it’s disheartnening… but I know my time to be an output jedi is coming…

  13. nacest
    June 24, 2009 at 18:53

    I hereby abandon my final objective of becoming fluent in Japanese.
    Instead, my new goal is to keep doing stuff in Japanese like I’m doing now, whatever the results are.
    It would be cool if I could learn Japanese in the process, though :P

  14. Chiro-kun
    June 25, 2009 at 00:59

    I never really cared about being an output Jedi considering I never had any imminent plans of moving to Japan. But becoming an input Jedi itself is knocking my heart about my ribcage. The only thing I can do at native speed is read video game dialogue and my listening sucks arse.

    ええ分かってる….愚痴ってる場合じゃねぇってば!

  15. Tyler
    June 25, 2009 at 01:52

    I am a listening padawan..

  16. Daniel
    June 25, 2009 at 06:44

    As for kanji motivation, I’ve always thought about it like this: Sure, I may only know a rough approximation of the meanings of [insert number here] kanji, but that’s a hell of a lot better than not knowing a rough approximation of [insert number here], which I would be without Heisig, and only knowing [insert number here] is a necessary step to knowing 2,042, which I’m only getting closer to.

  17. Tommy Newbhall
    June 25, 2009 at 11:35

    I was mulling this post over last night in my head, and its relationship to a previous post, the “sorrow of the intermediate learner,” and had a realization. I guess one thing I had assumed about the whole input/SRS/reading/listening process was the relation between input and output. I understood that input was first output was second, but I never understood how far down the line input came after output. I assumed that it went like this: you see or hear a word, and then see it in a context you can pretty much understand. Then you look that word in a Japanese dictionary, and the definition (actually, “description” might be a better word for dictionary entries, but that’s a different topic altogether) and with few more comprehensible example sentences, you get a clearer picture of the meaning and usage. Add those example sentences to the SRS, get them buried deep in your head, and then, they’re ready to use. However, I wasn’t experiencing this, and assumed that there was something wrong. What I didn’t realize, as this post points out, is that from the “getting them buried deep” to the “ready to use” point is just as Khatzumoto describes, an incubation period, time for the seeds to grow. I’m not really sure what is going, mentally at this point, but it also seems like some seeds (i.e. words and phrases) take longer to grow than others, and most take longer than I think they will…

    This happened to me the other day, when without prompting myself, without trying, a bit of a sentence ”切なるお願い” せつ・なる お・ねが・い that I had in my SRS just came out in conversation, completely out of the blue. I went back later and had a look at the item and realized that it was part of an item I added to my srs over three months ago but I am pretty confident that I looked up the word exclusively using a Japanese dictionary, and that I used the phrase correctly. I guess while three months seems like a long time to wait for a single phrase, and output results are just a trickle now, my guess is that a while down the line they’ll probably grow and grow until output becomes a deluge. On top of that, in the long run, three months isn’t very long to wait at all, and it is certainly a whole lot shorter than “never” which is when I would have produced that sentence if I had not entered it into the SRS into the first place.

    fwiw,
    Tommy

  18. HiddenSincerity
    June 25, 2009 at 18:51

    Tommy, you’re right. It does take a long time between comprehension and production (ie input and output) in most cases (another reason why most classes suck).

    In fact, in studies on children learning their first language, after the child had produced thier first 50 words (which tend to take a little longer), it was on average FIVE months between the child’s comprehension of a word in context before they could produce that word in at least one context. FIVE months. Just think about that, supposing (as i do) that child and adult acquisition are somewhat releated – on average SRS items you add today won’t be able to be produced until November 25th. As you said it is both a long time but much shorter than never. And it certainly makes me feel better when I think about all the stuff I still can’t do. :D

  19. Rachel
    June 25, 2009 at 21:21

    Great article! I have a quick question. I’m learning French and I have been mostly watching children’s shows to get my input. It’s encouraging because I can understand more than on radio or movies, but will that get in the way of my learning “real” French? You know, since it’s aimed at young children; I know that children’s shows in English sound slower and simpler. Was there ever a stage where you watched TV for young children?

    Thank you! :)

  20. June 27, 2009 at 04:23

    Tyler,

    the article certainly isn’t supposed to contradict Khatz’s method. I posted it because of Khatz’s remark on Tony Robins talking about PMA – ‘your knee-jerk reaction might be to go “yeah, right”, roll your eyes rather far back into your head’. The article gives an indicatoin that if that’s your reaction then you should probably forget about PMA, it will only make you feel worse (the study wasn’t about cynicism but about self-esteem, although the explanation would seem to apply to cynics too).

    This post is perfectly compatible with the article. The Khatz method does not require a PMA (although it doesn’t hurt I suppose). It doesn’t require you to think that you can become someone who can learn Japanese – to tell yourself something you don’t believe. The method says that everyone can learn Japanese and that all it takes is application of the technique is sufficient quantities. You don’t have to believe in yourself, just in Khatzumoto :)

  21. テツ
    June 27, 2009 at 06:38

    @Rachel
    Anything that is FUNBUN (For Natives by Natives) is ideal! Mix and match as you feel, further by keeping it fun and FUNBUN whether you realise it or not, you’ll be on inevitable track to fluency.
    The Less time in English worrying about (the relevance/realism/hygienic properties) of your inputs = More time you can spend immersed.
    Keep it Funbuned!Good luck.

  22. Terence
    June 28, 2009 at 10:57

    YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    However little it was, you gave us a Chinese update!!!!! hahaha

    Although I’m learning Japanese its good to hear that after all this time you’ve gotten to the point of “I CAN WATCH AND UNDERSTAND VIRTUALLY ANYTHING ON HONG KONG TV NOW !(T+19 months) Violent triad movies, weird accents, regular TV news, parody news, phone prank shows, Korean-made documentaries about the history of noodles…bring it.”. It gives hope to us all haha

    Great post!

  23. June 29, 2009 at 07:52

    Great post, I was just about to think about possibly considering the chance of maybe taking a break for awhile. I always come here for a quick booster :)

    I’ve been following AJATT for close to a year now, and Khatz’s method is really the only thing that works. I can’t even call it Khatz method (Supermemo, some German dude, those Polish guys, etc) but for simplification, I do.

    I get a lot of people astounded by how well my Japanese has become (even though, honestly, I think it still sucks) in such a short time. The only reason I can attribute it to is Heisig, SRS, ドラえもん,マリオ君、コナン、a bunch of other 漫画、and this is possibly the 5000th time I’ve heard 魔女の宅急便 ;) Luckily I like the movie :)

    So once again, Thanks Khatz!

  24. June 30, 2009 at 00:15

    A year and a half to get to that point, huh?

    Personally I’m more interested in finding out how he plans to upgrade his output from the youngling level. That’s the problem I’m having right now.

  25. Caomei513
    June 30, 2009 at 00:21

    Khatz,

    Great article (again)… just the inspiration I was needing! Anyway, Congratz on your Cantonese progress.. but I have a question about that: How many items to you have in your Canto SRS right now?

  26. Tsuioku
    July 2, 2009 at 16:40

    Just posting because I noted this:

    If you can’t feel passion [I hate this word], don’t. Just be curious instead. Just keep sowing instead.

    AJATT runs on wit, passion and your support!

    How’re ya gonna get yourself out of this one, Khatz?! ;)

  27. khatzumoto
    July 2, 2009 at 16:49

    :D

  28. Yaltafa
    July 2, 2009 at 22:03

    Off topic I know but, I just finished RTK1 , I’m too happy !

  29. Forrest
    July 4, 2009 at 08:49

    Really do appreciate it when ya take the time to make these inspirational posts! :)

    I’ve only recently really kicked my learning into gear again. I’ve even cancelled my WoW account and started playing the japanese version of mabinogi. It is amazing how much I can understand while understanding so little. Also, I just pre-ordered Dragon Quest IX from Play-Asia off of your referral link. Hope you get your commission!

    Thanks again!

  30. Chaak@fukuoka
    July 6, 2009 at 22:18

    (i’ll leave my comments in Cantonese)

    我一路都有睇你呢個webpage﹐好buy你呢個學外語o既方法
    估唔到你竟然連廣東話都搞得掂
    除左覺得你好掂之外﹐只可以話﹐上堂﹐真係冇用。

    你得閒o既時候將你學廣東話o既心得post上黎 等大家參考下啦

    加油

    chaak@fukuoka

  31. TF
    March 26, 2010 at 02:02

    Ah, yes. Thank you. I am exactly that kind of cynical person (!) and while I just decided to re-try the AJATT method (after finally getting back into college and being profoundly disappointed with the quality of the language classes), I’ve been doubting. But, as you said, really I’ve been doubting the wrong things, haven’t I? After all, it’s unlikely I’ll fail quite as spectacularly as I seemed to think I would (I have nightmares about accidentally wiping my memory clear, or somehow learning to pronounce all my vowels wrong…). Wish me luck! (or, perhaps more appropriate, wish me hard work, as the Japanese would say…) ^_^

  32. Huxtable
    June 11, 2010 at 18:58

    I never say this, but I think this post saved my life – relatively speaking of course. I didn’t think anyone else that actually achieved thought like this. (sounds silly, I’m aware.)

    For some reason I can’t feel that ‘passion’ or ‘pull to any path’ sort of thing. I decided to go about Japanese in a different way this time (as opposed to my past failed experiences). By just not thinking too much about the future or complexities that I have yet to face – all of which have caused me inevitable failure before. As you said, by simply planting the seed, caring for it each day, and see what happens.

    A sort of go with the flow approach in terms of progress, idk.

    Thanks though. Will continue reading.

  33. ダンちゃん
    July 2, 2010 at 20:44

    Going back through a lot of these posts now that I’m AJATT + 4 months (with seven years of ‘study’ and unintentional exposure of various degrees before that’.

    Yeah, I am feeling more rooted in Japanese than ever before. Today I picked up 坊ちゃん just to see how hard I found it compared to a year earlier (too hard to read enjoyably, so I put it down). I found I could pretty much get the gist of any words I didn’t know from context/kanji. I dare say I could now read the whole thing fairly enjoyably and without a dictionary (picking out things for SRS of course). Pretty happy about that I gotta say.

    However it is certainly not like you learn a word and then you ‘own’ it. Ownage typically comes a fair fair way down the line. You can’t force it, you just gotta be patient and keep planting those seeds.

  34. Suisei
    January 11, 2012 at 02:45

    So, I should just get into Kanji and not ask questions I’m having with the lazy kanji method and just do these LazyKanji Method cards in Anki? The cards don’t have any sentences on the back though

    • January 11, 2012 at 06:06

      When going through RTK, my card format was as follows:

      Front:

      Back:
      GUY
      A WOMAN’s CROTCH interests a GUY.

      On the front is the kanji, and on the back is the keyword, as well as the sentence with the primitives in all capitals. (The sentences are critical if you’re doing Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji. Don’t leave them out. If you’re trying to learn kanji simply through repetition, then a sentence is unnecessary… I’d strongly recommend RTK over drilling though…)
      Something I found interesting is that if I did the cards like this, I’d be able to remember the meaning of the kanji when reading Japanese text, but have trouble writing them. If the card was flipped, the opposite would be true. However, seeing how – in my opinion – input is more important output, I figured I should put more effort into reading than writing, and, about 5 months post RTK, I still stand by my decision.

      • Suisei
        January 11, 2012 at 22:13

        Ah I see.  Heisig deck don’t really don’t have stories like that on the back of the cards. : C And I’ve been trying to do two things at once when making up sentences. I’ve been stressing about stroke order AND the keywords then get confused when using other keywords to form parts of the kanji in my mind. :C Like there would be a primitive for DAY in the kanji and then I’d try to remember DAY with the keyword for it in the sentence. Would that be doing it incorrectly if I’m doing that? It seems like I am since it feels like I’m doing more work than I should and I’m getting confused by it. v.v
         
        Do you know of any good decks for Anki perchance?xD

        • January 12, 2012 at 01:41

          > I’ve been stressing about stroke order AND the keywords then get confused when using other keywords to form parts of the kanji in my mind.

          Take a deep breath! Kanji shouldn’t be stressful, in fact, some people find it relaxing. Stroke order was an issue for me as well. Just pay close attention in the earlier stages of RTK when Heisig shows the order, and by the time he stops showing it, you’ll have developed the instinct that will allow you just just *know* how to write characters. As for getting keywords confused, I’m assuming this is because you aren’t using the Lazy Kanji method? Once you switch, this issue should go away.

          >Like there would be a primitive for DAY in the kanji and then I’d try to remember DAY with the keyword for it in the sentence. Would that be doing it incorrectly if I’m doing that?

          After some thought, I think you may be better off sticking with the primitive meanings. Sometimes, the primitives look fairly different from the original Kanji they come from, and also, you may run the risk of remembering the *entire* kanji by the keyword name that was given to the primitive.

          > Do you know of any good decks for Anki perchance?xD

          Unfortunately no. My personal preference it to not use pre-built decks. To me, it feels like someone is just handing me work to do, not the labour-of-love feeling I get when I build my own decks. However, Google may know of some sources!

          • Suisei
            January 12, 2012 at 06:22

            >Take a deep breath! Kanji shouldn’t be stressful, in fact, some people find it relaxing. Stroke order was an issue for me as well. Just pay close attention in the earlier stages of RTK when Heisig shows the order, and by the time he stops showing it, you’ll have developed the instinct that will allow you just just *know* how to write characters. As for getting keywords confused, I’m assuming this is because you aren’t using the Lazy Kanji method? Once you switch, this issue should go away.
             Wow, so you shouldn’t write it at all? O.o And about the Lazy Kanji method, how does it work if you don’t have a story or anything to memorize it with? I was looking at the Lazy Kanji Deck Mod V2 and on the front of the cards, don’t have anything to give you a clue on remembering them, they just have a blank for you to write  the kanji and a small red number.
            >After some thought, I think you may be better off sticking with the primitive meanings. Sometimes, the primitives look fairly different from the original Kanji they come from, and also, you may run the risk of remembering the *entire* kanji by the keyword name that was given to the primitive.
            I think I understand but , could you give me an example? (Sorry for being slow. :/ )
            >Unfortunately no. My personal preference it to not use pre-built decks. To me, it feels like someone is just handing me work to do, not the labour-of-love feeling I get when I build my own decks. However, Google may know of some sources!
            Ah, okay. To be honest, I’m still kind of worried to make my own deck since, I’m sure what would help me and it may take me a long while to learn kanji while wasting time finding a good deck. D:

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