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SRS: If In Doubt, Throw It Out — Ambivalence Is the Greatest Enemy

Cards you’re ambivalent about are worse than cards that you hate. Cards you hate get acted on instantly, but the ones you’re ambivalent about are allowed to accumulate until they outnumber the ones you love, and then the whole language, your whole life just becomes one big “meh”. So recast ambivalence as hate. If in doubt, throw it out. Delete that card.

Don’t let the cancer of ambivalence overrun your language experience.

Yesterday, I bought like ten books. Pretty much a daily occurrence for me lately. But I also threw away like 3, two of which were from the new ten. They sucked and they weren’t gonna get better and it would literally cost me more to sell them than to bin them. This is Japan; that’s how things work here.

At the time, I felt guilty about it all. The books in question had even gotten good reviews from people I trust. But they simply weren’t a good fit for me. No blood, no foul.

Now I feel free.

Freak thyself not to the out, though: I’m not asking you to start throwing books away; you’re prolly not there yet; you’re probably around places that take book donations. For better or worse (mostly for better), we have enormous cultural resistance to simply discarding books, and I would just as soon see things stay that way.

Paradoxically, my library is happier now; I am happier now. Because subtraction adds value: removing things that are a “meh” makes everything better — it raises the level of all that remains. Few people in our time understood this better than the Syrian hippie who made the mobile phone that you and all your friends use. If in doubt, look to his example.

Ambivalence is like cigarette smoke. It gets everywhere, on everything. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life (those unignited Q-Tips in the QRG movie aren’t cigarettes 😛 ), but people know for days when I’ve “been out” with smokers. The smell gets everywhere.

Don’t let ambivalence get (stay) on you and your stuff. Ambivalence is hate by another name. And deletion is just another form of rep. Delete those SRS cards with extreme prejudice.

  5 comments for “SRS: If In Doubt, Throw It Out — Ambivalence Is the Greatest Enemy

  1. Tom
    June 16, 2013 at 05:14

    Oh God, this post just came in good time! 🙂 I’ve been deleting all the cards that are ambivalent lately and I feel just terrific! It is so liberating that I can ‘finally’ get rid of those little bastards! 😀 To cut a long story short: thank you for this post, it was really a great feedback for me.

  2. Agent J
    June 16, 2013 at 05:51

    On the contrary can’t this whole “delete delete delete ambivalence ambivalence ambivalence” mentality be used as a band-aid fix to un-attraction to studying in general (and not lack of interest in the language) to the point that there’s, like, nothing to SRS?

    I think the biggest reason people dread Anki (or SRS in general) is not because they’re so terrible at picking out content, but simply because SRS feels like a chore to a lot of people.

  3. liz
    June 16, 2013 at 12:42

    Oh man, I needed to read this one today Khatz, I have been feeling so mediocre about my reps deck that it has to get pruned. It’s like the dead tree on my porch right now (Bob-san was his name, before he met his tragic end).

    When did you find time to buy books yesterday? I’ll have to harass you to tell me what you got 🙂

  4. beneficii
    June 18, 2013 at 09:12

    As for me, my reps deck has been empty for several months. Every card I found fit to throw out and I’ve yet to find one to replace it I wouldn’t do the same to. So no reps for me. 😀

  5. Chris
    June 27, 2013 at 03:29

    Great article, I really needed to read this. I’ve realized that I’m very reluctant when it comes to deleting sentence cards in my SRS. My attitude is that if I delete a card I’ll never learn that word again. I’ll often see a boring/difficult card and think to myself “I’ll just skip it for now and deal with it later.” In other words, I’ve basically become a sentence hoarder. The results are pretty obvious though; I keep adding more cards but I’m doing less reps. Over time my deck has kept inflating to where it’s becoming too overwhelming.
    I’ve been deleting a lot of my older cards lately and I’m only adding ones that I feel are fun and relatively (but not too) simple. I assume that scoring high on reps is a lot less important than the actual amount of exposure….in other words, quantity over quality. I also think it’s important to realize that your ability to pick sentences develops with experience. That’s why it’s important to go back and weed out the older cards. Your SRS decks should evolve with your capability and interest.

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