The Now Habit: Language Acquisition as a Long-Term Project

Throughout the time this blook has been running, there has been plenty of what might be called “personal developmenty” or “motivationy” content. And there’s good reason for that. People are failing to learn languages for two basic reasons. For one thing, their methods suck. But even more fundamentally, their entire state of mind (confidence/lack thereof) and ability to manage themselves through a project of any considerable size and length is literally zero. That’s what you get when you put people through years of “sit down, shut up and do as you’re told”; you get people who only know how to be managed and be led — you get sheep.

When I was in college, I used to try to save money by borrowing books from the library, or reading about books online. Looking back, this was not an entirely flawed strategy. Plenty of books need not be bought; they can be picked for information once and never looked back at again. But some books are so important, so valuable and so ripe for re-reading that they do need to be bought. And owned. And held. And loved. And read (<– do you like how this is an afterthought?) And highlighted the heck out of. This is one such book. It’s that good and it’s that important.

戦略的グズ克服術―ナウ・ハビット

A lot of books in the self-improvement/personal development field are full of crap or otherwise not worth your time. This is not that kind of book. This book owns. And if you read it, mark it, re-read it some weeks later, and while reading really start to apply the lessons it contains, I am sure you will find more success in both your language acquisition projects and in life generally.

The book is The Now Habit / 戦略的グズ克服術―ナウ・ハビット / 拖拖拉拉不是好朋友 by Neil Fiore . I’m going to sound super-mean here, but with notable exceptions (like AJATT readers!), far too many military people I have come across have been…intellectually slow jerks prone to violence. Please, do not threaten to send cruise missiles over to my house, you’re not smart enough; I’m just telling you my experience with military meatheads; I thought it was just an Army problem but even my beloved Air Force seems to be rushing to meet its quota of schmucks — ten solid years of brainwashing from Stargate SG-1 cannot erase this fact. And then there’s that annoying fact that kind of gets left out of polite conversation…the fact of military organizations basically existing to perform and/or enable the (a) burning, (b) stabbing, or (c) torture of human beings, all — we are told — for the safety of certain abstract nouns. Plus there are cool badges. And fortunately the human beings getting a-b-ced are typically brown people so it’s all good pass the salt.

Badges, motherbadger…That just sounds like a female badger.

Why do I get caught up in flamewars that are never going to happen? Oh yeah — this Neil Fiore guy is ex-military. And why that matters is because you just don’t get books this perceptive, gentle and useful from actual human beings, let alone military personnel.

…I feel like something deeply dehumanizing was just said…

Anyway, think about it — AJATT is useful and perceptive, but it certainly isn’t gentle with all its misogyny and antisemitism and constant scatalogical references. Pooh. Most personal development books written by women are gentle, but useless in terms of application and too muddled to contain any real perception. Most PD books by men, meanwhile, just suck all around. So, this Now book is a little miracle: this book has the minerals.

The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play

How does it work? First, Fiore firmly locates the causes of procrastination. Yeah, the P-word: the AIDS, cancer and pins-and-needles of people trying to get things done. For most of us, the root cause comes down to unworkably high standards gradually inculcated during childhood, often by well-meaning parents who themselves suck at self-management. Anyone who’s experienced or observed many self-consciously “high-achieving” families knows what I’m talking about: the parents who, when their kid gets ten A’s and one A-minus, rather than congratulating the kid, instead ask: “Why did you get an A-? This is unacceptable. What the flock, kid?!”. This can turn the kid into a failure-phobic perfectionist.  The kid  then (unconsciously) uses procrastination as a defense mechanism — starting work late because then at least “lack of time” can excuse what would otherwise have to have been a perfect project by her internalized standards.

My family always wanted the best for me, I grew up comfortably and well-off…but…(*cue  violin*) my childhood was a lot like this; nothing was ever good enough; no matter how well I did, the question always remained: “But Khatzumoto, why didn’t you X?”. This is the part of the movie where Robin Williams tells me it wasn’t my fault and I cry 🙂 . Haha, it wasn’t that bad; I’m just super glad to be able to realize it and change it now. The point is: (1) Standards that are too high make it impossible to get any work done outside of an emergency, so one of the major reasons otherwise smart people procrastinate is to force an emergency — and therefore a lowering of standards. (2) Fear of failure is not the same as desire for success; the latter will get you places, the former will get you…on medication.

But if Fiore stopped there he’d just be like every other psychologist — someone paid large sums of money to blame everything on our parents. Fiore goes beyond that and details his simple-looking treatment for the disease. He teaches you to make sensible standards, make fun the center of your life (getting rid of the lockdown/martyr syndrome through what he calls “unscheduling” — a schedule that focusses on requiring yourself to play), and ask yourself constructive questions (when can I start? where can I start? what can I do right now?), all part of a full complement of techniques based on behavioral psychology i.e. Burrhus Frederic Skinner. That’s right, kids — the very same techniques that “The Man” uses to manipulate you, can be used for good, so you can manipulate yourself.

Fiore’s techniques are actually rooted in his experience getting a Ph.D in psychology after his time in the military; in this sense, they are actually better than most of the The Man’s tricks because not everything The Man does constitutes effective management, in fact a lot of people’s problems getting things done come from internalizing bad management tools (in a word, coercion). As a Ph.D student, Fiore noticed kids around him with no lives, apparently spending all their time on their dissertations, always stressed out, for years at a time, but not getting jack done. He basically resolved to use the psychology knowledge he was acquiring on himself (what a concept!) to get his Ph.D done in a really short time while actually having a life.

戦略的グズ克服術―ナウ・ハビット

Which is all well and good but I know that doesn’t get across how cool this book is. It’s a book that sounds dry in description but is superb in effect. When Fiore is explaining the situation, it’s as if he knows you personally; that’s how perfectly he has understood the problem at hand. This man knows what’s up and he knows how to deal with it. So, please, don’t just take my word for it. Really, don’t. My explanation of it sucks. You need to read the real thing in its full, original context. Primary source, baby. Read or listen to the book. And when you’re done, read it again. In fact, if you can, get the audio book rather than the straight text. Why? Because (1) You’re much more likely to repeat it, and (2)  It leaves your hands free so you can get implementing right as you listen — after all, the theory in this book is tight, but it’s meaningless unless you start applying it, and if you’re going to apply, the best time is right there and then. Right now. Go on. You’ll thank me later. This is easily one of the best works in its field, as well as the least-promoted.

I thought there was no Japanese version, but it turns out that a Janslation (Japanese translation) of this book finally came out only a few months ago (April 2008). I was so struck by its quality and relevance to the very thing at hand in AJATT — a long, self-directed project — that I felt it deserved a plug here and even a titillating photo of me. Think of it as an extension of the Mental Tools category. Before finding out about the existence of the Janslation, I would listen to the English audiobook while reading something in Japanese, just to keep the old immersion up. Hey, I come correct.

Anyway, that’s all from the manly desk of Khatzumoto.

Tell your Mum hi.

[P.S. I hadn’t realized it while writing this, but Victoria the Cunning Linguist actually mentioned this book way back in the day. Thanks, Victoria!].

  41 comments for “The Now Habit: Language Acquisition as a Long-Term Project

  1. Luke M
    December 2, 2008 at 12:21

    Glad you are still alive 🙂

  2. Mark
    December 2, 2008 at 13:16

    Any ideas how it compares to Getting Things Done?

    www.amazon.co.uk/Getting-Things-Done-Stress-free-Productivity/dp/0749922648

  3. Harold
    December 2, 2008 at 13:35

    Thanks for the info and welcome back!

  4. Lane
    December 2, 2008 at 13:54

    word

  5. December 2, 2008 at 14:18

    Yea! Khatz is better!

  6. December 2, 2008 at 14:24

    Lol, I bet there’s gonna be a huge surge in sales of this book now that Khatz just recommended it. Sounds like a really cool theory on time/”project” management; I’ll definitely get it. I wish I was good enough at Japanese to read it/at least recognize the kanji and get meaning out of it right now, lol…Guess I’m stuck with the eigo version.

  7. December 2, 2008 at 14:53

    Ordered. It’s scary how perfectly this recommendation fits into what I have discovered about myself recently. As you said, we have been brought up with an endless, magic pudding-like “to do” list and I, for one, have always been brilliant at just madly working at whatever is the most crucial/next due at break-neck efficiency till it is done. In my new, ridiculously lucky circumstance of being an expat wife in Japan who no longer has that “to do” list being thrust upon me (I can literally do anything I want, with no responsibilities at all – INSANE) I have realized that I have simply never learned how to tackle long term projects without some looming external impetus (publication deadline/client need/threat to my job lol). Even at University I was a last minute-er, madly dashing out an essay on the last day/night and doing well for it but not really having any sense of how I achieved the good mark and waiting to be discovered as a fraud lol! It feels incredibly selfish to not be using the time properly but as insanely competent as I am when the result is necessary for someone else, or a short project for myself (knitting a sweater or reading a book) I simply don’t have the skillz! So thanks again for the recommendation!

  8. James
    December 2, 2008 at 16:01

    Purchased.

  9. December 2, 2008 at 18:09

    Don’t see a Japanese audiobook. That would have been brilliant. Alas, I’ll settle for the English version. But! Crazy to notice that the Japanese iTunes store has the audiobook (in English it seems) for ¥2700 while the US iTunes store has it for $17.

  10. December 2, 2008 at 18:10

    Hehehe, glad you like the book! It’s great isn’t it? Good to see it’s now available in a Japanese translation too. I’ve always been a last-minuter, and the Now Habit helped enormously when I moved into a job with enough autonomy that procrastination could really get you into trouble! Most importantly, being a perfectionist, it also helped me feel ok about what I was doing – that, when you keep track of how much effort you are putting in, it is respectable – so that also helped eliminate the constant drain on motivation that is “omg, I’ll never do enough”. The whole approach has helped tonnes with language study too – particularly setting aside X minutes a day for an SRS. And I’m currently using effort-based targets to get all my Pimsleur notes typed up (so they can be added to Anki)!!

  11. December 2, 2008 at 18:14

    PS. You might like this, I didn’t think to mention it in comment (above). Guess what job it was that I did, as a serial procrastinator, non-assertive person and general last-minuter?

    Project Manager.

    So yeah, the book helped 😀

    I’ve since quit. Am retraining to teach ESL… IN JAPAN 😀 That’s not to avoid overcoming aforementioned behavioural traits, as my several years of PM toil has provided ample opportunity for that, I’m just now hoping to use all my skills and experience differently. But yeah, Neil Fiore kept me (kinda) sane 😀

  12. James
    December 2, 2008 at 18:18

    I guess I’m not much of a procrastinator if I bought the book immediately after reading your article…

    Hi mom.

  13. yun
    December 2, 2008 at 23:52
  14. Chiro-kun
    December 3, 2008 at 00:40

    こうたるわ!
    元気になったみたいな先生!そりゃよかった

  15. CotM
    December 3, 2008 at 01:01

    Yay! You’re back!

  16. hp
    December 3, 2008 at 01:13

    This great book is also available in German (click on “hp” above to view/order at amazon.de).

  17. Luke
    December 3, 2008 at 06:58

    Anyone know where to get Japanese audiobooks from? I’m trying to get some audio to go with my novels, but I’m having a hard time!

  18. D
    December 3, 2008 at 16:42

    Hey Khatz,

    this is somewhat irelevent to the topic of this post, however, i wanted to say I’m working on RTK atm felt like I was getting nowhere on Japanese and somewhat “Burned out” as people may say… Than picked up a newspaper today at a Japanese friends place and realized “WOW! I know a lot of these kanji!” just felt like telling about this because it really cured my “burnout” symptoms 😀

  19. December 3, 2008 at 17:47

    Glad you’re back to posting shape. My simplified Chinese copy just arrived from Amazon.cn (couriers, how do I love thee, let me count the ways!) — 战胜拖拉 is the title in Chinese. Good stuff.

  20. VadeTheBlade
    December 3, 2008 at 23:37

    Hey khatZ!
    Glad to have you back mate! Thanks for the book recommendation. Will try find it asap!

  21. December 4, 2008 at 04:29

    Would love to have the book in Spanish. Anyone that knows if it’s published in Spanish as well?

  22. December 4, 2008 at 11:10

    Omygosh, guess what? When I log into my wordpress account for my blog and look at the stats, it shows me how many times people found my blog and how they found it. Guess how one person found my blog? They googled “khatzumoto stupid” and got to my blog. Wow. I swear, I don’t have anything even suggesting that in my blog, but I must have had the two words both in the same post of something. I certainly don’t think that khatz is stupid, but I find it funny that someone else would be stupid enough to google such a thing. Wow. I’m sorry. I found that funny in a weird way…
    O GREAT KHATZUMOTO! How can you allow such blasphemy!
    Just kidding, lol…

  23. Rebeca
    December 4, 2008 at 11:58

    I read this already!!! 🙂

    One of my faves….

    I read it about 2 years ago. and then i threw it away. And then this year, i missed some of the strategies on it and i had to buy it again.

    Yuppp…mine is all crayoned (i don’t use highlighter, the paper is too thin)

    ANd this book was truly one of the ones that changed my life with its simple and yet so unheard of topic of CHOICE.
    I can’t begin to describe how just the use of that word helps me in my procrastination.

    I love Neil Fiore 🙂

    IN FACT…you should read his other book: Awaken your strongest self. OMG. ilove that one. Its basically all the things he talks about in TNH, but it goes more in depth.

    I also recommend OPTIMAL THINKING (not by Fiore), which im reading right now

  24. December 4, 2008 at 15:31

    Anyone else buy off iTunes? I don’t know how I can get this PDF he keeps talking about. Quite irritating!
    I have gotten PDFs with iTunes purchases before but nothing with this one.

  25. Rob
    December 4, 2008 at 15:38

    Sorry – off topic. Yahoo知恵袋のサイトで、このサイトのリンクを見つけた。映画大辞典と言うんですが、このサイトで誰でも映画についてのコメントかレビューを載せることができる。 結構面白いんだよ。

    www.jtnews.jp/dict.html

  26. December 16, 2008 at 13:49

    hi Khatzumoto,
    thanks for your enthusiasm for The Now Habit: Overcoming Procrastination with Guilt-Free Play. Also, at www.audible.com under Self-Development Audio Books. See www.neilfiore.com for more CDs and “Awaken Your Strongest Self” for putting your higher/human brain in charge of your life–instead of your fearful, self-doubting ego.
    Tips: shift from “I have to finish” to “When can I start for 30 minutes?” to give your brain a clear image when to show up and for how long I will be in prison with a critic before I get to have fun.
    See blog: www.neilfiore.blogspot.com for more tools
    Best Wishes, Neil Fiore

  27. December 21, 2008 at 20:36

    Due to this post, I was so excited that I ordered The Now Habit and had to shipped to the UK, to meet me on arrival (xmas holiday).

    Waking up early two mornings in a row (jet lag), I read it from cover to cover. Talk about exciting, the words spoke straight to me. I can’t wait to get home to start on it.

    And now, instead of sharing a language learning to-do list, my New Years Resolution post will be all about how The Now Habit fits.

    Off I go… to buy copies for friends…

  28. Dax
    August 11, 2011 at 06:56

    “That’s what you get when you put people through years of “sit down, shut up and do as you’re told”; you get people who only know how to be managed and be led — you get sheep.”

    So true. 

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