Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare? Well, that fable is bollocks. You see, they got the personalities backwards.
In real life, human “tortoises” are laid-back, nonchalant, happy. Meanwhile, human “hares” are destructively disciplinarian, destructively obsessive, and destructively obsessed with quick results.
What happens is that the hares self-flagellate to the point of burnout. Their very obsession with the “race” and “running” it better, faster and longer causes them to come to hate anything to do with “running” and thus avoid it at all costs (here, running = action; race = project).
That’s why hares are always resting and procrastinating instead of moving — it’s not arrogance, it’s self-preservation: hares are refugees from a war being waged by, on and within themselves. They’re not shirkers; they’re not lazy; they’re just trying to get a break from their own mental violence, their constant negative self-talk, their tantalusian expectations.
Hares, under the premise of “delayed gratification” often actually practice “zero gratification“: it’s just never good enough. Ever. They never give themselves the carrot — only the stick. Like Tantalus, they get neither the cool, refreshing water nor the sweet grapes of satisfaction. Only the grapes of, what, wrath? I dunno…
So hares procrastinate and appear to shirk. It’s perhaps a subconscious(?) way for them to hijack/sabotage their own system of cruelty and give themselves at least some carrots, water and sweet grapes between the beatings, hunger and thirst. Neil Fiore talks all about this in “The Now Habit”.
The tortoises, on the other hand, just play their way through the whole thing. They run the “race” not because they have to, but because it’s there. Tortoises screw around, putting one playful, jiggy foot in front of the other. They have so much fun that their victories are practically side-effects (which is a good thing, because moments of victory are far too short to be the be-all and end-all). Yea verily, let it be known that I kid you not — I learned Japanese almost by accident.
Kanji acquisition is a good example of the tortoise-hare dichotomy. Even going at just 10 kanji a day, every day, will have you acquiring 3650 kanji over the course of a year.
Conversely, hare-like attempts to force 100 kanji a day often lead to stress, fatigue and overload. The irony of trying to force too many kanji a day is that it often leads to zero-kanji days, zero-kanji months and even zero-kanji years.
Forced high speed often also leads to poorly remembered kanji — I have seen many people feel the need to start over again from scratch. Where’s the speed in that?
I’m not saying “don’t do 100 kanji a day”. If you can do 100 a day happily, then do. If not, then don’t. Find your sweet spot — everyone’s will be different. Find a number that you can hit every day, no matter how small, and then go with that.
During my US-based Japanese project, the so-called “hardcore” phase of AJATT, I was a tortoise. Japanese has always been a toy for me, just something I screw around with. My Chinese, however, has often been hare-like; it has often become a grim duty, something I should do and have to do fast and have to prove a point to the whole world about — more status symbol than self-contained game. And we all know how well status-symbol-seeking language-learners tend to do (see “English in Japan and Korea” for details).
In my experience, only when I act like a tortoise, do I succeed in long-term projects, Sinic or otherwise. As far as I know, only the tortoise model is sustainable. And that’s the key to anything long-term: sustainability — stamina. The tortoise only seems slower. But because she has a model that she actually sustains, you could say she gets to enjoy the metaphorical “compound interest” of her efforts.
Put away the whips and sticks. Relax. Just do one. Enjoy each step. Savor each bite. Become a tortoise and start winning. Remember, it only seems slower: you’ll get there sooner than you think, and well ahead of any hares — those kids all die of heart attacks, suicide and depression* anyway. Be mellow. Be like a grandparent (think about it: maybe it’s not the advanced age that makes grandparents mellow, but the mellowness that allows them to live to an advanced age). Be like a tortoise.
*I don’t know if people clinically die of depression, but…how many sad centenarians have you ever seen? I guess I should say “sadness”, if I’m going to be so vague and non-clinical…oh well 😀 .