How to stay motivated when life gets in the way
Have you ever started studying French, kept at it for a little while, and then, somehow, dropped it?
Because it slipped out of your mind, or you were too busy, or you 'would do it later'?
Maybe this has even happened to you more than once. If so, you are certainly not alone. I have met many students who have been in this situation. Most of them went on to learn French very successfully, once they learned to overcome this issue. This is what this article is all about.
Most of the time, this challenge is more about motivation than anything else.
Motivation is a sneaky thing. It is very high when you start something new, for example studying French. And then, it somehow fades away and disappears entirely. This is really annoying, isn't it?
Generally, when you lose motivation, it is because of one of these reasons (or both):
Learning French is harder than you thought.
Learning French is less exciting than you thought.
Motivation is typically very high when you start something new. When the novelty wears off, it is normal for motivation to drop. If, on top of that, the task turns out not to be a walk in the park (spoiler alert: a language study rarely is), then you are at risk of dropping out.
It is better to prepare for this possibility while your motivation is still high. If your motivation is already low, there are fewer chances that you will do something about it at all. However, not all hope is lost. The fact that you are reading this article is already a very good sign.
So, here is what you can do:
1) Remember why you started.
There was a reason why you wanted to learn French in the first place. Think of all the awesome things you will be able to do when your French is fluent. Even better, grab a pretty piece of paper and write all these down. Then keep this paper where you’ll see it often. For example, glued to your fridge, next to your desk or in your wallet. Whenever you feel like skipping your study, just read it again for a quick motivation boost.
This trick works wonders. It only comes with one pitfall: it can’t do anything for you if you don’t believe that you can actually learn French successfully. If you don’t know what to study and in which order, you will end up overwhelmed and/or discouraged sooner or later.
Fortunately, there is a solution for that:
2) Have a master plan.
“Failing to plan is planning to fail” - Brian Tracy
In order to go somewhere, you need to know where it is and how you will get there.
Learning French is no exception.
One thing to consider is that the skills that one wants to develop are slightly different from person to person. What matters to you isn’t the same as what matters to them.
It follows that no French method, however complex, modern or “scientific” can provide you with an efficient study plan, unless it’s custom made. This is what my popular signature service, Your Roadmap to Fluency, is all about. I accept new students a few times a year, so if that’s something you’re interested in, make sure you are signed up for my email updates, and you’ll be the first to know when it happens.
In the meantime, you can get started for free. I have created a worksheet which will help you make your study plan and execute it, step by step. You can grab it right here:
3) Keep it around.
Out of sight, out of mind. This is also true for your French study.
You need to keep French around as much as you can. By studying consistently (if you struggle with this, check out this article), but also by just making French a part of your daily life. Did you know that you use your five senses to help you learn French ? You’ll find here how to do it.
In Your Roadmap to Fluency, we tackle this challenge head on, and I provide you with a routine and a list of resources that you will love (I hand pick them to suit your taste), to make sure that you have some French around everyday, even if it’s just in the background. Having some French music or radio in the background does a lot more for your French skills than you’d think!
Also, keep your plan around. If you make a plan and then forget it in a drawer, your plan probably won’t work out (This is true for Your Roadmap to Fluency as well.) How sad to make such a great plan and then let it gather dust.
You need to work your plan.
The free fluency worksheet is designed to be a living document, which you will update, as your study goes. Get it here for free:
4) Beware the dreaded “intermediate plateau” - a.k.a “the dip”
Did you ever find yourself studying and studying, and yet seeing no results?
It typically happens after a phase when you learn really quickly as a beginner. And before a phase in which you progress a lot again, towards mastery.
That is to say, if you don’t give up during the frustrating ‘not making any progress’ phase.
Every person who has successfully learned a language has experienced, and overcome this painful situation. In language learning we call it “the intermediate plateau” or “intermediate block”. In other fields it is known as “the dip”, as popularized by Seth Godin’s book. Seth Godin says that “the dip” is the hardest part of learning anything, but also the only path towards fruitfulness.
So, next time you feel like quitting, remember this graph. It represents how your progress and your motivation fluctuate over time.
If you find yourself stuck in the middle of this graph, with stalled progress and motivation, remember the following tips:
Tips to overcome the intermediate plateau:
1. Know that it’s ok, normal and inevitable to be in this situation - and that you won’t stay there.
Every successful learner has been in this situation, including myself. In fact, I have been there numerous times, since it happens for each language or other skill you learn.
As I wrote the first version of this article, I was learning web design. It was frustrating and my wife (a web designer herself) tweeted out some of my mistakes because she thought they were funny.
Whenever you learn something, you’re going to hit plateaus and possibly make a fool of yourself, maybe even in public. It’s part of the deal.
The best thing you can do is become comfortable with this situation. There is no learning process without it. You are not alone and you are definitely not failing.
2. Don’t quit. Stay in the room.
Sometimes, the only thing you can do is to stay in the room. It’s totally fine. After reading this article, you know that, at the intermediate level, it’s normal to study for a long time and see little progress, and that you will starting seeing the results eventually. Just keep going.
I need to add a disclaimer here: if you study for months or even years without any results at all, then something is definitely off. I’ve had students come to me after up to 25 years of studying French without becoming able to speak French at all. This is definitely too long. Even one year is too long.
The intermediate plateau is supposed to happen after the beginner level. This means that you should be able to speak in some easy situations already. So if you have been learning French for several months and haven’t made any progress at all, it is probably a good idea to work with a coach and see how you can change your study habits to start seeing results.
3. Focus on what you can already do, not what you still can’t do.
When you are trying to achieve something (such as learning French), you typically focus on the goal, and on the gap between where you are (let’s say you suck at French) and where you want to be (speaking French well). This can be pretty demotivating.
It is actually one of the reasons for the intermediate plateau: you actually make progress, but you don’t see it because you are so focussed on everything you have to learn, that you can’t even see all the things you have learned already.
Of course keeping your eyes on the prize is important. But once in awhile, don’t forget to look back at all you have accomplished already.
I find this extremely rewarding and motivating. For this reason I have built this process into the design of Your Roadmap to Fluency, and the Fluency Worksheet.
As you go back to it to update it with your progress, you get to look back at all you have accomplished. You will see that actually, you have learned a lot. And you deserve at least a pat on the back - or any reward you’d like to have.
If you haven’t grabbed the fluency worksheet yet, do your future self a favour and grab it now. You will be happy to have it and be able to look back at your progress.
How to stay motivated in a nutshell:
Remember why you started.
Have a master plan to know what to do next - or even better: work with me as your coach. We always start by creating a master plan called Your Roadmap to Fluency.
Stay in the room and keep your study around.
Get real about your results: you’ve achieved more than you think.
Celebrate every bit of progress.