How Sacrificing Instant Gratification Helped Me Learn Chinese Faster

learn Chinese fast

When I look back at my journey to fluency in Mandarin Chinese, I recognize that the essential bedrock of my success was sacrificing instant gratification to achieve long-term goals. By foregoing short-term temptations and pleasure, I was able to completely transform my Chinese ability through an immersion-based accelerated learning method.

In this post, I’ll share how small, consistent acts of sacrifice compounded into rapid language gains. I also discovered how discomfort itself can become rewarding when you’re making progress. If you want to learn Chinese fast, read on!

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Delayed gratification was key to my Chinese immersion success

I moved to China when I was 23, but didn’t start learning Mandarin until I was 25. Why? I was prolonging adolescence, avoiding real responsibility. When I first arrived, the exciting new sights and sounds of China were just shiny distractions from seriously buckling down to develop my language abilities and learn Chinese fast.

The young expat party lifestyle was admittedly alluring at the time. But while many of my peers who had remained back home were progressing forward with their careers, getting married, having kids, and generally taking major steps into adulthood, I was actively avoiding adulthood. I was learning how to drink like a local instead of even the vague sense of accelerated Chinese learning! 

I was simply having as much irresponsible fun as possible, pleasure-seeking with no thought of the future. I made very little effort to build any substantive skills during those first few years living abroad in China.

Chinese immersion success

It would ultimately take sacrificing short-term immediate pleasure and comfort for long-term future gain to immerse myself in accelerated Chinese learning. But first, I needed the harsh motivation of hitting rock bottom to spur me into aligning my actions with achieving long-term fulfillment and happiness…

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A brutal wake-up call

In 2012, after teaching English for a couple of years to pay the bills, I decided to shift gears and start playing drums full-time as my new primary source of income. Performing nightly drumming gigs across Beijing was an incredible thrill at first. But I now see that it was also deeply illusory in many ways.

In the excitement of initially landing more and more music gigs around Beijing, I failed to save any of the money I was suddenly earning. I naively assumed that the music gigs would just continue rolling in steadily indefinitely since I was having quite a bit of very visible short-term success drumming in various venues during that first spring and summer.

I can remember feeling like I was just suddenly flush with cash and rolling in money at the time. I was completely caught up in the day-to-day thrill of performing and neglected to do any real long-term financial planning or preparation for the future during those months. 

After every big earning weekend of drumming gigs, rather than prudently saving some of the extra money I had made, I would immediately splurge and spend it all — having an even more decadent and fun time out partying in areas like Sanlitun and Wudaokou. This short-sighted behavior could not last forever.

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In my ignorance, I had failed to consider the natural seasonal shifts that happen across Beijing and China more broadly. I didn’t realize that come winter each year, because the temperatures plunge below freezing across northern China, live music gigs understandably dry up as people head indoors and are not interested in going out at night to events and shows.

So I was completely financially and professionally unprepared when, right on schedule as winter descended on Beijing, my drumming gigs indeed suddenly dried up citywide. Soon enough, as I found myself stuck indoors without any gigs or income, my bank account funds started rapidly depleting along with the disappearing music opportunities.

I can vividly remember walking alone outside one frigid December day in 2012 through the central business district of Beijing. After reluctantly checking the balance in my wallet, I realized I only had ¥90 left to my name at that point. Ninety kuai — about $12.50 in US dollars — was now the grand total sum of money I still had as 2012 drew to a close. 

brutal wake-up call

This stark realization was a moment of profound psychological agony for me. The harsh bill had finally come due for all of my irresponsible short-term pleasure-seeking behavior over the preceding months. And the brutal price I now had to pay was intense involuntary suffering in the form of this sudden poverty.

As I slowly walked around Beijing’s cold, empty streets that day, with only 90 kuai in my pocket, I distinctly remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t even afford to take a girl out on a simple date right now if I tried.

This painful realization stung me to my core. I felt overwhelming inadequacy. While it’s one thing to simply feel like a general failure career-wise or money-wise, the idea that I couldn’t even muster up enough money now for a basic dinner date resonated as a particularly dark low point for me psychologically. I had let the fleeting pleasure of parties and clubbing overwhelm my judgment.

In retrospect, although extremely difficult to endure at the time, hitting this kind of brutal financial and emotional rock bottom provided the harsh but necessary catalyst for my redemptive arc to finally begin…

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Small daily acts of sacrifice meant accelerated Chinese learning 

By luck, shortly after reaching my lowest point in Beijing, I got a sudden phone call about a new professional opportunity. A nightclub was opening soon in Chengdu, China, and they needed a house band drummer on a full-time ongoing basis.

Given my bleak situation at the time, I knew I was in absolutely no position to turn down this music gig job offer, regardless of location. With just ¥90 remaining in my wallet, I immediately accepted the nightclub drummer position sight unseen and got on the next train to Chengdu from Beijing.

When I arrived in Chengdu to start rehearsals for the new club, I made an intense internal vow to myself that I would absolutely not squander or waste this unexpected chance to turn things around. We rehearsed diligently as a band every single day in preparation for the club’s grand opening party.

Once the club opened, we performed live on stage every night for patrons, seven days a week, with no days off from playing. I was disciplined and sacrificed short-term comforts like sleeping in or party nights to prioritize fulfilling my responsibilities of developing my musical skills and earning a stable income from this new job.

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Envisioning future Chinese fluency as motivation

I re-focused myself on developing positive habits that would benefit my future self rather than just seeking immediate pleasure. Making my bed neatly every single morning was one of the first acts of discipline I started strictly sticking to.

This may seem insignificant, but it practiced self-control and was symbolic of doing small, inconvenient things purely to make my own future morning self’s life just a bit easier.

Over time, consistently executing these minor acts of daily sacrifice throughout my normal routine produced a powerful compound effect. My overall mindset became increasingly oriented around consistency, perseverance, discipline, and deferring gratification — traits necessary for financial stability and successfully developing any skill requiring deep focus over time, like learning Chinese.

Rather than just worrying about avoiding future hardship and poverty, I also actively envisioned the satisfaction, pride, and sense of accomplishment I would feel in the future upon gaining meaningful skills like professional musicianship and fluency in Chinese. 

Envisioning future Chinese fluency

Focusing on proactively creating my ideal desired future reality became a key component of the Mandarin Blueprint accelerated Chinese learning method. By repeating this process thousands and thousands of times across years, making minor sacrifices in the moment to enable big gains later, I slowly rewired my mind and habits to become success-oriented.

Just imagining how positively my future self would feel upon reaching fluency motivated me to stick to this learning process through all the inevitable difficulties that arose over the years of study…

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Progress became the reward

After nearly a decade of living this overall philosophy of embracing sacrifice to accelerate growth, an unexpected insight has crystalized for me: sacrifice itself becomes immediately intrinsically pleasurable when you fully understand how it directly enables self-improvement.

Pushing through the discomfort inherent in an intense period of focused language immersion starts to feel positively rewarding in that moment. The discomfort transforms into pleasure since, on a core level, you comprehend that voluntarily choosing difficulty is rapidly building up your skills and future fluency. 

It’s much like the physical pain of intense exercise: grueling in the actual moment perhaps, yet undoubtedly satisfying because ultimately, you know for certain it is actively strengthening and enhancing your health and body.

This wisdom transcends just the realm of language learning and applies to life far more broadly. Ultimately, all enduring personal or professional growth requires a willingness to proactively and voluntarily embrace short-term difficulty to expand long-term capabilities. Progress itself becomes the pleasure. Real transformation stems from repeatedly choosing delayed gratification today to make consistent incremental gains over time.

Committing to this philosophy isn’t always easy, of course. But my decade-long Chinese fluency journey revealed that real meaning and fulfillment stem from sacrificing instant gratification for daily marginal progress toward big overarching goals. By repeatedly picking progress over immediate pleasure whenever tempted, I achieved far more than I ever imagined possible.

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Our Webinar: Accelerated Chinese learning 

Does this reflection on sacrificing instant gratification to achieve Chinese fluency faster resonate with you? Have you tried learning Chinese but struggled with consistency and progress toward your goals?

If you feel stuck in your Chinese learning journey and want to accelerate faster than you thought possible, we can help!

Over 20 years immersed in China, the team at Mandarin Blueprint has developed and validated a systematic approach to achieving Chinese fluency rapidly. In our free webinar, we reveal exactly how you can apply proven immersion-based techniques to learn Chinese faster through any challenges that arise.

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With the right learning method customized around your goals and some short-term sacrifice, accelerated Chinese learning is absolutely within your reach. Invest in creating the future Chinese-speaking version of yourself that you know deep down you’re meant to be.