study habits

Trigger Yourself – Study Chinese & Smash Procrastination – Part 1

Why Build a Habit? Procrastination is the Reason!

We’ve had a lot of students who say something like “This course is great, I just have been lazy, haven’t yet started with my character learning/grammar building, etc.”. Should you expect yourself to have incredible willpower every single day to keep up with your practice? NO! Instead, you should focus on making new habits, because once a habit is formed, it no longer requires willpower to continue.

This article is the 1st installment of a four-part series, click the links below to navigate between articles:

Part 1 – Part 2Part 3Part 4

Chinese Study Procrastination & Habit Building Part 1 - Cue

Part 1 – Trigger Yourself to Fluency

study habits

These days the word “trigger” has become a bit of a meme and seems to carry along with it a negative connotation. Mandarin Chinese actually has a categorization system for word connotations known as 感情色彩, which translates approximately to “emotional characteristic.” Here they are:

褒义词 bāoyìcí

Word with a Positive Connotation




consequence (positive)

中性词 zhōngxìngcí

Words with No Inherent Connotation




consequence (general)

贬义词 biǎnyìcí

Words with a Negative Connotation




consequence (negative)

When it comes to studying habits & incremental improvement, we recommend pulling the 贬义词 “trigger” back to where it belongs as a 中性词. There are loads of positive triggers, and so to be “triggered” into a new emotional state has the potential to be a boon to your daily study habits. It’s all about increasing the likelihood that your environment consistently triggers you.

study habits

The Four Great Triggers

Study Habits Trigger #1: Location

Where do you study every day? Is it the same place? Focusing on Mandarin in the same spot every day can help to facilitate a neural reaction to the location. However, if you ever find the room is starting to become stale it is reasonable to try a separate spot to spice things up a bit.

Ask yourself, what can you do to increase the likelihood of starting to interact with Mandarin when you arrive there in your study location? Can you rearrange the room to increase your chances of starting? Can you clean things up to make the space more inviting? Is it time to change it up? Pick a new location? Sometimes going somewhere different can give your studying new life.

TIP: The night before, open Anki on your computer and open it to the first card you want to start studying. The next day when you power on your machine, start studying immediately without being distracted by email, YouTube, messages, etc.

Study Habits Trigger #2: Reactions

Step one to improving the responses to your environment? Turn off your phone & computer notifications. Seriously. Set a timer for a period where there is no chance you will be distracted by a buzzing or ringing phone. Whatever messages may have come in during the timeframe (say 15 minutes) are unlikely to be so pressing that they couldn’t wait such a short period. Take the time to observe your environment and see what things might distract you. If you can remove them or at least keep them out of sight, you’ll decrease your likelihood of losing your point of focus (study).

On the positive side of improving your reactions, train your brain to immediately look for a specific aspect of pronunciation when listening to Chinese audio. For example, for one week every time you listen to a Chinese podcast try to notice as many 1st tones as possible. The next week as many Pinyin consonant ZH’s as possible, etc. Training these reactions helps you learn specific content (1st tone, ZH, etc.), but even better it creates a habit of paying attention.

Study Habits Trigger #3: Time

What time of day are you most likely to want to do a focused study session? Is there anything you can do to increase your likelihood that your environment will cue you to start?

What time of day are you most likely NOT to want to concentrate? Could you prepare a Chinese dub of your favorite movie from Childhood to watch at that time? To have a meal with a Chinese friend?

Study Habits Trigger #4: How You Feel

Unlike a discipline like Physics that only requires you to be good at it when you are feeling focused and energized, language needs you to be able to use it at all times and in all moods. That is to say, what could you do to increase the likelihood of interacting with Chinese when you are in a great mood? A bad mood? A focused mood? An indifferent mood? All of these moods will require the use of language if anyone else is around. Determine the medium you can interact with that engenders the least resistance in different emotional contexts.