When Phil was nine years old and starting to learn how to play drums, his teacher (shout out to Gene Lazowicki!) said to him “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect”. The natural response to this might be, “but I suck when I first start, how could I practice perfectly?” This is the ultimate paradox of the language learner. You need to practice correctly to not engrain mistakes, but you also need to be unafraid of errors to see where the gaps in your knowledge reside.
Not to mention, fearing mistakes is a one-way trip to anxiety-town, and you gotta be relaxed when acquiring language. So how can you facilitate patient Mandarin study?
Impatience Resides In Speculation
Whenever you think about the scope of what you have to study, it almost inevitably feels overwhelming. It’s quite a natural emotional response, after all, you will eventually need to focus on pronunciation, characters, vocabulary, grammar, speaking, writing, etc. However, in reality, this phenomenon is just our brain’s slightly annoying habit of equating starting a task with finishing the entire project. Seeing as you aren’t going to become fluent in Mandarin in a day, this way of thinking about it is counter-productive. It’s speculative.
There will never be a time where you focus on learning all aspects of the language simultaneously. Therefore, this type of impatience inducing speculation maps out the nature of the learning experience incorrectly. You only need to focus on one thing at a time, and that is decidedly not overwhelming. Forget about the “overall” project, that’s just a side effect. Instead, get curious about what new opportunity to learn an individual piece of information that will present itself in the next moment.
Patience Resides In Opportunity
How to overcome overwhelm & manifest patience? Recognize the present moment and the opportunity within it. Maybe it’s a tone. Perhaps it’s a problematic consonant sound. Could be that it’s a tone pair or tone change. Life will provide you the specifics of which opportunities each moment offers you. Instead of expending energy worrying about how much there is yet to learn, be curious, fascinated even, about the opportunity for improvement that has revealed itself at this moment.
Patience And Impatience Are Binary
As soon as you recognize that you are in a state of impatience, that is the moment you are no longer there. You’ve stepped out of it, back into your natural state of recognizing the reality of the current moment. Impatience is living in a perceived future of expectation, and the fact that this moment is not your perceived future creates discontent and frustration. Sadly, it is a distraction from the more profound truth that success with Chinese is going to be a series of triumphant present moments. The goal and the steps to get there are not separate. Each step is the goal. The more present you are, the higher the reward for your patience.
“Here I am, with this Pinyin letter I am trying to master. My mouth is shaped a certain way. My vocal chords are vibrating. I’m feeling the sensations. I’m listening to Luke’s instructions. I am in this moment.”
“Don’t Care How, I Want It Now!”
You can’t force yourself beyond that series of present moments. There is no level of impatience that will catapult you from ignorance to mastery. On the contrary, impatience is a hindrance only. The fastest way to get from A to B with Mandarin is to allow your impatience to shed whenever you recognize it. Shed it, and go back to the next moment that you are going to win. And you are going to win because something like “mastering a pinyin letter” is a winnable game. “Get fluent in Mandarin” is not a winnable game (at least not today), but our brains are kind of jerks about this. Our brains equate the idea of “I want to be fluent in Mandarin” to “I must have it now!”. It’s like Verruca Salt from Willy Wonka. “Don’t care how, I want it now!”.
You have to rewire the expectation. Instead of setting up impossible, unwinnable games, recognize a few truths:
- Becoming fluent in Chinese is the accumulation of a series of successful moments, aka winnable games
- These successful moments cannot fully accumulate in a day, so impatience based on “I’m not yet fluent” only serves as a hindrance
- Your practice techniques have to be correct for the “winnable games” approach to be effective
Number 3 is where Mandarin Blueprint comes in. We’ve broken down every winnable game necessary to get absolutely stellar at Chinese pronunciation. We call it “Pronunciation Mastery.” The curriculum allows you to avoid that nagging anxiety of “Oh, but is what I’m doing even effective? Sure, I accept that I need to have a ‘series of successful moments,’ but how do I know the moments are successful?” That is the problem we can solve for you.
Don’t Ignore Impatience, Contend With It
It is the voice in our head that tells us “you should be better,” “you should have already become fluent,” “I WANT IT NOW!!!” you have to contend with. Don’t ignore it. Contend with it. After all, the impatient part of you wants the best for you; it just is incorrect about the way to get there.
The impatience problem? In the final analysis, only you can train yourself to shed impatience and live in the moment. We consider it one of our most important goals to help you figure out the best ways to do this, but all we can do is offer you thought technologies and new frames of reference. Potentially useful, but only if you decide to run with it.
A Skill That Transcends Chinese Learning
If you learn how to shed impatience & live in the problem of the moment, it will apply to everything you do that requires incremental improvement for the rest of your life. Don’t kid yourself, the psychological battle of getting over impatience and practicing perfectly is heroically challenging, but that’s why winning that battle is heroically rewarding. A lifelong ability to incrementally improve at anything? You’d be unstoppable.