I am a big believer in goal setting and have an entire section dedicated to creating “S.M.A.R.T.” (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) language learning objectives in my books Master Japanese and Master Mandarin. Why? Because if you don’t know where you want to go, how in the heck can you ever get there?
But it’s critical to understand that goals are just the first step to align your compass. Goals alone won’t get you very far on your journey. The real magic is found in the “process”―the collection of daily habits and activities (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) that will inch you closer and closer to your fluency goals over time.
When we focus too much on goals―the “result” or “end product”―and ignore or undervalue these daily processes, it’s easy to get demoralized. We see the massive gap between where we are now and where we want to get eventually. With such a low-resolution scale, we are unable to sense our progress. Even if we huff and puff the whole day, it seems like we haven’t moved any closer to our goal. Moreover, with our eyes glued to the peak of the mountain, we find ourselves constantly stumbling over rocks and roots on the trail.
To prevent this psychological trap, try to keep your eyes on the language learning trail right in front of you. Be mindful of the sights and sounds along the way. Appreciate how many steps you took today, not how many miles are left to reach the summit. Some days you will walk a lot. Other days you will only crawl a few feet. What matters is that you are continuing to move forward no matter what.