Do you set New Year's resolutions for your languages? Better yet, do you set long-term language goals no matter the time of year? For years, I tried every goal-setting method I could find, yet over and over I found myself avoiding anything I had formally set as a goal, especially in language learning. In today's episode I recount this (failed) goal-setting history of mine. This time of year, we're bombarded with all sorts of advice for setting and reaching goals with the underlying message that goals are the only way to make real progress. We went from December's tips and tricks for reaching our 2022 goals with what little time was left in the year (even if we hadn't habitually worked on them all year) to January's tips and tricks for setting specific goals for 2023 with rigid plans and pressure to hold ourselves accountable because otherwise we're doomed to fail from lack of motivation.
Yet, goals have never really motivated me. In fact, they more often cause me to freeze. Something inside of me is so afraid of failure and afraid of what it might say about me if I don't reach a goal that I have a difficult time taking the steps necessary to work toward the goal. Perfectionism paralysis, some call it. So over the years I tried setting SMART goals, incremental goals, tiered goals -- anything to become a goal setter (or, more specifically, a goal achiever), but it just never worked. I avoided my goals every single time. Finally, I gave up. I just stopped setting language goals because I kept avoiding them. I simply wasn't motivated by the idea of reaching an deadline where I would feel obligated to claim victory or failure according to some pre-determined standards.
Throughout this entire journey, however, I was definitely making progress in my languages. It's just that the progress wasn't associated with a specific goal. I was doing the work of learning my languages and making progress just because I wanted to. I wanted to study and practice my languages, so I was studying and practicing my languages, and goals had nothing to do with it. At the end of 2022 I intentionally decided to give up on trying to set language goals, or any life goals, really. Instead, I just want to focus on the actions I can take to improve my languages and my life. I want to speak more Italian, so I'm speaking more Italian. I want to study more German grammar, so I'm studying more German grammar. And Korean? I want to learn more words and phrases, so I'm learning more words and phrases. I don't need a goal of speaking a certain number of minutes, completing a certain number of chapters in a grammar book, or learning a certain number of words in a specific amount of time. I'm just doing it. All of this doing in my languages has been so much fun. I love accessing my languages every day. I love speaking and studying and learning. I love not feeling tied to a goal or rigid plan. And mostly, I love every bit of the progress I notice in all my languages every week.
Setting goals can be incredibly motivating for some people, but I think many of us have received the message that it's the only way to stay motivated or make progress. But I'm proof that this isn't the case. If you're a goal setter, and you joyfully progress in your languages with your goals, then that's fantastic. Keep doing exactly what you're doing. But if you tend to give up on your goals, ignore them, or feel pressured by them, then it's worth considering that goals may not be for you. Maybe you're more motivated by just taking action or by only focusing on progress. Progress can be the only goal, and it doesn't have to have a finish line.