Small steps and self-compassion: a pre-surgery linkdrop

Remember in my last post I mentioned I’d be having surgery sometime this fall? It wasn’t scheduled to take place for a couple of months, but now it’s happening very suddenly, due to me getting a cancellation slot. It’s a good job I already started thinking about how to occupy myself while recovering. I won’t have time to organize my bookmarks and all that kind of stuff that I wanted to do beforehand, but I do have a shiny new tablet, and I guess I’ll make do!

Let this serve as official notice that posting here will probably be even more sporadic than usual while I’m recovering. In the meantime, have some links that feel timely (even though in actual fact, I’ve been meaning to post some of these for months…):

  • Follow Through, Don’t Give Up! over at the Language Pond has a lot of smart things to say that feel particularly relevant at the moment. The struggle to figure out if I really need to take time to rest, or if that’s depression talking me out of things because that’s what depression does (it’s a lying jerk), is a constant in my life. It’s also difficult to be kind to myself when I do need to chill out, to have the honesty and compassion to even acknowledge a need to rest.
  • 24 Unusual Ways To Learn a Language Every Hour from BRAVE Learning. I like the idea of sticking these into Evernote and then pasting in links relevant to what I’m studying: another project I probably won’t end up doing, to be honest, but I’m sure it would be really handy! In the meantime I can at least use these as prompts.
  • 5 Ways to Fit in 5 Minutes of Language Practice from Language in Bloom. I especially like the suggestions to conjugate verbs and to write down words you recognize from a short podcast.
  • Language Learning Goals Derailed? 8 Simple Steps to Getting Back on Track from Language Hero. Setting yourself a target time for language study every day and then halving it is a really good idea; it reminds me of what blogs like Zen Habits always say about starting so small you can’t fail.
  • Set D.U.M.B. Goals – Motivation March – Part 3 from Language Surfer (I almost typoed “Language Surgery” — guess we know what’s on my mind! What would a Language Surgery blog be like, anyway?!). This is so important! I appreciate the reminder that SMART goals aren’t always appropriate — say, when one is recovering from surgery and isn’t on top form, cough cough — and that moving forward with “DUMB” goals is still moving forward.

And a few more general links:

Well! There’s a bunch of good reading for you all, if you haven’t already seen those posts, or at least a reminder of the content if you have (I certainly need reminders of these things!). And I think that’s all for me for a bit — we shall see! Maybe in a week or two I can post an update on language study while on painkillers, exhausted, generally out of it. And if not, well, maybe something when I’m past that fuzzy stage.

Having this surgery sooner rather than later is better healthwise, of course, but I admit I’m also relieved because it might mean (depending on how recovery goes) that I won’t have to miss any German classes this fall! And also, one of my longest-running Skype conversation exchange partners is coming to London in a few months. His visit was timed exactly with my old surgery date, so I was bummed that I probably wouldn’t get to hang out, but now it should be fine. Hooray!

Anyway! Be well, everyone. Take care of yourselves, be kind to yourself, and drop me any links you think might be interesting or useful to read from my convalescent bed!


When it’s not the most wonderful time of the year…

Hello everyone! I’m still here, this blog is still here, I’m just… busy. Some of that is with good stuff (studying languages! Going to concerts!). Some of that is… not. In this part of the world, it’s very dark and gray right now; the days are short, and at least here in London, I feel like we’ve been getting tons of rain. Plus, the holidays are really stressful for me, especially this year.

I refer to the spoon theory often on this blog (and in my daily life), but today I read about a fork metaphor for disability. It isn’t as intuitive for me as spoons, but the pertinent ideas are that sometimes you know that doing something would make you feel better, but you lack the energy/ability (forks) to do it, and that sometimes you do things and don’t get the forks anyway (an example for me would be that 99% of the time, doing yoga makes me feel at least a little better, so the few times when it actually makes my mood worse feels like such a failure and a betrayal!).

Sometimes I can’t tell when I’m giving myself permission to take a break because I genuinely need it and it will be restorative and it is a kind thing to do, and when it’s the depression telling me not to do something that will make me feel better (replenish my forks), because, as they say, depression lies.

All that to say: my fellow language-learners, especially you who are dealing with darkness (northern hemisphere-related or internal or both!), those of you who fear and dread the holidays as I do, hello. I hear you. I see you. Don’t beat yourself up for getting behind in your Anki repetitions or for cancelling conversation exchange meetups or for not hammering your way through a chapter of grammar that you wanted to.

If you only want to watch the same episode of a vlog in your target language over and over, or if you find comfort in listening to the same song in your target language over and over, or if all you can manage to do is browse Instagram looking at photos using tags in your target language (you guessed it)… then do that. Shift your study plan down to what you can manage, focus on what makes you feel calmer or cozy or safe. I think it’s important not to stop completely — I know from my own experiences with habits on Lift and elsewhere that restarting is sometimes harder than starting or continuing something — but I do think sometimes it just happens, and sometimes it might even be what you need to do.

For many people, this time of year is already difficult and guilt-inducing (why aren’t you happy, don’t you want to see your family/go to another holiday party, etc.). So lay off kicking yourself if you let your languages slide a little bit, all right? If you need to focus your energy on something else for self-care, then doing that will hopefully leave you in better shape to dive back later.

Seriously. Take care of yourselves, dear readers. Maybe we can make a bargain: I will try my darnedest to practice self-care in abundance if you will too. Does that sound like a plan? And we can meet back in January and figure out how to turn the studying back up again.

(And if anyone’s self-care strategies do involve learning languages, please comment and tell me about it! I did a few very short yoga videos in German this morning: that was nice, except the videos had some technical issues that made them hard to follow. I could look for other German yoga videos, except… you know. Spoons. And now also forks.)

(You can also comment and grump about the holidays or winter if you like, of course! Bonus if you can share some vocab for doing so in a language you’re studying.)

Treat yourself like one of your conversation exchange partners

There’s that old chestnut about treating yourself with the same understanding and kindness that you extend to your friends, instead of being hyper-critical and impatient.

I said the other day that I try to be who my conversation exchange partners think I am. It occurs to me that I should treat myself like I treat them as well. Maybe you should too, if you don’t already! I bet you’ve never said to the other person, “Dummy! I’ve told you that word three times already, why don’t you ever remember it?” or “How do you ever expect to learn this language if you don’t go any faster???” or “You’ve studied this tense over and over, why can’t you use it right yet?” or “Do you really think you can do this?”

I bet, like me, you’re more likely to celebrate their small frequent successes — like when you see them struggle with a grammar point and then manage to get the words out correctly — and help them figure out how to keep improving in a way that works for them. It feels wonderful to be on the receiving end of this sort of thing, too: I’ve had people make a point to tell me how much I’d improved after we’d been speaking for a few weeks, for example.

What if I spent less time castigating myself (for not studying “enough,” for not learning as fast as I wish I was) and was able to redirect that energy to patience and compassion and gentle encouragement? What if you did?