Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Some of you may recall a piece I wrote in the early days of this column that dealt with my inability to conquer New Year’s resolutions; specifically my decision to abandon my quest to learn Spanish. I’d purchased the Rosetta Stone software and downloaded a bunch of old songs by Pitbull of “Timber featuring Ke$ha” fame where he frequently rapped in Spanish in an attempt to partially submerge myself in the language, but as a new year dawned I was nowhere closer to ordering lunch from Chipotle in the native tongue of the our neighbors to the south. Here we are in 2014, I’ve withdrawn myself from creating New Year’s resolutions so I don’t get caught up in the February trend of ‘abandoning your resolutions’ and as I type this I’m at Spanish Level 7 in the Duolingo language program and have a Spanish vocabulary of roughly 130 words.
I’m sure some of you are confused, “didn’t you just spend 125 words talking about how you’ve given up on learning Spanish?” You’re right, I did. I still haven’t made a New Year’s resolution and the small, but satisfying amount of progress I’ve made in learning a language wasn’t based on any internal drive to better myself, I just remembered that I’d downloaded a game to my phone a while back and had never played it. Duolingo is an app available free for ios and Android devices that allow users to begin learning 6 different languages through simple games of translating short phrases, and identifying pictures. The whole game is delightfully simple, and the app features a cartoon owl who will give you tips on the home screen. If you earn enough ‘linguots’ (in-game currency earned by completing language levels) you can buy your cartoon owl teacher a 24k gold suit. Does the gold suit help you learn faster? No. Does it make logging on fun? Yes.
I’ll admit, the whole thing sounds a little childish and no, you won’t become fluent in Spanish by cartoon owl alone, but the point I want to make is that “bettering yourself” or “making a life change” doesn’t have to be a painful experience; in fact I think it should be the opposite.
When I hear people talk about how it takes 10,000 hours to learn a new skill or so many days to change a habit my mind immediately goes to how daunting and exhausting that sounds. Say you had a goal of “learning to be the best at speed eating chocolate bars.” Nothing difficult about eating candy, I wish I could do it all day. Now imagine having to sit down and spend 10,000 hours eating candy bars. What if you just practiced two hours a day every day for 5,000 days would it be better? No matter how you slice it, looking at learning something new or reaching a goal by keeping your eyes on the finish line is a recipe for giving up. You don’t climb Mount Everest by staring down the peak; you do it by focusing on the step in front of you.
People say the hardest step to anything is the first step, but that step is even harder if when you start to take it you’re thinking about how you have 10,000 more of these to do. Whether your goal is learning a language, “getting in shape” or “catching up on ‘The Walking Dead’ ‘‘ the only way you’ll complete it is by taking it one step at a time with occasional detours to purchase gold suits for cartoon owls.Vincent Davis II is a Cornell graduate, DJ, and market development specialist in the IT industry. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.