How to stay motivated in language learning – the mind and the brain.

There was an interesting thread on the LingQ Forum about how to stay motivated in language learning. There are times when not meeting one’s expectations can be discouraging.

Some time ago I posted here about a book by Jeffrey Schwartz called “The Mind and the Brain” which describes a therapy for people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Schwartz helps the patient recognize that the compulsive behaviour is not inherent to the patient, but an independent neural network in the brain. With enough will and determination the brain can be trained to develop a new network which avoids this behaviour.

I remember from childhood that I wanted to train my ears to wiggle, like my father was able to do. I spent hours telling my ears to wiggle, and they eventually did. Similarly, our will to develop a new neural network for a new language can be a powerful factor in our success. If we get success, of course, we are greatly encouraged to study more.

But if we do not achieve the success we want, as quickly as we want, we can become discouraged. What to to? I just started reading Looking for Spinoza, by Antonio Damasio (I am reading it in Portuguese for practice), and in the introduction he has this to say;

“Spinoza recommended that we fight a negative emotion with an even stronger but positive emotion brought about by reasoning and intellectual effort. Central to his thinking was the notion that the subduing of the passions should be accomplished by reason-induced emotion and not by pure reason alone. This is by no means easy to achieve, but Spinoza saw little merit in anything easy. “

Willfully conjuring up positive feelings can overcome negative feelings we may have. We can think of what we are already able to do, or visualize ourselves using the language comfortably in some situation that matters to us.

Does this work? I think so. At least it is a feeling that I often have.

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