Breaking through the Plateau: What to Do When You’re Stuck

Spanish Learning Hacks

Inevitably when you start a project, you're full of excitement and energy.  You set your goals and you plan to stick to them.  You are motivated beyond belief about what is possible.

Then it happens.

You start to feel like you're just going through the motions.  You try to keep your goal in mind but you've somehow lost sight of it.  You get confused, overwhelmed, and demotivated.  You were making progress by leaps and bounds and now you seem to be inching forward by a snail's pace, if at all.

This my friends, is the plateau.

Somewhere around the halfway mark I reached this point.  I continued studying every day but kept questioning my goals.  Am I studying the right thing?  Should I spend more time reading, learning new vocabulary, or speaking?  Are my sessions with my tutors even effective anymore?  Am I really progressing?  I kept torturing myself with these questions over and over again.

Then life happened.

My Breaking Point

I came down with a nasty cold for about a week.  In the midst of that, I had some unwelcome furry visitors in my house.  I first spotted one in the kitchen and eventually they made it to my bedroom.  I tried everything to get rid of them, from getting rid of all food in my house to calling an exterminator (even trying to make one of these silly contraptions at 4 a.m. one night out of desperation).  I was determined not to let it impact me, but eventually the mouse infestation frustrated me to my breaking point.

I finally decided to take my son to stay at a relative's house and declared all out war on los ratones.  I cleaned everything and got rid of every little hiding place these critters could muster.  After a few days I was able to sleep in my house again, still with one eye open.

Making it through the Fog

During this time, I still listened to my Spanish podcasts in the car but my energy levels were low from lack of sleep, stress, and being worn down from being sick.  My focus suffered and at one point I missed an entire day of study from sheer exhaustion (picture me waking up with keyboard marks on my forehead after falling asleep at the computer while trying to type a few Spanish sentences the night before).

But I didn't stop.

Even though I was questioning myself I kept following my routine.  I switched it up a bit and did what I could, even in my diminished state.  For my iTalki sessions, I asked my tutors to review topics I was struggling with or already had some exposure to.  This was less taxing mentally because 1) I didn't have to speak as much since it was more of a lecture and 2) I didn't learn any brand new material so I could handle reviewing somewhat familiar content that I hadn't yet mastered.

So How Do You Overcome a Plateau?

Give UpWhat I've learned is that no matter what, just don't stop.  Even though you may feel overwhelmed or uninspired, keep going.  It really is that simple.

Keep moving
Don't feel like studying today?  Do it anyway.  Maybe switch it up and do something different.  I have a list of mini-mission ideas (I can share more of those later) that I can pull from when I'm lacking motivation and direction.  These are small, simple things I can to do give me the shot in the arm I need to keep going.

Have fun
I spent more time doing fun things in Spanish to help me through.  More play time, less intense study time.  For me this meant listening to some of my favorite songs in Spanish and looking up a few new words (or words that I had forgotten), and listening to short podcast lessons where I could pick up a few new vocabulary words and phrases.  Did I master the use of some new complicated grammar structure? No, but I never stopped learning.

Check your self-talk
I also had to overcome my perfectionistic trait of beating myself up over a missing a day.  Instead of viewing my missed day as a catastrophic set back to the point of total demotivation, I brushed it off as a normal part of the process.  This is crucial.  Attitude and mindset are far more important in reaching a goal than the mechanics of getting there.

Rekindling Motivation

After about a week I started feeling better and it seems the mice have either all died or found a new residence to torment.

And just around that time I got the biggest boost in motivation for learning Spanish than I could have ever imagined.  More on that later…

 

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