Week three of lockdown and life is no longer as we know it. “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.”
Speaking to people over the last couple of weeks, one question seems to come up a lot:
“What day is it today?”
We’ve all been thrown out of our usual routines and somehow every day seems to be blending into the next. There’s no going out to work, to the gym, to a cafe, to meet family or friends, to the pub. We’re all still trying to do these things in a remote way but there’s just one problem. It all happens in the same place. At home. And it’s starting to feel a bit like Groundhog Day!
For anyone who hasn’t heard of the film Groundhog Day, my first question would be, why? It’s a classic Harold Ramis film from the early 90’s starring the magnificent Bill Murray. Murray plays Phil, a self-centred, obnoxious weatherman who gets sent to the small town of Punxsutawny to cover the story of the famous groundhog who comes out of his burrow on February 2nd to make an anuual weather prediction. Phil hates his job, his colleagues and all the annoying people of this little town. However, one morning he wakes up and realises, he’s reliving the same day, over and over again and it won’t stop. He’s stuck.
While it might not seem like your average self-help coaching film, there’s a lot to learn from Groundhog Day. Whole coaching books have even been written about about The Wisdom of Groundhog Day (Paul Hannam) explaining how the film is not just a comedy but also about self-improvement and self-transformation. The message is pretty simple. Once Phil realizes he can’t change his circumstances and he’s stuck, he chooses to change his attitude and ultimately himself instead. He creates his own ideal day based on creativity, compassion and contribution. He adapts to his surroundings and makes the most of his circumstances, utilizing his time to learn the piano, learn French and be nice to people. He makes friends with the locals, falls in love with his colleague Rita and soon becomes the most popular guy in town. And finally, he’s happy.
In a way, being “stuck” at home in lockdown is similar. We can’t change our circumstances, we can only change our attitude and how we use this time. So here are 5 lessons from Groundhog Day which might help you deal with life in lockdown:
- Establish new and better routines. Nobody likes being pushed out of their usual routines. They give us a sense of comfort and control over our lives. To help bring back that feeling, establishing new routines is essential. Try to get up at the same time every day and stick to a morning routine e.g. shower and breakfast. And while you’re at it, why not create some new and better routines. Not all the habits from your pre-corona life may be worth holding on to after all.
- Be kind. Take a minute to think about the people you know who might be suffering during this crisis. People who are worried about their jobs, health, they’re home alone or struggling to with work from home while handling their kids. There are a lot of people in difficulty right now. Drop them a mail, give them a call, think of a way you could help from a distance. Helping other is a win-win, as it supports them, it makes you feel good and it takes your focus away from your own problems. And remember this is “physical” distancing rather than “social” distancing. There are plenty of ways to still say social, even if you can’t meet people. Skype, Facetime, Zoom, calling, emails or even the good old-fashioned letter.
- Suppress the sea monster. Lockdown does not mean you need to turn into a creature from the deep in pyjamas. Go out, get some fresh air and daylight, have a shower and make yourself look presentable. Feel like you would on a normal working day. Fresh air, daylight and exercise are essential to well-being. Studies of people suffering from depression show that just a few minutes a day walking outside in the fresh air can improve mood and mental health. In the same way, take pride in your work/home space. Declutter and tidy up. Clutter in the home can actually cause anxiety and has been linked to higher levels of cortisol (the stress causing hormone). The last thing anyone needs now is more stress.
- Learn a new skill. Phil learns French (to impress Rita) and takes piano lessons. If there’s a skill on your bucket list, perhaps now is the time to get started. Learn that language (there is still time to join my Duolingo experiment), take up knitting, learn how to cook, start writing that novel. Sometimes, the best way of getting things done is to simply begin.
- Think about what you can learn going forward from this bizarre experience. Maybe this time has brought you closer to certain people (despite the social distancing), you’ve learnt a new skill or developed good habits. That’s a win and something positive to take away from lockdown. We keep talking about life going back to normal at some point. But perhaps some things will have changed for the better and we can go back to a nicer normal. Think carefully about the future and all the things you really want to do when this is all over. Because at some point, it will be over. As Phil says in the film:
Phil: Do you know what today is?
Rita: No, what?
Phil: Today is tomorrow. It happenend.
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So, you might remember that at the beginning of the year I posted my resolutions for 2018. Now, the weather may be making us all feel like it’s still January but April is here and there is a hint of sunshine on the horizon. So, how are we doing with those resolutions? An essential part of sticking to goals is to regularly review them. This way we can celebrate the successes, analyse the things that are not going so well and decide what to do about that. So here goes with my list:
1. Work on my Japanese and take the JLPT certificate
Progress: Not too bad. I’ve been gradually plugging away at my Japanese and I think I can register for the exam in June with a view to doing it in December. Still finding it tough but I’m motivated to carry on and that’s half the battle.
Action: Keep going. Maybe work more on speaking and not get too bogged down in the scary world of Kanji symbols.
2. Practice more guitar and buy an electric guitar
Progress: Zero. I can honestly say I have only picked up my guitar once since Christmas and that was during a slightly wine-filled, emotional “I can play Eric Clapton” (honestly??) kind of moment. Don’t know why but it just hasn’t happened. I guess other goals have taken priority. But I still want to do this and there are still 9 months left to get going.
Action: Take a new approach. Dump Eric and switch to Rammstein (yes, honestly). Choose a couple of songs I really like to inspire me to practice more. And, take a trip to the incredibly cool “Cream” Frankfurt guitar shop (they sold a guitar to Elvis!) and look at the electric guitars. Oooooh, the power of shopping!
3. Knit a pullover for my dog Polo
Action: None. If he gets anymore clothes he’ll need his own walk-in closet.
4. Learn how to knit
Progress: Successful workaround. Instead of knitting I discovered the wonderful world of looming (a kind of knitting for dummies). And I loomin love it! Never, ever imagined this could be my thing but in the last few weeks I have made 2 dog pullovers (first one had to be scrapped as it was way too small and looked like some kind of bizarre crop top), 3 hats (for humans) and I’m now working on a scarf. No idea who on earth is going to wear all this stuff but I don’t really care right now. Honestly surprised how much I’m enjoying it. Totally relaxing. If you fancy having a go, take a look at loomahat.com for some great videos for beginners.
Action: Keep going for as long as I’m enjoying it. Keep an open mind and be happy to let my goals take me in unexpected directions.
5. Lose 10 kilos
Progress: No kilos lost yet BUT I have gone back to the gym. And I’m happy to say it’s a friendly local gym with no green smoothies or Lululemon yoga pants in sight. Love my new functional training programme (picture lots of swinging around on ropes, crunches while throwing a 2kg ball at the wall) and I’m totally motivated. I feel like freakin’ Rocky. And thanks to my super-duper birthday present from hubby I can listen to music without dragging my phone around with me and constantly faffing with my headphones. AirPods are amazing!
Action: This girl can. Stick to the gym routine and cut down on sugary stuff (but after the Easter stuff is eaten of course!)
6. Work on my cake decorating skills
Progress: Although I’ve done some baking since Christmas I haven’t done much decorating.
Action: Absolutely not worried about this goal. It involves cake and frosting. As good as done.
7. Learn Italian
Progress: Well I still love Benedetta but my Italian failed after about 3 weeks. I decided to give Duolingo a go as I’ve heard a lot about it, it’s the biggest language learning app in the world and I was curious. Honestly, very disappointed. Quite good for learning vocabulary but find it hard to believe that people really learn how to make fluent conversation with this method. Got bored, frustrated by the lack of grammar info and structure and gave up.
Action: Adapt the goal. Learn Portuguese. Now this doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Benedetta totally but we have planned a trip to Spain and Portugal and I figured maybe I’d be more inspired to learn something I can actually put into practice in the near future.
8. Use my new slow cooker
Progress: Done. Made quite a few nice dishes and am very happy with it. For anyone out there looking for a slow cooker I can highly recommend the Morphy Richards Sear and Stew Slow Cooker
Action: Keep trying new recipes at least twice a month.
9. Book proposal
Progress: Now this a biggy and needs to be approached with the slice and dice method. One of the first “slices” I had to get through was setting up a blog and writing more. And of course, testing if anyone liked what I was writing and thought it was worth reading. Well, while my follower list is still tiny (remember you can add your email to follow me!), I’m getting a good amount of traffic and lots of positive feedback.
Action: Research potential publishers and their book proposal guidelines. Try to get something published in a magazine/on a website. Just writing that actually made me slightly sick with fear but it’s the next logical slice and it has to be done.
So, what’s the takeaway here?
Chicken fried rice please! No, seriously, reviewing progress is an essential way to reach, your goals. Remember:
- If your plan is working, give yourself a pat on the back, make sure you keep things interesting and push yourself to keep going.
- If it’s not working, try to figure out why. Maybe you need a bit of inspiration or a new approach? Or maybe (like my Italian) you need to adapt the goal completely. Right now, Italian is not really relevant but Portuguese is. It’s still a new language, just a different direction. Be open to adapting your goals.
- Accept (like my guitar playing or cake decorating) that you can’t work on everything at the same time and sometimes other things (like looming) can take over. But there is still time. I can’t keep making hats forever.
- Keep working on the bigger goals using the slice and dice method. The big goals (like my book proposal) are best approached one step at a time to make them feel less overwhelming.
So how are you doing with your targets? Sometimes just putting your goals in black and white can push you to stick to them, so feel free to comment below and put yourself out there. I can probably loom some cheerleading pom poms and give you a cheer!
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When my clients ask my advice on how to improve their English, one of my top tips is always: Forget shame. If you feel ashamed and embarrassed every time you slip up, you will never improve. To become better at anything, we have to try, we have to take risks and when it all goes wrong, we have to get up, smile, carry on and most importantly, try again. I hate to use the word “ass” two weeks in a row in my post (sorry mother!) but this time it really is unavoidable. When you speak a foreign language, there will always be times when you make mistakes and fall on your ass (there it is again). Some mistakes are more dramatic than others, but they are going to happen, whether you like it or not. So what to do? Take a tip from some Olympians.
Did anyone catch any of the ice-skating during the recent Winter Olympics in PyeongChang? I’m not into winter sports but I always like to watch a bit of figure skating. That combination of sparkly, sequinned outfits and amazing athletic talent and skill. However, there’s always that moment in every performance where you kind of hold your breath. When the skater is getting ready to do a jump and everyone is wondering if they will land it. Sometimes they do but sometimes they don’t. Even the top skaters in the world are not perfect every single day. But in order to gain points and get a medal they have to take risks. And what’s really striking about these skaters, is that when they fall and it all goes wrong, they pick themselves up and carry on. Hold the tears in, put on a brave face and try to make up for the fall with the rest of their performance. Imagine being the best in the world but still going out there knowing that you might fall in front of millions of people? Wow. They really don’t let shame get in their way. As the American Mirai Nagasu recently said (just before becoming the third woman ever to land the elusive triple axel at the Olympics) “I’m definitely going for it. No guts, no glory. If I fall, I’ll take the fall and just keep going.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to compare having a conversation in Italian with the talent and commitment of being an Olympic figure skater. But there is a lot we can learn from them. Don’t let those falls and mistakes put you off. Learn from them, smile and just keep going. And it least be grateful you don’t have to display your grammatic ability in front of millions of people in a sequinned outfit!
What are your top tips for learning and speaking a foreign language? Feel free to comment below. As always you can follow my blog by adding your email address to the box on the right.
I hate to admit it, but like lots of other hopeful people, I went back to the gym in January. A free month-pass to a fancy, luxurious gym helped me along my way. But while I was there today, burning some butt on the cross trainer and admiring the beautiful people (who can actually afford to be members) in their lovely lululemon yoga outfits, sipping their green smoothies, it struck me again how similar fitness and language learning are (green smoothies and yoga posing aside):
1. You can’t outsource it
Let’s start with the bad news. Nobody can do it for you. Unlike green smoothies and nice outfits, you can’t buy fitness. Even if you pay for a trainer, you still have to do the work. In the same way, you can’t buy yourself a language. No matter what some smart marketing people like to tell you; “Get fit in 10 days!” “Speak fluent Japanese in 30 days!”. And even if that were possible, what happens after? Can I train really hard for 10 days and then be fit for the rest of my life? One month of intensive Japanese and I’m fluent forever? Of course not. Like fitness levels, language ability declines as soon as you stop using it. It’s best to accept from the start that it really is a never-ending project.
2. There will be ups and downs
You know those weeks. The weeks where you had the best intentions but it just didn’t work out. You feel ill so you can’t go for a run. You are too tired to learn any vocabulary. No time for the gym. No time for your language class. The key thing here is to accept you had a bad week, don’t weigh yourself down with guilt and get back on track. Going back to the gym when you’ve been a way for a while can be pretty brutal. The same as turning up for a class and knowing you’ve missed a couple of weeks of new grammar and vocabulary. It’s downright uncomfortable. But all is not lost. Try to focus on the small wins as you get back into it, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the big ultimate goal. In the end, starting again rather than just giving up altogether is the key to long-term success.
3. It’s good for your health
So here comes the good news. The benefits of physical exercise are well-known but did you know that learning a language is also good for your health? More and more studies are proving that learning a foreign language improves your memory, increases your multi-tasking abilities and can even delay the onset of dementia. Recent studies have shown that bilingual people who develop dementia do so up to 5 years later than monolingual people.
4. You never completely forget
So even if you’ve had a long break from the gym or a language, there’s an amazing thing called muscle memory which means you never really start from zero. It’s a complex topic but scientific evidence suggests that your body and brain still retain parts of what you trained in the past. How many times have I met clients who tell me they remember “nothing at all” of the English they learnt years ago. In my experience, never true. There’s always something still there to build on.
5. It gives you a high
Aaaaaaah, the feel-good factor. The thing we are all praying for when we are struggling away on the treadmill and feeling crappy. It does exist, I promise. You just have to wait a bit longer for it to show up than you might like. According to studies, people experience this “kick” after exercising for a certain length of time (it can differ from person to person) and pushing themselves. In the same way, it might take a while to experience the “feel-good factor” from your language learning. However, when you start to improve and finally get rewarded, levels of dopamine (another feel-good chemical) in the brain increase. The reward could be, for example, getting something right in class, finally figuring out how the hell to form the past perfect continuous tense, or best of all, having your first proper impromptu conversation with a native speaker and that person complimenting your skills. Sounds nerdy I know, but the feel- good factor really does kick in and it’s hugely motivating.
So, try to keep these things in mind on your language learning journey. I’m off to drink a green smoothie, buy myself a fancy gym outfit (if I can’t afford the gym I can at least have the accessories!) and get my Japanese grammar book out. Feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts on this or subscribe to my blog. Just add your email address to the box on the right.
So last week we talked about our plans for 2018. But how do we make these plans a reality? How do you get there?
1. Get inspired
When you start making your list of resolutions, try to choose goals that really inspire you. Goals that YOU feel excited about. Don’t choose goals just because someone else has or you think you should. Be true to yourself and decide what would really make you happy. Also, make sure your list is not full of boring “to dos” rather than enjoyable goals. This year, I finally have to get myself a German passport (thank you Brexit) but that is boring and tiresome. It’s a “to do”, not a goal. Goals should be fulfilling and fun. What are mine? Click here to see my list.
Once you’ve got your list and you’re feeling all fired up, decide what to tackle first. Starting too many projects on January 1st is a bit overwhelming. Does it make sense to do some of them first depending on the season, or money you have available? Do some of them have a very specific deadline? Why not start with a smaller one (to get a quick motivational success) but also take a smaller step towards one of your bigger goals. A goal that will need longer to reach and more steps. Which brings us nicely to my next two points.
What exactly is my target? How will I know when I have reached it? One of my goals is to improve my guitar skills, but what does that actually mean? I can play a few more chords or I’m ready to stand in for Slash if Guns N’ Roses tour again (I’ve got the curly hair at least!). Try to set specific targets and give them deadlines e.g. learn five new chords by the end of January or practice for 10 minutes every day. While you are defining, it also helps to take a reality check. It’s nice to think big (watch out Slash) but setting unrealistic goals can set you up for disappointment and failure. Once you’ve reached your goals you can always aim higher with the next ones.
4. Slice and Dice
Take a look at the goals you’ve defined and work out the individual steps you will need to take to get yourself there. Maybe you first need to enrol on a course or buy the right equipment (yipee a shopping step). Every goal can be divided into smaller steps. According to Brian Tracey, author of the fabulous book “Eat that Frog”, “A major reason for procrastinating on big tasks is that they appear so large and formidable when you first approach them”. He talks about the “salami slice” method of laying out each step in detail and then resolving to eat one slice at a time until you’ve finished the whole sausage. I prefer to see the steps as Pringles. Once you start, there is no stopping you.
5. Find your crew
It helps to hang out with people who have similar goals to yourself. I’m only guessing but I doubt that top athletes spend their spare time hanging out with couch potatoes. Of course, it’s nice to have different friends with varied interests but if you are trying to shift a few kilos, spending time watching your friend eat donut after donut is not going to help you. Telling someone who firmly believes learning a foreign language is “a waste of time because we have Google translate” (excuse me while I punch something) is not the kind of cheerleader you want. Which brings me nicely to point 6.
6. Tell someone
Making a commitment and taking responsibility for your goals is pretty important. Once you’ve found your “crew” who you know will support you, tell them about your goals. They will be happy to support you, even if it just means asking from time to time how you are getting on. Often people are afraid to say their goals out loud because they know it somehow makes them real and visible. But in some cases that is exactly the affect we want. When I decided to run the London marathon a few years ago, I told everyone I knew as I wanted to raise as much money for charity as possible. I collected lots of money but it also had the positive affect that I felt this huge level of commitment. I had to do this. People were somehow counting on me. If you really don’t want to tell anyone, at least write it down. Put in on paper, stick it on the wall and make it real.
7. Accept the curveballs
There will always be times when things don’t go as planned, despite the best intentions. You get ill so you can’t keep up your new exercise regime. You have a crazy week at work and your brain is just too tired to learn Spanish. We all go through this. It’s ok. What’s important is what you do next. Do you throw in the towel or do you carry on? If things are not going as you planned, reassess. Maybe there is a better approach. Or even reassess the goal and change it if you realise it isn’t right. Remember, if you want to stop failing at something, stop giving up.
8. Be nice to yourself
When those curveballs come, don’t beat yourself up. NATS (negative automatic thoughts) are a central concept in cognitive behavioural therapy and apparently most of us experience thousands a day. It’s the background talk that goes on in your head every day. For example, you tell yourself, “I’m so lazy, I’m never going to learn this, I’m not good at, I will never manage that”. We are so used to doing it, it happens automatically and is difficult to control. But imagine that was a person standing next to you, saying all those negative things to you all day. You wouldn’t want to hang out with that person! Yet we do it to ourselves all the time. Would you talk to your best friend like that? Be nice. Give yourself some credit rather than criticism for a change.
9. Integrate, don’t add on
There are only 24 hours in a day and as far as I’m aware that is not likely to change anytime soon. No matter how much you convince yourself “next month will be easier”, most likely those magical extra hours you crave will never appear. Instead, try to identify your current “dead time” slots. No matter how busy you tell yourself you are, we all have them. One dictionary definition of dead time is a “period that does not count toward a purpose”. For example, it takes 10 minutes to boil a pot of pasta (with the purpose of you eating it) but there is no reason for you to stand and watch it boil. That is dead time. You may have to commute to work. The purpose is for you to get to your place of work. But the time you spend doing that is dead. Unless you use it. Identifying these slots and filling them with something that helps you reach your targets means you don’t always need to find extra time. Integrate as much as you can, rather than constantly adding on.
10. Enjoy the journey
There are no guarantees of success. I can’t guarantee that I will pass a JLPT Japanese certificate this year. It is a goal and I know if I work at it and follow the guidelines above, I should be able to do it. But even if I don’t, if I have enjoyed the journey, all is not lost. I can honestly say my Japanese lesson yesterday was fun. It brightened my day. For once I totally understood what I was doing and got (nearly all) of my homework right. My Sensei even clapped. Reaching goals doesn’t have to be a struggle all the time. You’re also allowed to have fun along the way. Bansai!
Agree or disagree with these tips? Got some more you would like to share? Please add them in the comments below. Remember you can also add your email to the box on the right and receive notifications of my posts in your inbox.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Yes I know it’s already the middle of January but it is still January at least. And what better time to finally get moving with my Langauge Coaching website and blog. January may be a cold, sober, no party kind of month but there is something special about the start of a new year. Hopes and plans for the upcoming year all still seem possible. I always get excited when I buy myself a new diary (just can’t get used to digital ones) and look at the pages of the year ahead, waiting to be filled with something new. Read the rest of this entry »