Everyone has goals. I truly believe that. Even if people don’t openly express them, they are there, deep down. Find a new job, earn more money, lose weight, learn how to play the piano, get fit, read more books, learn a language. But somehow, we don’t always reach the goal or we give up along the way. So, what can we do?
As a coach, people come to me with various issues but ultimately behind them all is normally the desire to achieve or change something. After all that’s what coaching is about, to enable and encourage positive change. Once we’ve established what it is the person would like to change, I normally ask the following four questions regarding that particular goal:
Question 1: What?
What is the goal? The most important thing here is to keep asking this question until you have something specific. Vague goals are difficult to reach as they have no benchmarks. How do you know when you’ve really reached the goal? And of course, the goal is sometimes too big and rather overwhelming. For example, “I want a new job“. What type of job? Where? By when? “I want to get fit“. How fit? How quickly? How will you know when you are fitter? Repeatedly asking the question “What?”, should result in a specific goal which is measurable and has some kind of timeline.
Question 2: How?
How are you going to achieve the goal? What’s the plan? What resources are you going to need? This is where the goal becomes a real plan with details. The answers to “How?” should be used to create a plan with steps and a timeline. After all, a goal without a plan is just a wish!
Question 3: Can I?
Can I really do this? Do you really believe deep down that you can achieve this goal? Do you have the time, resources and ability to get this done? If not, can you make the time, get the resources and train yourself to get this done? A lack of self-belief from the beginning means we often mentally give up before we’ve even started. If the answer to “Can I?” is “No” then the next question is “Why not?“. Then go back to “What?” and perhaps modify the goal.
Question 4: Why?
Why do you want this? What is the real motivation here? Is it coming from you or is it pressure from someone else? Why is this goal important to you? If there is no motivation or the motivation is not truly your own, chances are you won’t stick to the plan.
When I go through these questions with my client, we often find that at least one point is, what I call, the wobbler. The question that can’t be answered or only partly. That doesn’t mean we give up on the goal. We simply work on the wobbler or adapt the goal to stop the wobbling. Let me give you two examples from own life to explain what I mean.
When I hit 30, I decided I wanted to run a marathon. The London marathon to be exact. Up to that point, the furthest I had ever run was 5km and not particularly quickly. During nine months of training, I often wondered if I would really reach my goal. So, I asked myself the four questions to see where the wobbler was.
What? The London marathon. Running 42.2km in London in April and crossing the line without dying.
How? When I arrived at the starting point on a rainy day in April, I was probably the most informed novice marathon runner you could ever meet. I had read numerous books, listened to advice from other runners, found a suitable training plan, put it in my diary and stuck to it.
Why? I had various motivations. I wanted to raise money for charity and it had always been a bit of a childhood dream to take part in the London marathon. And, I really wanted one of those shiny foil capes the runners got at the end to keep them warm. Don’t know why but as a child I thought they were cool and I was determind to get mine.
Can I? Now here’s the wobbler. After asking myself the “Can I?” question, I realised that was my problem. Could I do this? Could I really keep moving for 4-5 hours without collapsing? Was I going to have to pull out and disappoint not only myself but all the people who had supported me? It was this thought that kept me awake at night. According to my expert training plan, the longest run I would do before the big day was 35km. That’s 7.2km short! What if that was my limit. Maybe I would just get there and then collapse.
So, it was this point that I really had to work on. I read success stories of people similar to me and told myself everytime I went out for a run, I could do this. I trusted the plan and did my best. Focussing on self-belief and confidence is what really pulled me through.
Another goal, another four questions.
What? Japanese JLPT exam in December 2018.
How? Private lessons, various flashcards and books, mock papers and a study plan.
Can I? Slight wobble. The exam is known for being pretty tough BUT I’ve learned plenty of other languages before and I knew deep down it was possible if I worked hard and stuck to the study plan.
Why? Here’s the wobbler. Why? Why was I doing this? I didn’t need it for my job. Nice for a holiday but the main reason I gave when people asked me this question was, for fun. Was it really fun? Is fun a big enough motivation? The jury is still out on that point. Sometime I feel that yes, holidays and fun is enough. When I feel that isn’t enough to answer the question “why?”, I add on that learning a complex foreign language is good for brain health and it has also enriched my life in other ways: I’ve made new friends, discovered so much about an amazing country, tasted fantastic new types of food and learnt about a whole different culture. In my opinion, those things are enough to answer the “Why?”
Banzai! I passed my Japanese exam and I’m still learning and slowly improving. Japanese is not a top priority in my life but I feel it will always be part of my life in a positive way. I will keep learning and simply enjoy all the nice extras along the way.
And I finished my marathon. Despite parental concerns (dad wrote his phone number on the back of my starting number , just in case I collapsed and couldn’t communicate with anyone!) rain and snow (thank you London), toilet queue dramas and being overtaken by a Womble and various Smurfs, I made it to the end, no emergency numbers needed. And yes, I got my shiny cape!
For more tips on reaching goals, please see my previous post. And as always, if you would like posts like this straight to your inbox, just add your email to the box on the right to follow my blog.
A question I often hear from my clients. Considering that most of my clients are German and the Germans love having certificates, not a big surprise. But also, not an easy question to answer.
Of course, sometimes there is a necessity for a certificate. Universities often require a TOEFL certificate from foreign students. But for the average language learner like me who doesn’t need a certificate for higher education, is it worth the time and effort?
On a cold, rainy Sunday back in December I got up early to take a train to Stuttgart to spend my day taking the Japanese JLPT N5 exam. JLPT certificates are the gold standard when it comes to learning Japanese. They test vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening skills and can be taken on just two specific dates (in July and December) every year. Unfortunately for me, they didn’t test my sushi-eating or karaoke-singing skills but despite that, I still managed to pass and am now the proud owner of an N5 certificate. The question here is, was it worth it? The travel costs, exam costs, stress, the sleepless nights (the night before the exam I dreamt that once I arrived in Stuttgart, I was actually a contestant on Takeshi’s Castle, wearing a strange outfit, a pink helmet and being introduced to General Lee. Ganbarimasu!!) However, I can honestly say, for me personally (Takeshi’s Castle nightmares aside) it was definitely worth it. And here’s why:
- Let’s face it, when it comes to reaching tough targets, we all need a bit of a push. A fixed deadline and a clear objective combined with a dose of personal pride (nobody wants to fail) can be very motivating.
- Exams often force you out of your comfort zone to tackle tricky material and skills that you might normally avoid, which in my case are my Japanese listening skills. However, listening comprehension was 30% of this exam so I was forced to practice it and stop avoiding it.
- Revising for exams can help you reassess your learning methods in general and may open up new methods or bring you back to ones you had forgotten about. When I first started Japanese, I often used Quizlet to learn my vocabulary and phrases. After a while, I got bored of it but then rediscovered it during my exam preparation. Revising also helps you see how much you have actually learnt so far. Learning a language often feels like a huge, unmanageable, never-ending task but looking back over what you have done and focussing on what you already know rather than what you don’t yet know, is a nice feeling.
- Everybody loves a benchmark. When it comes to any kind of skill, we all like to know where we are in the big picture. Although most people have no idea what JLPT N5 means, I can see where I am and where my next target should be.
- Finally, I have to say I was AMAZED at the number of fellow Japanese learners (strugglers) willing to sacrifice their Sunday and battle their way (without outfits or helmets or General Lee) through this exam. I was expecting to be in a dingy room with a handful of other language nerds like me, plus the usual gamers and cosplay girls. Not so! There were literally hundreds of people there. It’s nice to know, I am not alone.
Of course, there can be a downside. So, before you rush out and register for that exam, consider the following points:
- Cost. The costs can soon add up: registration, travel costs, materials, extra lessons etc.
- How’s your exam attitude? Bit nervous about such things? Totally normal, most people are. So nervous you want to vomit and run out of the exam room faster than your Takeshi’s Castle contestant legs can carry you? Give it a miss. There’s no point putting yourself through that much stress.
- Are there plenty of preparation materials? Mock papers and workbooks help you prepare not just for the content, but also the layout and structure of the exam. People often fail exams simply because the paper didn’t look the way they expected it would or the question format was unclear. Make sure you know exactly what a typical paper looks like, what you will have to do and how much time you will have to do it.
- But most importantly, the main question should always be, is the exam relevant? Will you be learning things you really need? Of course, there is always some random vocabulary on the essential learning list. For example, I had to learn the the verb sasu, which translates as to put up one’s umbrella or to wear a sword in one’s belt. What??? Look carefully at the vocabulary you will be required to learn. TOEFL is often the first English certificate people think of but there might be a more useful exam for you e.g. something with more of a business focus like TOEIC or BEC. Ask your teachers, do your research and think carefully before you commit.
Personally, having a clear target, a bit of pressure and now feeling proud to have passed my exam, I am glad I did N5 and I’m planning to take N4 in December. Ganbarimasu!
Have you ever taken a language exam or are you planning to do so in the near future? As always, feel free to add your comments below.