Making Peace With Our Mind, Our Most Important Tool
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.”Buddha
⏱ Reading time: 4 minutes
One of our most powerful tools in learning a language is being self-aware.
When we talk about self-awareness and language learning, we’re talking about:
- Stay mentally present in our language study
- Paying attention to what’s happening in the river of our thoughts
It’s important to remember that our greatest ally (and potentially our greatest enemy) in language learning is our mind, and we must keep a good pulse on where it’s at throughout our language learning journey. Because as you’ve likely seen, it goes through A LOT.
Take a look at some of the following emotions. Have you ever experienced any of the following during your time as a language learner?
|Ready to speak that language the rest of your life
|Sick and tired of the culture
|Blindly in love with the culture
|Ready to not say another word.
|Drunk on new vocabulary
|Traumatized by grammar
These highs and lows can have a major impact on our effectiveness as language learners, and they deserve our attention.
Naturally, if students can recognize these kinds of feelings–we’re aware of what we’re feeling during our language learning journey–we’ll have a better chance of regulating ourselves and maintaining a calm, productive focus.
In reflecting on the previous week, one student said:
“I have good days and frustrating days. I do sometimes feel overwhelmed. Some days I try to say something in class, don’t succeed, and then feel embarrassment or frustration which in turn causes me to not follow what is being said in class. I am going to make a point of reminding myself at the beginning of class that I am going to have successes and failures, and that I need in either case to take a moment after making a comment to refocus.”
Learners who strive to be self-aware begin to notice their avoidance behavior and can tell when they’re just going through the motions of study rather than fully engaged. When we actively monitor and respond to what’s going on in our head, we can see some of the following benefits:
- Longer-lasting motivation
- Greater creativity
- Better problem solving
- And…better language proficiency.
Mind Your Head
Not surprisingly, one of the best ways you can become more aware of your thoughts and feelings is simply a matter of listening. When we listen, we can gather information and decide how to take action.
Watch one or both of these animations to get an idea of why this approach to self-awareness might be helpful for you and your language learning.
To build off the analogy used in the Headspace video:
Imagine you were sitting in the air above a highway, watching the traffic, and that each car that passed by was one of your thoughts. This thought would come into your field of vision, it would leave, and eventually it would be replaced by another one. You wouldn’t stop any one car and dissect it or kick it off the road. You would simply just let it pass on through, and another would take its place.
This is mindfulness. Within a few minutes from your perch over the highway, you would begin to see patterns like what size of cars were going by, their colors, models, the traffic’s speed–if it was congested or free-flowing, if there was road tension or not.
It really wouldn’t take long -just 2-3 minutes.
And that’s mindfulness. It’s taking time to be still and observe, but not control, your thoughts, where you’re at, and what’s on your mind.
Try it out!
Time Required: 2-3 minutes
So what do you need to develop more mindfulness? Just three things.
- 2-3 minutes
- A place to sit
- A quiet space
Here’s what you might do:
- Sit down before your language study
- Breathe deeply a few times
- Let your mind relax
- Begin observing your thoughts.
When you’re relaxed and “watching the cars,” you might start to notice the following:
- What you like about the language
- Things you believe you’re good at.
- Comparing yourself to friends or classmates
- Things you’ve been embarrassed by
- How you’re feeling about your study
- How you’re feeling about your ability
- Your goals for your future language study
Once you can gauge where your head and heart are at, then you can start to make some informed decisions about how or if you will respond to what you’re feeling.
Your responses will be up to you, but often, just discovering the obstacles to our language progress can be the very hardest part. After that, fixing it can be very natural and simple. And that’s it!