It´s that time of year to decide on ´New Year´s resolutions´, to ‘resolve’ something which we think isn´t up to scratch at the moment. In many cases, failing to achieve them is blamed on a lack of time, but I believe that time can almost always be found, and what is lacking is motivation.
For me, motivation is the key ingredient in any success, because the stronger it is, the more solutions are found for the other obstacles that always get in your way, like lack of time or energy. Overall, New Year’s resolutions are an exercise in overcoming cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957), where a lack of motivation means that beliefs are not aligned to behaviour: I say I want to learn (belief), but I don’t study (behaviour). Or maybe some people prefer to set unattainable goals, so as to avoid putting any real effort into chasing them, or make the failure to achieve them more comforting. “Amateur psychology!” you might cry. Absolutely, but psychology is of huge importance to learning anything, and I think it’s too often forgotten among teachers and learners.
So how can we maintain a high level of motivation with New Year’s resolutions?
- Realistic goals.
- Specific timeframe.
Those who sign up to lessons with the fuzzy aim of “learning English” realise within a few months that this is impossible to achieve (you never complete a language, as it’s constantly evolving), and their motivation disappears. Instead, more achievable objectives could be:
– Survive a trip to London in August 2017 (measuring the achievement of this goal will be as easy as pie, as if you fail, you won´t make it home).
– Understand a specific English-language film without subtitles e.g. Wonder Woman, released in June 2017.
– Gain an official qualification like IELTS or Cambridge (or do the exam at home, without paying the fees, to see your improvements) in December 2017.
I watch a lot of motivational talks on YouTube, and a guy I really like is Eric Thomas because of his energy and clarity of message. This is one of his quotes which helps me decide if I “have time” or not when I´m pursuing a goal:
“Most of you say you want to be successful. But you don’t want it bad. You just kinda want it. You don’t want it badder (sic) than you wanna party. You don’t want it as much as you want to be cool. Most of you don´t even want it as much as you wanna sleep”.
As Thomas says, how much do you want to achieve your goals? If you want to run, is the rain a big enough excuse for you to stay at home? If you really wanted to learn to play an instrument, would you mind practising on a Sunday afternoon? How much would you give to achieve it? How much would you give up to achieve it? I´ve used examples of learning English, but the message is transferrable to anything.
Of course, teachers should be motivated to make lessons varied and engaging, but students’ self-motivation and a desire to keep getting better are vital for improvement to take place.