How to Master Motivation for Learning Japanese

There are two sides to every coin. When it comes to learning Japanese, one side of the coin is the quality of the materials you are using, and the other side of the coin is the motivation you have (or don’t have) for it. I want to show you how to master motivation for learning Japanese so that you never have to worry about it, and can focus on other things instead.

Do you even really need to learn about motivation though? Isn’t it enough that you are studying regularly?

Well let me ask you this:

Are you an unstoppable force when it comes to learning Japanese? Or do you find yourself procrastinating and putting off study time? Sometimes even missing it altogether?

My friends, procrastinating and missing study time are motivation problems.

Generally speaking, people know what they need to do, they just can’t get themselves to do it. Let’s change that by understanding what motivation really is and how you can (properly) use it for your benefit.

Why is Motivation Important for Learning Japanese?

The first ting I want to do it get everyone on the same page as to the importance of motivation.

You can have the best materials for learning the language, and can you know the optimal techniques to apply when studying to attain maximum results, but if you don’t actually do the work consistently, then you’re guaranteed to fail.

Flip it over to the other side and you can have sub-par books or courses, but if your drive to learn Japanese is strong enough, then nothing can stop you. If you’re so motivated to learn the language that you actually prefer to study it than do other things like binge on Netflix, then It’s really only a matter of time until you reach mastery.

Motivation won’t teach you Japanese, but at the same time you can succeed without it.

Let’s use a metaphor to explain the role that motivation plays in the entire process:

You are in California (you current “place” in Japanese) and you want to get to New York (fluency).

You are going to do so by driving your car (learning materials) and you’ve got a few different routes (studying techniques) that you can used to get there.

But in order for any of this to be possible, you need one vital thing for your car to drive: fuel (motivation).

Anything in the equation can be swapped out for an alternative, except for fuel. You car needs gasoline like humans need air.

Now, what can you change?

You can decide that instead of fluency, you just want to learn how to read Japanese. That’s a change in destination.

You can decide that instead of driving the old car you inherited, you’re going to buy a brand new car that works much better and has many more features. That’s a change in learning materials.

You can decide that instead of taking the fastest possible route to your destination, you’re going to take a different one that is less intense, but more scenic and enjoyable for your personality. That’s a change in studying techniques.

But no matter which of these things you change, you still need that gasoline to power you car and get you to where you are going.

We can therefore conclude that having fuel (motivation) for the journey is the most important thing out of all of them.

Without it, you are going nowhere fast.

With it, you can go anywhere you want.

The Two Things That Determine Everything

So what exactly is motivation anyway? Motivation is:

“the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.”

It is the force that either pulls you in a particular direction, or pushes you away from one.

People usually list things that sound nice or noble when they say why they are doing something, but if you dig deep enough behind the reasons they give you, you can usually simplify it down to one of two things:

  1. The attainment of pleasure
  2. The avoidance of pain

This isn’t anything special to us humans, as it works with pretty much all living animals as well. You may have heard of it before as “Positive Reinforcement” (pleasure) when good behavior is rewarded, or “Negative Reinforcement” (pain) when bad behavior is punished.

What’s really interesting about them is that you can attain the same outcome (or goal) by using either one of them, or even both at the same time.

So let’s illustrate this concept: We have a person who is 50 lbs (22.5 kg) overweight. They want to lose that extra weight and get down to a number that they consider ideal.

When it comes to the topic of motivation, the question you have to ask is: Why do they want to lose the weight?

Is it because they want to have a great beach body that they can be proud of? That’s moving towards pleasure.

Is it because they are embarrassed of they way that the look with the extra weight? That’s moving away from pain.

Is it because they want to live a healthy lifestyle and live to be 90 years old? That’s a pleasure motive.

Is it because they have a family history of heat attacks and they don’t want to die from one? That’s a pain motive.

What’s interesting about these “reasons” is that they are pretty close to each other when you really think about it. It’s really just a slight change in focus that alters it from one type of motivator to the other.

Should you use a pain motivator? Should you use a pleasure motivator? Should you use both?

That’s really up to you to decide. I can tell you that studies have repeatedly shown that PAIN is a stronger motivator than PLEASURE for 99% of humans.

Let me show you how to use both so that you can find what works best for you personally.

We’ll start with the pain!

How to Use PAIN to Fuel Motivation

There are really two types of pain that pretty much all humans wants to avoid: loss and humiliation.

When it comes to loss, you can make a bet that you will reach a specified level of skill in Japanese by a specific date. If you make it, you get to keep your money (or PlayStation, etc). If you fail, then you have to fork it over.

Generally speaking you want to pick something that will hurt, but not kill you. In terms of money, 1% of your annual income is the right amount for most people. So if you make $40,000 a year, then you bet $400.

You also have to set up some sort of system that won’t allow you to get out of the situation. Write out a check and give it to someone with instructions to cash it if you don’t hold up your end of the bargain.

When it comes to humiliation, you put yourself out there in front of the people you know and respect (friends, family, etc.) telling them what your goal is and when you will hit it by.

This could be in the form of declaring it on Facebook, asking people to hold you accountable, and then you showing your results by posting monthly videos of yourself speaking and using Japanese.

It could also be that you join a group of people leaning Japanese and you interact with them through voice or text in Japanese. This will allow others to see your skills in action and judge you (in an honest way).

The thing about human nature is that, once we’ve made a statement (told others our goal), we will do almost anything to act in a manner that is consistent with it. This is good when you use it as a tool for positive change.

So you say (in front of other people) that you will learn Japanese by a certain date, and then you go to work on it, knowing the whole time that they are watching you and are going to hold you to your word.

Finally, you might decide to put yourself in a situation where learning the language becomes really freaking important for your daily life! In other words, you live in a scenario where not knowing Japanese is painful, and the way to get rid of that pain is to learn.

So you might move to a part of Japan where English is not spoken. A little dramatic perhaps, but it can be incredible effective.

Another choice would be to change your “fun” things to Japanese only. No more books in English. No more English subtitles. If you want to have fun in your life, you have to learn Japanese first and then have fun through that.

Here is a list of pain motivators you might want to use for yourself:

  • Put your money where your mouth is (make a bet)
  • Have an accountability partner(s)
  • Buy a ticket for a trip to Japan where they don’t use English (a nonrefundable ticket)
  • Sign up for a way to live in Japan (exchange program, your company’s branch, etc)
  • Have a Japanese person live with you who can’t speak English (awkward…!)
  • Make monthly videos of your progress for all to see (and judge)
  • Only buy new forms of entertainment for yourself in Japanese (no more English fun)

How to Use PLEASURE to Fuel Motivation

When it comes to using pleasure to motivate yourself, you want to pick things that really get your juices going. Something that really gets you excited and you have a lot of fun with.

So you might buy a Japanese video game that is ONLY available in Japanese. That’s a great way to use fun (as in, the more I understand this game, the more fun I have) for motivation.

Remember how I said sometimes the pain motivators look almost identical to the pleasure ones? A lot of times it’s simply a matter of shifting your perspective.

Many people have fallen in love with a Japanese woman, or man, and used their feelings for their significant other as the reason for studying Japanese every day.

You can set up a rewards system for yourself as you reach certain milestones in your studies. Tell yourself that you will buy that plane ticket for a visit to Tokyo once you’re able to hold a 15-minute conversation with a Japanese person over Skype.

For a lot of people, just being able to understand Japanese is in and of itself a pleasurable reason to learn more of the language. Learning a second language is a big deal, and a lot of people’s self-esteem receives a huge boost as they become more fluent in it.

Here is a list of pleasure motivators you might want to use for yourself:

  • You get to read Japanese manga and novels
  • You can play Japanese video games
  • No subtitles needed for watching Japanese anime (and bragging rights!)
  • You can move to Japan and live there with little to no problems
  • You can work for a Japanese company (is Square Enix hiring?)
  • You can make lots of new Japanese friends
  • You can marry/date a Japanese person

Which One of The Motivators Should You Use?

Some people feel that using pain is a bad thing since it’s more negatively focused. I don’t really think it has to be if you use it in an appropriate way for yourself.

If you were only going to pick one single motivator for learning Japanese, then you would probably be better off using one of the pain motivators since they are stronger.

But for myself, I like to use the “table legs” approach to motivation.

Think of a table as your goal of learning Japanese and each leg as a single motivating force. If you only have a few legs on that table, then it might collapse of one or two of the legs fall off over time.

But if you have lots of reasons to learn the language, then you will have lots of legs to hold the table up. That way it will continue to stand as time goes on, even if a few things fall off and are no longer important to you.

The only other piece of advice I would give you is to refresh your motivation on a daily basis.

Getting motivated is kind of like taking a shower: the effects wear off!

Having physical objects that you have to look at each day is one of the best ways to do it. If you can’t get a copy of the physical object just yet, then get pictures of it and put it in a place you are guaranteed to see each day.

Now is the Time for You to Take Action

Now what you should do is decide on some specific and personal motivators for yourself.

Like I said, you want to have several in place, and the more concrete you can be about them, the more powerful they will be for you.

Don’t just say “I want to be able to read manga” and leave it at that. Say “I want to be able to read and understand the first volume of One Piece in Japanese.”

Then go out and buy yourself the manga and put in on your desk where you will have to see it each and every day. Also, try to read it every day. Let the pain of not understanding it motivates you to learn more. Let the pleasure of every word and phrase you do understand motivate you to keep going!

Don’t just say, I’ll bet myself some money that I can do it. Instead, write out a check to your best friend and make them swear on their honor to cash the check if you fail to hit the goal you set for yourself.

To make this particular pain motivator even stronger, have your friend donate the money to a cause that you hate. Most people pick a political affiliation that they would never want to be associated with. Now it’s not just about keeping your hard-earned money, it’s also about keeping your money out of the hands of the very people you can’t stand!

Get creative with ways to make your personal motivations for learning Japanese in depth and exciting. And also be sure that they are something you will see and interact with each and every day in order to keep the fire in your belly going strong.

I’d love to hear from you guys about this!

What methods you’re going to used to get (and stay) motivated to learn Japanese? What are your suggestions for other people to try?

Let me know your thoughts with a comment below!

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