Motivation & Routine

Today I will give you a simple tip on how to combine motivation and routine to establish a daily practice of studies.

The idea that to achieve a goal one needs motivation has always been dominant. However, in recent years, a number of scientific studies have been changing this concept.

What is motivation?

Motivation is a process that can come from internal or external factors that make us act. The factors that most influence motivation are:

  • Desire: how much do you want something?
  • Need: how much do you need something?
  • Reward/Punishment: what will be the reward in case of a positive behavior and what will be the punishment if you don’t act?

Motivation in language learning


All of the above factors influence a person in language learning. When you decide to learn a language, it is great to evaluate how motivated you are to learn a language. This is easy to assess with certain questions:

  • Why do I want to learn this language?
  • How much do I want to learn this language?
  • Do I need to learn this language?
  • What will I gain by learning this language?
  • Am I willing to use my time for this?
  • Will the time/money spent be worth it?

These are just a few examples of questions you can ask yourself when deciding to learn a language. For me, the most important questions are the ones about the time spent. The most important thing in language learning is the amount of hours you spend studying it. So, if you are not willing to put the hours in your study, your motivation is probably not strong enough to learn a language up to a good level.

Motivation is important to our lives, especially in short-term situations, because it encourages us to act. However, motivation can also be a “trap”. For example, when thinking about studying or buying a book, our brain understands that we are making progress. But the biggest problem with motivation is not this one. The great problem of motivation is that it is finite and tends to be short. So how do you go beyond your initial motivation or improve it?

There is two good news to counter the fact that motivation is usually short-term:

  1. It can be trained; and
  2. You can study, even if you are not feeling very motivated.

What is routine?

Routine is a common, habitual thing; for many people, it is a sign of boredom. Despite this negative image, routine is an important element of success when pursuing a goal, including learning a new language. The best strategy to learn a language is to establish a study routine that is easy to incorporate into your daily life. Preferably, one should start with a short study session and with small rituals. Over time, this small, simple study routine becomes a habit. Once this habit is automated by your brain, it becomes much easier to study.

How to set up a study routine?

The first step in putting together a study routine is to know how much time we have available each day. Usually, people overestimate their free time, but probably you won’t need to  eliminate any activity from your daily life.

After you set a study time (ideally between 30 minutes and an hour a day), choose a place where you can focus and keep it organized, ready to start studying. This is the ideal study environment, but it is not always possible to find free time in your schedule. If this happens, you will have to study in the so-called “dead times,” which happen during  those tasks that usually steal seconds, minutes or even hours of our day and which are not very useful, these little minutes can add up and become one great way to study. Some examples of “dead times” to study are:

  • While waiting in a queue;
  • While having lunch;
  • During your daily commute between home and work.

At other times, you can adopt passive listening as a form of study:

  • While washing dishes;
  • While tidying up the house;
  • While doing a race.

After setting up a time, it is time to do the simplest and most difficult thing: to comply with the routine. At first it takes willpower to fight the initial inertia, but after a few months in this routine, if you do not study, you will feel that something is wrong.

Some motivational tips that can help you to keep your new routine are:

  • Accounting for study hours;
  • Have weekly, bi-weekly or monthly progress goals. As for example, number of words learned, chapters you have finished of a book, to study 5 hours a week, have a conversation for 5 minutes, etc;
  • Reward yourself: for every goal you achieve, you can reward yourself with a new book, a dinner out or an hour of Netflix.

In conclusion: motivation or routine?

I say, both. Motivation is great for starting a new project and by establishing a routine, you potentiate the chances of this project going well. On the other hand, if you have just the routine, without motivation, your project becomes dull, just an obligation, like going to work or school without liking it. Motivation inspires you to act, makes you wish, dream. Routine brings you the discipline you need to stay focused on your goal. So if you want to succeed in learning languages, the best strategy is to combine the benefits of motivation and routine.

What about you? What do you think is most important? Routine or motivation? How do you incorporate them into your daily life?

About Nathalia

Polyglot Nerd creator, love foreign cultures and learning languages. Speak: English, Portuguese and Spanish. Learning: French
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