Feeling overwhelmed?

Image by James Cridland, used under a creative commons license

I've had moments when this whole country moving thing is a little overwhelming. It's easy to panic when we are confronted by a seemingly enormous task and you feel unprepared for it.

For me, learning the Italian language has really felt like that. Many people have asked me in the last week 'How's your Italian?' when we've been talking about my impending move.

Well, frankly, I'm a beginner. Yes, I've been learning but it's not been very consistent.

Now, with the countdown to relocation begun, I'm improving! I know it takes small steps and I've been using a great little phone app called Duolingo.

But when your dream is far away, how do you stay motivated? And along the journey what do you do when you have that horrible, disheartening 'heart sink': when you look back and feel that, well, actually, you don't feel as though you have come very far.

I began learning Italian a few years ago, thinking that it would be useful when I eventually went on an Italian holiday that I'd thought of going on 'one day'.

I started well. I bought the audio CDs (the Michel Thomas method), copied them to my iPod and began to listen to them on the Underground journey I took every day to work. I repeated the phrases (in my head) as they were spoken and tried to do this every morning and sometimes in the evening. I went back over the lessons several times as I tended to miss bits when the train announcements came over the speakers or it was particularly noisy.

I got through the first course (Foundation) quite successfully, I felt as though I could listen back and be able to respond to the questions with the right answers.

Then I got bored. And it got tricky.

I got tired of listening and trying to learn, and I got disheartened, because I hardly knew any vocabulary. The way the Michel Thomas method works is by building up sentence structure, starting with an element of a sentence and adding to it. This is excellent for understanding grammar, word order and tenses but less good for 'survival' conversation and vocabulary.

So I let it go.

Time passed. And some more. And I still hadn't got further than the first few lessons of the next course.

In 2012, I met up with a good friend and we swapped intentions for the New Year that had just come about. I told her about my language learning attempts and I mentioned the audio course and maybe some lessons.

And she said: 'Why don't you go on holiday there? That will inspire you!'

Eventually I did. And when I got there, I was frustrated. I couldn't communicate! I began to berate myself for not having learnt more, being undisciplined and lacking willpower.

Looking back, I know that I needed more than just some CDs. Here's the three things that I needed for keeping the motivation when the task seemed overwhelming.

1) A taste of my vision

Getting a taste of what you are going after is a really powerful motivator. It's a 'taste' because it's a experiencing in a mini way, the actual day to day situation. It's the real thing, but just a little bit.

My Italian holiday was like that. I was actually there, living for a few days in a beautiful place totally immersed by the language and the sights and smells of an Italian city. I went on my own and felt the emotions and excitements of being a stranger but quickly becoming familiar.

The second part of getting the taste is imagining - getting a snapshot of this part of your dream. I envisioned the 'me' that was a fluent Italian speaker, sitting around a kitchen table with some Italian friends (I don't know who they are yet!) understanding every single word of the conversation. I keep imagining what that feels like...guess what: it makes me feel AMAZING! It's not a reality yet, but bringing the image back keeps me on track to taking the steps I need to take towards it.

2)  Practicing self-kindness

If I was tired from work, I often wouldn't listen to my language course. The Underground noise sometimes drowned out the words so much I got things wrong. I got frustrated, and tired. I felt it was hopeless.

I berated myself for being half-hearted, for not being committed. For giving up. I would listen to an average of 3 lessons a month (a lesson being about 3 or 4 minutes each). It felt like it would NEVER happen.

Yet I've learnt that demonstrating visible kindness to ourselves is far more beneficial to our change than cursing our efforts to learn and achieve. As I'm learning now, I still don't manage to do a bit every day. I get things wrong and make a LOT of mistakes. I'm not exactly into conversation stage and there's so many areas of life I have NO vocabulary for.

But I encourage myself. I say out loud: 'Claire, you're doing really well.' 'Keep going, you're getting better' and 'Don't worry if you aren't getting it first time!'

Yes, it feels ridiculous. I actually make myself laugh, telling myself these things. But I keep going. And I keep learning.

3) Trusting the timing

When I began to learn Italian I knew I wanted to speak Italian fluently, but I had no idea how long it would take me. I knew the hardest part is starting so I worked out the steps and I gave it a go. And then I let it go. I gave up and couldn't face it.

I'm now just weeks away from actually being there and I'm so grateful that I took this step. Even though I couldn't see how it would help at the time and even though it felt like I'd tried and failed at learning Italian; learning some tenses and word order but not being able to say hello, it's been of so much value.

I'm grateful because this pushed me forward, even though it was limited. The language learning that I'm doing now has a grounding which makes taking on board the vocabulary so much easier because I'm consistently getting the sentence structure right. Most of the tense forms are familiar to me and I have a better aptitude for guessing! The effort I made, however feeble it felt, is supporting and serving me in a way I couldn't see at the time.

Whenever it seems like you've not made much progress, whenever we feel we've failed at something, or not pursued it in the way we originally wanted to, be encouraged. It's not until later that we realise its value.

So be encouraged this week, however slowly you feel you're moving. Get a taste of your vision and be very kind to yourself. And tell yourself: I'm doing great!