“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
― Jim Ryun
The New Year brings with it fresh motivation and big ideas on how to make changes in our lives. Maybe it’s a resolution to begin running every day, learn a new language, or finally organize your office, house, or life. But how do you turn a resolution into a reality?
Answering this question can leave the best intentions by the wayside without a good plan in place. Many clients struggle to find time to regularly practice their new communication skills. Without practice, improvement simply won’t happen. It’s as unrealistic as working with a personal trainer once a week, without exercising between sessions, and expecting to be 20 pounds lighter with washboard abs three months later.
The problem is not motivation. Clearly clients want to work on their English communication or else they wouldn’t have taken accent training in the first place. They believe their career goals and future are worth the investment. But the realities of everyday life are often hectic. Days swim by on a fast current of activities, tied up in routines. Before they know it, days pass and the communication practice just didn’t happen, again.
The key is to turn daily practice into a habit. A habit is a behavior that is acted on automatically which makes it more likely to be repeated.
Turning practice into a habit is not as hard as it sounds. You have rituals you perform every day and may not be aware of. For example, people tend to wash up and get dressed in the same manner every morning. Perhaps you turn the shower on to get the warm water running while you brush your teeth. Chances are you wash yourself in the same order every day. This is helpful because mornings are hard, groggy affairs, and the less we have to think through, the better. We don’t even think about skipping our routine or not having enough time for it.
Here are some tips for making communication practice a daily habit.
Chain practice to an existing routine
Link practice to something you already do every day. Adding a new routine to an existing one increases the likelihood you will repeat it. For instance, if you sit down after dinner and check email, add 15 minutes of practice between these two events. Be specific. Instead of saying “After dinner I will practice,” say, “When I leave the kitchen I will practice 15 sentences with my target sound.”
Start small, end big
Break your practice down into small, manageable steps and gradually add to it over time. Goals are wonderful but they can crush your motivation if you don’t pace yourself. The objective is not to burn yourself out with good intentions. Notice in the previous example it said to practice for 15 minutes, not an hour. There are very few purposeful routines in our day that last an hour (yes, we can all spend mindless hours on the internet but the key word is purposeful).
By starting with a limited, specific activity, with a definite start and end time, it feels more manageable. After a week of practicing after dinner on a specific lesson, identify another daily routine and tack on another 15 minutes of study. Maybe after lunch and before you dive back into work is another opportunity to squeeze in a practice session. It makes a nice transition before you focus on specific tasks. In another week, find another time to fit in another quick practice session. Within a month you could be up to an hour of practice spread throughout the day.
Make it a ritual
Don’t be afraid to make a little ceremony out of your practice. I’m not suggesting you light candles and chant your lessons; rather, assemble objects to help with the ritual and find a location that supports focus. Bear in mind these should be motivators. Grab a cup of tea or hot coffee and open your favorite timer app with the pleasant chime alarm. Find a little-used conference room away from co-workers, or a quiet corner in your home where your children won’t look for you. Take a sip, stretch your back, set your timer and off you go.
Visualize your process, not your end goal
Studies have shown that people have better results achieving a goal if they visualize the necessary steps to reach it. Take the example of someone learning to play guitar. He would be more successful if he visualized himself practicing guitar scales and chord changes than if he only visualized the end goal of being in a band, playing a guitar solo in front of a sold-out crowd.
If you want to make it easier to practice communication skills, visualize the process of doing it. Picture yourself following your ritual, reviewing the material, practicing the target sounds. This will take you much further than only thinking about how clear your English will be a few weeks from now.
Working with your accent trainer gives you the knowledge and skilled feedback you need to improve your communication skills but your success depends on how much effort you put into it. Those who create the daily practice habit are the ones that improve the most. Don’t skip it!
More tips to come in Part 2!