The Cost of Ambition: EQUIVALENCY [ 1500+Kanji update]

The two books I wrote between March 30 2021 and Jun 2nd 2021

We are currently in a bizarre and “noisy” world of media obfuscation, fear and stress. One of the methods I’ve been using to psychologically navigate this space is to put my energies into focusing on problems I can solve, not those that are beyond my control. So what happened to me personally in the last 18months was because of the “noise” I made an extreme shift consciously and this shift turned into an extreme form of productivity. So last year I put a lot of my time and energy into learning German which produced some pretty amazing results, but psychologically I wasn’t “happy” if you get me. I was just “busy”, and pleased to see that my methods worked.

In fact, before starting this revamped Japanese journey, in the previous 90 days I wrote two full novels and learned to sing. Yes, two full books, the second being the longest novel i’ve written to date (i’ve written six) which ended up being 330+ pages long. Today i’m going to write about the “cost” of such productivity, and how it relates to what i’m doing now.

Basic Equivalency

At the start of this year, I wasn’t in the same psychological space, but ended up kickstarting this run of what I call “monster productivity” after making certain decisions. One of my main observations was BASIC EQUIVALENCY.

Essentially, it is a baseline philosophical stance of operation where I am acutely aware that what I put in results in what I get in return. 

This may seem obvious, but for most people this is not a binary philosophy. That means, people “somewhat know” that the results of one’s efforts are reflected by your attention to a task, but most people do not believe that the end result always correlates to effort. Why am I saying this? Because ultimately, it is not effort alone that allows you to have monster productivity. What i’ve found is that it is far more important to be consistent than simply energetic, as high energy is never guaranteed to be constant. The idea of Equivalency is simple: for any task I undertake I don’t focus on the task itself at first. I look at the potential psychological and physical demands on my time, brain and body. I think about these quite clearly. Will I be required to wake up early? Will this have a minimum number of hours per day requirement? Will this eventually become stressful? What is the timeline for this task and what hurdles might I face?

I never used to ask myself these questions and usually just dove into a monster task, the demands of which usually overwhelmed me either perceptually (size of task), physically (physical demands of task), structurally (organization of the data relative to the task) and so on. It was never the “task” itself, but these parts, any of which should they become too overwhelming ,would eventually crash the entire process. Learning to navigate these specific areas is what allowed me to finally master what I call “the finishing formula”.

So what happens now is in my mind there is a program running with a certain message. The message says: this task has X components, which will take X period of time. It will have X demands on time and energy, so you might expect X amount of stress, X amount of fatigue and X amount of mental challenge. The completion of this task will require X amount of patience, X amount of strategy to avoid burnout and X amount of self-monitoring to be consistent. 

This is important to note, because when I was writing the second novel, the last three weeks were almost a mental disaster. I was so mentally fatigued and ready to be “done” with the novel my mind wanted to stop. Each time I opened MS Word I’d start to feel tired, and trying to figure out some final character motivations took more energy that it required in reality. But because I understood equivalency I knew that “any effort towards the final goal” is better than “no effort”. Putting in something will take me a step further. Writing one page will put me closer to the final 350 pages, even if I can only do one per day. Learning five Kanji on  a low energy day still takes me towards the 2,136 I need to learn. Equivalency allows me to give myself space to “do less” but still “do”and understand that the body and mind have their own rhythms and fatigue, stress and disbelief in one’s self is pretty much inevitable in the face of any major challenge and must be expected, not surprising. This allowed me to somewhat ‘ignore’ how terrible I was feeling and do some writing anyways and finish this book. I’m using the same type of techniques with Japanese.

Equivalency and my current Japanese journey

My first month of my Japanese revamp was explosively productive (1009 Kanji memorized in 34 days) however, the toll based on everything i’d done to this point hit me all at once(books, singing etc), and I’ve suffered for it for several weeks. Ambitious projects always bring with them the demands of such ambition.

I was doing too much testing and it was overwhelming. It is very hard to memorize large numbers of Kanji in a day, THEN learn large numbers of new words via ANKI (or otherwise) while doing 5-8 hours of immersion per day. I grossly underestimated the demands on the brain which i’ve put in my notes.

Though it was disappointing I was hit with such bad fatigue while on this journey, I realized that a slight “delay” in what i’m doing doesn’t change the end result and  I cannot blame myself for what my body does on occasion. This process still takes 8-10 weeks, and will for anyone who does not have the mental demands of testing, designing and implementing such a program.

What i’ve found relative to the idea of “equivalency” and “consistency” is that much lower daily numbers consistently relative to certain tasks is better than anything with burnout potential. Meaning, if i’m tired and can only muster up one page a day for three days, I still have three pages, which is better than quitting for three days and having nothing. With Japanese, it is better to learn 5 Kanji a day for three days instead of having to learn those 15 in one sitting, which could be another 15 in a separate sessions, bringing you to 30 in total in the same time period. “Saving up time” to do a thing does not give you any equivalency, as you cannot get back the time that has passed. Using it, to whatever extent, is equivalent to something, which is always better than nothing.

I was trying to do too many words too early (50 per day while doing Kanji) and it became overwhelming. I’ve found that 10-20 are extremely manageable. By my estimation, worrying about “50 per day” has already cost me the memorization of about 800 words, which could have been learned in the same time (with far less stress) at a rate of 10-20 per day. I will make more notes on this, but the problem here is that 10-20 per day might feel “slow” in a sense, but what I’ve found it that is unusually difficult to learn 50 words per day if it is not your entire focus. NOTHING else can really take up much mental room and with my regular life, learning Kanji and immersion, there isn’t that much room for much else and I started to pay for it mentally. My best Kanji days have always been when I (a) start very early (b)  focus on NOTHING but Kanji (i.e literally no distractions) and it is on those days I easily hit 50. Anytime I start looking up words, or doing “other stuff” everything slows to a crawl. So to ensure 50 Kanji days means ignoring everything else. I am certain there are individuals who can do it all in one day everyday unendingly, but I am not one of them, it gets too stressful and I’d rather guide someone on surefire methodologies versus those guaranteed to ensure burnout and frustration.

As a last example.

10-20 words per day has an average of 15 words per day. this equals 450 words per month, by 3 equals 1,350 words. Since the Kanji memorization process shouldn’t take more than 8-10 weeks, if you only did 15 words per day you’d have a very solid 900 word vocabulary. However, by proxy, you are going to learn another 300 or so (it just always happens that way). So that’s 1,200 words (easily) memorized in about 8-10 weeks. Then when you focus heavily on vocabulary, you can push it up to 50 words per day. Now you will be at 1,500 words plus 900  at the end of your next month which equals 2,400 words after 3 months and 3,900 at the 4 month mark. By month 5 you are almost at the coveted 5,000 word mark. There is no “downside” to knowing 3,900 word after 4 months. It will only feel slow insofar as your perception of the acquisition of data in the beginning, in the same way writing a few pages a day feels like you are going nowhere in terms of completing a full novel. But here’s the thing: the time will pass anyway, so give yourself ‘something’ for the time that reaps benefits in the future. 

The four months will pass. If you were trying to learn 2,000 Kanji in 8 weeks and 3,000 words at the same time and crash and burn out after 8 weeks, a person moving at a 40% reduced pace will reach the same place in just a month’s time without the headache and mental strain. There is NO VALUE in mental burnout. Just like a lot of people I want to learn “fast” but I sometimes forget that taking 4 months to reach a high proficiency in a language is basically light speed all things considered. Nothing of any major consequence can come from just 30 days. It’s really around day 90 you will start to see everything add up. 90 days goes in the blink of an eye regardless.

This recent round of near burnout reminded me of my main principle that slipped between the cracks while doing my testing: Patience is your greatest asset in the acquisition of large amounts of data. 

Learning large amount of data takes time. It does not have to take a significant period of time (a few months ) which means you have to reframe what you define as “slow” or “fast”. Learning thousands of words in four months in monstrously fast, however “slow” it might feel in the beginning. You’ll start to really get excited when your vocabulary doubles and then things start kicking into high gear.

So in summary, we must internally understand that what we put in directly results in what we get, but also ensure that we give ourselves minimums to foolproof our final goal. We will strive to do our best each day, but also guarantee that on “bad days” we hit minimums that ensure we still finish. Give yourself “something” each day and it still adds up to the total. I’m presently at 1,530 Kanji fully memorized despite my month of terrible fatigue. I only have 520 or so left, which I know won’t take more than 2 weeks. So now I look forward to achieving on of the greatest goals i’ve ever set out to in my life in about 12 weeks. Anyone following the methods will be able to do it easily in 8-10 guaranteed and I will go into that later.

Okay thats my update. I’m going to see about learning some Kanji now.

Revised Kanji for today 311 of my daily 1000 reps


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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