How to do ‘Impossible’ Things in ‘Impossible’ Timeframes

 

The video below is of me writing all 2,136 Jouyou Kanji from the approved government list (+100 more) from memory, using only the english keyword for each Kanji to write them.

In July of this year, after a whirlwind period of an extreme 90 days of productivity where I wrote two full novels and taught myself to sing, I gained a very sharp perspective of productivity relative to the use of time and effort. I made this shift after getting a nugget from a book called The One Thing, where it spoke about what you get very good at you spend the majority of your day working on at a minimum of 4 hours per day. This struck a chord with me, having previously done Herculean tasks in short periods of time, but I never “tracked my time”. Having realized that I did these things (with great results but not consistent discipline) I knew that I would be able to set a goal, lock in the time and get things done .

The “impossible” is often “impossible” first in thought. The very nature of impossibility is what leads humans to try and do what is considered ‘unrealistic’ or ‘undoable’. The majority of website and ‘experts’ would probably say that in 1-2 years a person can learn all the Jouyou Kanji, which compared to 10 years for the average Japanese growing child, is quite “fast”. I however, have determined that one does not need more than 8-12 weeks to complete this task, which many would consider ‘impossible’. I made my video timestamps to prove my hypotheses to myself primarily, and to have evidence of what I was doing for general perusal, as I continue my testing.

The idea of “impossible” is first and always conceptual. We all know about Roger Bannister and the 4 minute mile and I won’t bore you with that story. The part of his story that is significant is that he became obsessed with the methodology of the structure of a mile-long race. Its wasn’t really just running “flat out”, you had different phases of the race that you would slow down a bit, speed up and so on. The race had a kind of “physical equation” that Bannister became obsessed with, that ultimately gave him the technique to break the barrier. History has shown that people like Bannister, who obsess over details that may seem minuscule or unimportant to others, are the ones who have significant breakthroughs. I think there are a few steps to attempting the impossible, which I will run through below:

Step 1: Decide To Do The Impossible

“Impossible” in this context, is really something that might seem far beyond you  and your abilities personally. It does not have to be something that is considered impossible by everyone. For example, I looked at the timelines for learning to read and write Kanji, and I knew  it could be done in a fraction of the time it takes a dedicated student to learn. Not months, or years, but weeks. This required a lot of thinking about my research, coming up with a strategy that i’d have to test — within a certain timeline. The “impossible” task here, is hitting at least 1000 with full memorization in the first month, (which means it can be done in the second). Having done that, I had hit an ‘impossible’ goal in what is considered an ‘impossible’ timeline, and I documented my progress. But it was deciding to do it that was my first step.

Step 2: Understand and Master all parameters of Your Goal

In 2013 I decided to write three full novels in one calendar year, which I did in around 8 months. One of these novels, I wrote to completion in 17 days. My book is entitled Naked As The Day, and is set in Japan circa the mid 2000’s. My goal was to write a minimum of 140 pages manuscript length, which would translate to around 275 pages for my paperback novel. There were many things about this process that were optimal: Upon finishing my first novel, entitled Sex, Drugs & Jerk Chicken, the main driver for finishing that book was my second. I was bursting at the seams with the story, ideas and timeline. I was unusually primed to write it but committed to finishing the first novel first. I did not immediately write this novel after finishing the first one. It was after noticing a month or two had passed that I got into gear. I assessed the parameters of my goal:

  1. Readiness

I saturated my mind with Japanese novels, reading five of them in two days. I did this by taking a simple internet tutorial that increases your reading speed by 300%. I read very fast normally, and this increase allowed me to read an entire novel in about an hour and a half tops. I read all these books to saturate my brain with good writing which made it far less likely to “stick” or get stuck as long as my plot and outline were good.

2. Minimum

I stuck to a daily minimum of 10 pages per day. This allowed me to project hitting 140 in two weeks. In this 17 day period, I took two days to sort out some character conflicts (no writing) and then finished the novel. My daily minimum was the measurement by which I knew I’d reach my goal. This is similar to my Kanji strategy, where I calculated a Time Per Kanji number that allowed me to see how long it would take me per day to learn a certain number of Kanji and what time that ultimately translated into.

3. Execution

I set the stage for the execution, ensuring that I would be doing nothing but writing for two weeks. This meant I would have no distractions, interruptions, unnecessarily used energy, etc. For some people this may take quite some time to organize, but I had to set things up in my favor. It’s hard to write ten pages a day if you spend eight or nine of them occupied with other tasks. fortunately, I had the disposable time to do so when I made this goal. I stuck to the timeline and hit it in 17 days. I then spent a week and a half designing the cover, editing the book and releasing it before the end of the calendar year.

 

Step 3: Prime Your Psychology for the end result

When you seek to do something either you have never done or others have never done, it is important that you do not create conflicts for yourself by doing any research relating to anyone else (or their ideas or opinions ) while you test yourself with your task. I had no need to learn “writing hacks”, or go through forums watching people argue about learning Japanese. I knew my research was sound and that my true task was testing it, which would take months of my life. But it was an exciting and stimulating challenge, that i’ve been mentally preparing for over the years. I set these goals with the full knowledge that I could do it. If anyone would stop me, it would be me. This type of confidence usually comes from unusual visualization, or previous successes. For me it was a mix of both. In my previous writing, i’d had a day where I wrote 37 pages of a novella in a day, and another time I stuck to 20 pages a day for five days and knocked out the majority of a scifi manuscript. I also had another period I wrote 110 page novella in about a week. I’d hit these goals randomly and never thought much about them. But when I set my novel goals, I knew I could handle the workload. So all the other factors, plot, story, writing, characters, dialogue and style I’d just have to trust my abilities. But i’m a pretty good writer, so I had no issues there. So I was primed to execute. Likewise with this Japanese project, as I started mapping out my research on occasion I had some doubts. Not doubts about the research, but doubts about the demand of what I was trying to do. I asked myself would this be teachable? Would it be duplicatable? Even after writing six novels it was this Japanese project that took (and is still taking) the most discipline I’ve ever had to use in my life. But this discipline came from a vastly superior personal psychology. The reason for that was my success with German in 2020 after my third attempt at learning the language. I took a vastly different approach, made incredible commitments to my methods, ensured to lower my stress levels as best as I could, worked hard at consistency (though I failed miserably at times) and more importantly, I saw the results, that after 4.5 months I was able to watch German speeches, play video games and listen to Germans speak on a variety of subjects (in German). I even gave up at this point (I got frustrated with myself), a point that most people would think was “fantastic”, and maybe eight months later dove back into it, realized I could listen to podcasts and took my comprehension to another level, which also leveled up my speaking skills, even though I hadn’t spoken to anyone. Mind you, this entire course of study was not done with the level of discipline I have now. When studying German, I took well over 250 pages of notes on all my observations and started to understand on a very deep level a problem i’d identified with every language I’d learned previously, which revolves around what I call  “large data”. As I tested things that didn’t work and those that did, I realized I could see when to “expect” shifts. I started to be able to predict when I’ make gains and what it would take to get there. I redefined the entire process of learning from what i’d known before, redefined my goals and I got fantastically different results.

Let me make something clear. I thought learning German was impossible. When I looked at the funky grammar rules, words that split in two and jumped to the end of the sentence, the pronunciation, native speech etc, I said to myself “if I could learn this, how would I feel about myself?” That was my initial reason, which i would learn wasn’t strong enough. On my third attempt, I had an epiphany, which leads me to step four of doing the Impossible.

Step 4 Set a Monstrous Personal Goal

I’ve spoken quite a bit about German in my essays because it is the only language that I’ve ever studied that I truly reached to an advanced level in a short period of time. It was the first language where I went from literal “noise” to watching movies and playing video games, hearing lyrics in music and listening to speeches in absolute shock that i was understanding what I was seeing. It was the first time I really “trusted” my research 100%, really dug deep, took courses to help me and more research to clarify things I wanted to solidify and it was the first time I didn’t focus on the timeline as much. I wanted a 90 day success story ( but I didn’t have that level of discipline yet) I did however, have the mental fortitude to test my theories for several months, not realizing my gains because I had not taught myself how to measure my progress properly, which is the most dangerous enemy of such a large task. 

In december of 2018, I had this epiphany. Call it a vision. I “felt” Germany in my heart. I have no idea why. I wasn’t seeing any German girls, I’d never really wanted to live there particularly, and I’d been to Germany for five days a decade before and wasn’t feeling nostalgic. Germany literally was calling to me in the wind. It was christmastime and Jamaica was “cool and nice” as we say. Normally, thinking of learning a language would remind me of all my “failures” in trying to learn previous languages. This would make me get tense, impatient and then start heavily judging myself. But this time, I “knew” I could do it. At the time I was doing an awesome hypnotherapy course that helped to unlock some subconscious blocks I had. Once I shifted a lot of my inner dialogue the first thing my mind said was “you can do this”. But it wasn’t a light feeling, it was quite powerful. I could see myself in Germany, living, working, growing and speaking the language. I couldn’t say a word of it when I had that vision, but it gave me the fuel to test everything I would subsequently. At the time I set a goal of traveling to Germany to stay there for a few months arriving ot the country speaking the language fluently. (this plan got derailed in 2020).

I can’t explain how this feeling and the visuals of Europe guided me through the long hours, the repetitive tasks and the inevitable mental pitfalls. My “vision” and my new sense of self helped me to get much better at consistency and discipline. It showed me that my work and consistency would lead to a result, but after 2020 and my plans to travel to Germany got shot I didn’t feel the same passion within myself. Though I had reached such a high level in a language, I didn’t even want to talk about it, in fact I’ve barely been on Youtube since.

But the goal was the fuel. The goal kept me going after the “impossible”. Learning German was what made me know for a fact I could execute this Japanese plan. The different between 2020 and 2021 is that in the first 6 months of 2021, I developed such incredible discipline in terms of writing two novels and learning how to sing I realized 90% of the process was psychological (as I had always suspected) and i’d had such insane results. Psychology is what carries you through the months, the crushing workload and knowing that you won’t start to get rewards for about 3 to 5 months of hard work. After finishing my novel in June, I made  plans to revamp my Japanese learning, because this time I knew I had the discipline, methodology and psychology to execute it. I knew exactly what to do and when, where it would take me and what to expect along the way. All that stood in front of me was truckloads of work, work I had done before so many times without success with inefficient methods, until my third attempt at German. So I set the goal of learning all 2,136 Kanji in 8-12 weeks to then be able to repeat the same methods I used with learning German to get to an advanced level of comprehension.

As I enter what I call “phase II” of this process, which is vocabulary, I had to really sit and think about what I was doing, and ask myself what my major goal was. Gone are the days I’d put in monstrous effort and “give up”. My research is too sound, and I’m too aware of what i’m doing correctly to even entertain thoughts of failure. A core understanding I have is that great success always comes with the right effort, understanding the parameters and executing it relentlessly. 

This psychology is what all successful learners have. One does not need the “perfect” system to do anything, but it is far better to have a very efficient system. My interest has always been in “rapid language acquisition” and it has already been demonstrated that one can master a new language in a very short period of time, anywhere from 3 months to 6 months. So after finishing the 2,136 Kanji, I almost wondered “what was next” even though I already mapped out my next 2 phases. I had to really look at my goal to see if it was big enough. One of my goals is to play Zelda Breath of the Wild in Japanese, but I realized it wasn’t enough. Even though this meant learning a minimum of 5,000 words and clocking in around 750 hours of listening time with a max of 1000 I came to the realize it wasn’t really my complete goal. Not enough to charge me up and push me through everything I’m doing. I already know that once I expose myself to say, 4500 words, Japanese, just like German will start to become extremely comprehensible (75%-90% depending on context) which means i’d be able to play Zelda. But after finishing the Jouyou Kanji I realized that I am not a gamer per se. I own a Nintendo Switch that I barely use and I rarely play games. So why the hell is my main goal to play a game in Japanese? To be fair, I love Zelda games. To be able to play Breath of the Wild, heralded as probably the best Zelda game EVER, in Japanese would be an incredible feeling.

Because I’m not a gamer, I realized that this couldn’t be the only goal, and I had to make some adjustments and add more things. But it was Zelda that set the tone for what i’m doing and I’m still looking forward to that day when I’ll be able to fire up my Switch and handle the game in Japanese. I think that day might be another 8 weeks away based on my estimations, but that’s not too bad based on my timeline of starting in mid July. You see, the good thing about the primary gaol is that the ability to play and understand the game would reflect mastery of the language to a certain extent. It would confirm so much to me. In the same way I played games like Doom and Ni No Kuni in German, there was a comfort and pride in knowing that I’d taken myself to that level of ability through sheer effort. It’s a very nice place to look forward to reaching. So i’ve added a few other cool goals to give me more things to look forward to, things related to speaking, expressing myself, travel possibly and others. Just like my German vision, I’ve created a Japanese vision for myself that allows these tasks, the essay writing and all my research to feel like its feeding something big and fantastic.

So.

In conclusion, doing the Impossible for yourself is something you should attempt often in your life. Going far beyond  your own boundaries and expectations, to open up new doors to opportunities you cannot even see now. All my research (German + Japanese) has now given me a very clear window into another potential methodology that I can’t even test yet, i’m months away from that (because i’m still doing Japanese and still have two phases to finish). But the “impossible” is what makes you wake up in the morning knowing you are trying to do something worthwhile. I’ve spend the entire day doing research today and feel good because I know its all from the culmination of years and years of trial and error. I’ve finally started to answer all the questions that tripped me up when trying to learn Japanese (originally), French, German (originally) and Russian. In fact, my Russian experiment was going amazingly well, I stopped at week five due to health issues and frustration with the state of my life (pyschology). My lack of progress had ZERO to do with method, but language requires so much work that it will consume a large portion of your life. To make this commitment is to commit to changing your entire life for the goal. If you don’t do that, it will become harder and harder to do as you will see it as a chore, a drag, stressful, instead of exciting, inspiring and exhilarating.

My current ability to comfortably read Kanji with the knowledge I can quickly memorize any new Kanji I learn has made me quite relaxed. My knowledge that I can “train words” and expose myself to thousands quickly let’s me look forward to see when these words start “activating” in speech, which makes me look forward to the day, maybe in a month a half, when i”ll be watching some Japanese media and i’ll be shocked that I understand so much, having been able to understand anything only months before. That’s what I like about the impossible.

and you will too.

 

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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