Personal story: learning how to build capacity
I am currently on an over 200-day streak on Duolingo. I have been taking Spanish lessons on the Duolingo app, albeit unreligiously, for the last 235 days. While I am not nearly as fluent in Spanish as much as I aim for, the truth is that I am not clueless either. Disculpe, por favor. Gracias muy bien! 😊 I feel like if native Spanish speakers were talking about something really juicy next to me in loud tones and they drawled just a little bit on their pronunciations, I would be able to get the gist.
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I remember when I first started my learning streak again (I once lost a 215-day streak because I went for a night out and I couldn’t be asked to open duo-freaking-lingo until after the two days it took me to sober up and by which time, the streak freeze had expired) in January, I imagined that I wouldn’t have a hard time doing the lessons and especially decided what time of day would be best for me to practice and how this would help my learning. After all, this wasn’t my first rodeo and so I had a whole routine planned out and it was going to be great, or so I thought.
In 2020, during the peak of the pandemic, I told myself that I was not going to be like the rest of the world. I decided I would be the exception and not let the woes of LockyD (cool kids lingo for ‘lockdown’, you’re welcome) get to me. And how did I go about this? At the time, I read an article on the pocket app that emphasized the importance of taking cold showers in the morning and how if you do that, you are more likely to stay alert and achieve all your goals. I had not yet given up on life at the time and still wanted to achieve my goals and so I said, why not? cold showers, here I come.
It was a disaster.
I would wake up super early and turn my shower down to baltic temperatures, as specified by my reference article and I would immediately stop breathing. Not like I wanted to consciously stop breathing, I wasn’t suicidal or anything. But I realized the force of the cold water on my body, especially my face was so great that instead of being able to inhale/exhale like a normal person, my breath would automatically freeze. I pride myself to be a very methodical person that likes to see most things through and this was why even though the cold showers were gradually reducing my lifespan, I persevered.
For seven days, in total.
On the last day after I had finished crying my eyes out in the bathroom before I had to get in the shower, I looked at myself in the mirror and asked my reflection, ‘what is your problem?’ I didn’t have any plausible answer to that question and so I said that I was done trying to stay alert because what was even the point when the rest of the entire world was going to shambles anyway?
That was the last time I ever took a cold shower again until 2022. Now let me tell you how I got back into doing something I swore I would never do again: I read another article. To be fair, I am always reading all kinds of articles, good and questionable ones, and I never seem to stop trying to practice the things I read from them. Anyway, I read another article and I am not even going to lie, this one changed my life FOR EVER. I can’t remember exactly how this was written or who even wrote it, but the crux that I took out of it, which has now become the basis of my life’s mantra is: how important it is to build capacity for things.
When I first started learning Spanish, I failed to factor in the possibility that I could ever burn out from it because I thought what I needed instead was to quickly learn as many words as I could and that was the only path to fluency. I have always known that there’s such a thing as doing too much, too soon but I thought it was only reserved for big things, and not something like learning a whole ass new language (yeah, that was sarcasm). This was the exact reason why after my initial 215-day streak, I couldn’t string one sensible Spanish sentence together without seeming like an idiot. At the time, I only cared about learning many words and maintaining my daily streaks. For me, the actual learning was secondary, and I just wanted to be able to show my workings without actually understanding the works. Ughh, can you imagine my state of mind?
So when I started taking cold showers again, I made sure to ease myself into it first. I started off by taking my normal hot showers and then finish the last five seconds of my shower with cold water. I did that for like two days. Gradually, I started finishing off my last one minute of the shower with cold water. Eventually graduated to two minutes and now it’s two and a half minutes, which is a huge upgrade from five seconds 🎉. This way, I am much better off than when I started because I have allowed myself, and my body to get used to the idea of something so foreign. Instead of my earlier guerilla tactics in 2020, I have successfully found a way to build capacity for what I want to achieve without expecting immediate results as I would originally have. And the same goes for my Spanish lessons. Some days, I am unable to do more than one lesson and other days, I do ten. But I make sure to extend grace to myself on either days.
To this day, I still can’t take full-on cold showers. Neither have I nearly hacked native speaker Spanish fluency. However I am doing much better than I used to; because I acknowledge the importance of starting small and allowing myself to take one step at a time. Because in the end, what matters most is not how far we have come but how well we have done it. And that only becomes valid when we have allowed ourselves to expand in little ways that only become apparent in the bigger frame.
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