You can do anything for [insert desired length of time]!

By Erica Harris

Think about a long trip you’ve taken. Maybe you’ve had a 10+ hour drive or flight. Even though it’s a long time to travel, you did okay. You settled in, had your entertainment options ready, and made the time pass somehow. The hours went by, and you were feeling fine until the end of the trip. By hour 9, maybe you were getting restless and ready to get to your destination. By the time the 10 hours were up, you probably couldn’t wait to get out of the car or plane and do something, anything else!

Now let’s say you had to drive or fly for 2 hours to get to your destination. For the first hour, you’re fine. But in hour 2, you’re feeling exactly like you did in hour 9 of your long trip — you just want to arrive and finish traveling! It doesn’t matter that the time is much shorter on this trip. There’s something about getting close to the end of an experience (regardless of the length) that brings out our impatience.

You might ask, “What does this have to do with language learning?” Well, when you study something (like a second language) intensively, that same impatience comes out when you’re almost finished with a term. Maybe you studied for 5 weeks, or maybe it was a longer 15-week semester. When the end is in sight, you just want to be DONE! But the problem is the end of a term usually brings with it much more work, especially important projects and exams. It can be very hard to find the motivation to finish at all, let alone to finish strong. The final assignments feel more burdensome than they did earlier in the term, and you’re more likely to view them as a hurdle rather than a benefit to your studies and learning goals. At the end of a term, you might forget all the motivating factors about why you’re doing this in the first place. Instead, you’re just focused on finishing  and all the joys it will bring you! When I’m done, I can sleep! I can do fun activities! I can binge watch Netflix and never have to write another paper! Everything will be so much better when I’m done!

How do you find the motivation to finish strong? A good start is to remind yourself that the end is near, and the hard work won’t last forever. A simple phrase I use with my students (and in my own life!) is “you can do ANYTHING for 2 weeks” (or for 2 months, or 1 week, or 2 days, etc.)! This reminds me that the final push has an ending, even if the work is intense for a time. Telling myself I can do anything for a period of time helps to put it in perspective. Yes, right now it feels overwhelming. It might not feel exciting or interesting or motivating right now, but it IS possible. I can do it!

This shift of mindset can help us get through a challenging stretch in our lives when the end is in sight. It’s normal to get restless when you’re about to finish something. The challenge is to keep going and not quit until the end. Then, after you’ve finished your hard work and are enjoying that fun activity you were longing for, you can look back and feel that sense of pride in what you accomplished. You did it! ✓

Thank you, Erica, for your contributions to our AESEnglish, our AES community, and our students!