A quickie today, as the keeper was late arriving at Bug’s petting zoo, then the traffic was bad on my way home. Also, at noon I’ll be online, chatting in Swedish. More about that in a moment.
So, New Year, new start, right?
My wife and kids spent the last month asking me what my New Year resolutions were going to be.
Seems they felt friendly enough to want to talk to me, but with no mutual conversation topics coming to mind, they asked the same thing as in previous Decembers. Just to have something festive to say.
At New Year I always used to make grand plans for the new year. Originally that would have been ambitious work stuff, in later decades middle-age good health tips (don’t smoke!), and more recently, lists of things that needed to be put in order in case I popped my clogs unexpectedly.
But you know how it is with New Year resolutions: by about the tenth of January, they’ve been abandoned, or are looking no more than vaguely aspirational, at best.
My eldest daughter told my wife in a Whatsapp chat to wish me luck with my resolutions. When I heard about this, I was suprised. Which resolutions? You know, Stefi insisted – lose weight, drink less, exercise more, be happier. Sofia says good luck with that!
That was last year, I replied. Kids, huh?
Last year I did indeed decide to lose weight, drink less, exercise more and be happier. And what happened?
I put on five kilos, barely made a single abstemious day, was in pain for months after a hernia operation so walked hardly at all, and work was hell.
But therein lies a life lesson, of sorts, at least.
After all, I hadn’t actually set out to put on five kilos, and didn’t change my eating/drinking habits that radically. Being laid up with stitches in my groin, and no pain killers, wasn’t exactly my choice either. And doing customer service all year reliably makes me miserable, as it would anyone, given that a minority of ebook customers are so unremittingly STUPID and UNGRATEFUL. Mentioning no names.
The life lesson being that change seems more likely to result from cumulative small actions than from grandiose plans.
Turns out that enjoying a cold beer and a couple of handfuls of mixed nuts at six p.m. every day, for a year, had the predictable effect of boosting my already-expanding waistline.
And once I’d stopped walking daily, starting again was hard. Summer was too hot, in autumn/fall we had Bug to look after, the winter ditto. I just never really got started again. Properly, I mean. So that exercising became part of my day, routine, effortless, fun even.
You know what I mean, I expect.
But the cumulative effects of small things can be good as well as bad, as I was reflecting in the traffic this morning, while listening to the news headlines in Swedish. Five, or was it six, years ago I was a total beginner in that language, while now, having done no courses and spent virtually no time in Sweden, I can get a lot of what I hear without even noticing. Magic!
Here’s a top tip for reading/listening practice, by the way. Last night I had a burst of Bug-induced insomnia, either before or after the four a.m. biberon, I forget. So I wasted an hour reading The Guardian on my smartphone, as you do, and saw a story about violence and turmoil in Ecuador, a country which until now I couldn’t even spell. I ignored it.
But then, in the car this morning? Same story, in Swedish. Again, I wasn’t particularly interested, but couldn’t help but pick up the details, which I must have unconsciously absorbed when deciding not to bother reading the Guardian article – armed men broke into a TV studio, a state of national emergency, etc.
If you know what people are likely to be talking about, following what you’re hearing/reading in your new language is much easier. Trump featured, too, as he always does. And there was something about shooting down missiles in the Red Sea. And Swedish people moaning about how badly the authorities had handled last week’s snow-induced traffic chaos.
Anyway, where was I? Small things bad and good that can have cumulative effects. I listen to the language(s) I’m learning every day, if I can. I read sometimes, at least the notifications on my smart phone. I do conversation regularly (just Swedish at the moment). I study never. End result? Honestly, it’s surprised me how much I’ve learned!
Do one new small thing. Make it so small it’ll be impossible to fail at. For instance, if you’re an exercise freak, have your smartphone playing live Italian radio – not stupid exercises or ‘learn Italian’ podcasts in English – while you’re working out.
Not a fitness nut? Subscribe to and read/listen to the FREE bulletins of ‘easy’ Italian news (see below for details).
Don’t study them. Don’t look up the words you don’t know, don’t pause the audio and go back to listen again. Just read/listen to the whole thing, then stop.
Repeat if you can be bothered, otherwise go for a walk, or drink beer.
Ten minutes, three times a week, fifty-two weeks a year, makes TWENTY-FIVE HOURS of reading/listening practice, for zero money. Done ‘my way’, it should be effortless, too. How could that not help?
Do a small thing. See if it sticks, see if it becomes a habit. If not, don’t fret. Try something else. Maybe that’ll work for you.
Then repeat the process – add other small things when you have the bandwidth, and no diapers to change.
Think long term – five years from now, maybe – and perhaps by then you’ll have a portfolio of small things you do regularly (listen to the news, do online conversation, read newspapers, etc.) that will, without you really noticing, change your life.
I suppose I should quit with the nuts, at least…
Alla prossima settimana.
Did you read/listen to Tuesday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news?
Subscribers get three bulletins each week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If you make a habit of reading/listening to them, within a few months you’ll notice your comprehension skills are improving.
Both the bulletins, and subscribing to receive them via email, are FREE.