Make it Impossible to Fail
A few weeks have passed since New Years, which means most people have already given up on their resolutions for this year. Despite the desire to change and improve, either through diet and exercise or through learning something new (like Japanese!), most people find it extremely difficult to break free from the habits they have already formed. If it's your routine to sleep in and rush straight to work each morning, then you'll have a really tough time convincing your body to wake up early to exercise - no matter how much you want it.
So how is anyone supposed to succeed when it comes to making big goals? What has always worked for me, and what will work for you, is to focus on changing your environment. You need to put yourself into situations where it is impossible for you to fail to stick to your commitment. So how do you do that?
1. Remove temptations and distractions.
If you were attempting to go on a diet, I would tell you to toss out all of your junk food. But since this site is all about learning Japanese, what you'll be tossing out is... English. Or Spanish. French. Whatever other languages you know, get rid of them. You're not allowed to use them. This means music, books, TV, everything that you have in any other language needs to GO.
If you're sitting at home feeling bored and lazy, what will you grab? The volume of Japanese manga that requires thought and use of a dictionary or the book that is conveniently already in your native language? Pretty obviously you're going to end up reading the native language book. Okay, just kidding, we know you're going to end up mindlessly browsing the internet and not even remember what you looked at for the 3 hours you sit there. Which is my point:
Toss out the distractions and use your time to achieve the goal you set for yourself.
2. Put yourself in the right place.
If this site was about developing an exercise habit, I would tell you to start by making the goal to be dressed and ready for running. Don't worry about going running - that isn't your goal. Your goal is simply to be dressed in running clothes, have your running shoes on, and go stand in front of your house. Once you've done that much, the running itself is just an afterthought. Might as well do it.
So since this site isn't about running, let's apply the same plan to learning Japanese. Make it your goal to sit down at your desk with a cup of coffee, tea, or water. Clear away anything that you don't need for studying Japanese. Now get out your Japanese studying tools - open Anki, pull up the Reviewing the Kanji website, grab a volume of Yotsubato! from the shelf, get out some graph paper and a pen, etc. That is your goal. To be sitting there at your desk ready to learn Japanese.
Once you've done all that, you might as well do some learning!
3. Make it your goal to START, not to finish.
I work as a translator, so every day I have a stack of documents that I know I need to get through. If I look at the stack as a whole and think, "This is what I have to do today," I get so psyched out that I can't even begin to work. The only way that I can get my head back into my work is to shove the stack somewhere out of sight and focus on one sheet at a time. This is what you need to do for learning Japanese.
Forget about how much there is to learn.
Forget about how much you don't know.
Make it your goal to show up and START learning something new. One new word at a time. One sentence at a time. One page of manga at a time. Start at the most basic level and allow yourself to build into the process.
4. Remember why you are doing this.
Learning another language can be hard work, so you need constant reminders of WHY you are investing so much effort into the process. For me this meant buying a bunch of Japanese books and adding them to my bookshelf. When I needed to remember why I was learning Japanese, I could look at the books I wanted to read one day - they were my end goal. So if your goal is to visit Japan, get some posters of places you want to go. If your goal is to be able to play games, read books, etc, go ahead and buy that media and put it somewhere that you'll see it often.
5. Remember what you've already done.
The entire process of learning Japanese comes down to starting. If you can start learning, then you can become fluent. If you have learned one kana, then you already know how to learn the rest. If you have learned one kanji, then you already know how to learn the rest. If you have learned one word, well... you get the idea. Learning Japanese is all about showing up and starting the process each day. Remember what you've already achieved and take comfort in the fact that you CAN do this.
This is actually a big part of why I strongly suggest learning with native Japanese media. If after a few months of learning you are able to struggle your way through a manga like Yotsubato!, which was written for native Japanese speakers, then YOU HAVE ALREADY SUCCEEDED! You've already proven that you are capable of understanding native level Japanese and that success and experience will carry you through the rest of your learning.
If you surround yourself with Japanese, becoming fluent is inevitable. That's why immersion is so powerful, and that's why it's impossible to fail. Change your environment to reflect your goals and you will never allow yourself to fail.