Goals Check-In: Am I Doing What I Said I’d Do?

 

As you probably know, I like announcing my goals here on the blog, as I find public accountability works pretty well for me.

Or does it?

Studies have shown that many people who announce their goals publicly are actually less likely to achieve them1. Apparently our brains mistake the pats on the back we receive for making such big, public commitments to our goals for the positive rush of actually accomplishing them.

So in this post I’m going to update you on some goals I’ve announced here on the blog over the past eighteen months, and we’ll see just how full of shit I am ;-)

1. The five tongues of awesome

First announced in July of last year, this is my goal to become fluent in the five most widely-spoken languages in the world: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi-Urdu, and Arabic. And by “fluent”, I mean good enough to deliver an effective speech to 100 native speakers in each language.

I did give myself until the age of 40 to accomplish this goal (so I still have another 9.5 years), but over the past twelve months I’ve done virtually nothing to progress.

I’ve also been reconsidering which languages to learn. To me, becoming fluent in another language is really only valuable if it allows me to communicate with a large amount of people I wouldn’t otherwise be able to communicate with. Having traveled around India for several weeks now, I don’t see much use in learning Hindi, since most people I meet here speak very good English (and many people in the south don’t speak Hindi at all).

All in all though, I’m still very interested in becoming multilingual. This goal is always in the back of my mind, but I doubt I’ll make any big progress on it until I get to South America (hopefully by 2014) and immerse myself in Spanish again.

2. Travel around the world without flying

I wrote recently about crossing the one-year mark with this goal. I’m stuck in India at the moment, trying to find a way to Southeast Asia, but my determination hasn’t wavered and I’m still loving the journey.

3. Learn touch typing

Back in February I wrote that I was going to work hard to improve my touch typing speed, having realized that my “hunt and peck” method of typing was highly inefficient. I’m pretty happy with how far I’ve come since. I committed to 20 minutes a day of touch typing practice (mostly using TIPP10), and I don’t think I missed a day for about six months. As a result, I’ve improved my typing speed to an average of about 72 words per minute, and I continue to get faster.

4. Add muscle

The original goal, as stated back in May: Add 20 lbs of muscle in two months on a vegetarian diet. I ended up adding about 12 lbs, as reported here.

I didn’t give up on muscle-building after that though. I kept going to the gym regularly while in Kathmandu and since I’ve been here in Kochi I’ve been doing body weight exercises five mornings out of six. I have no idea what weight I am now, but I’m pretty happy with how I look. When I get to Thailand and get settled there I’ll join another gym and keep a closer measure of how I’m progressing.

Who knows, I might even post more photos of me in my underwear! (If you’re looking for the subscribe form, it’s here :-P)

5. Become a paid newspaper columnist

The original goal, as stated back in July: Become a paid columnist for a national print publication in Ireland. I was hoping to accomplish that within a month, which, in hindsight, was way too optimistic.

I tracked the time I spent working on this goal, and it amounted to almost 17 hours in July alone, and several more since. I made dozens of phone calls to newspaper and magazine editors in Ireland, emailed them article pitches, recorded personalized videos, sent them postcards… pretty much everything I could think of. So far the only success I’ve had was getting a second article published in the Irish Examiner.

I have to admit that my enthusiasm for this goal has waned a bit. All that effort and very few positive results takes its toll. I’ve put it on the back-burner for now, but may take another crack at it when I get settled in Thailand.

6. Operation Kathmankok (a.k.a. the traveling book launch)

The original goal, as stated back in August: Travel from Kathmandu to Bangkok without flying while prelaunching my book in four parts and having the whole thing released for reals by October 1st.

I’m behind schedule on this. Neither of the two routes I proposed for traveling to Bangkok worked out as I’d hoped, and so I’m still left searching for a way to get there without flying.

I did start prelaunching the book, and you can now download all four parts for free via the Kathmankok Facebook group (please send me your feedback!). I plan to have the whole thing polished up and available for sale on Amazon by November 1st.

7. Increase income to €3,000 a month

I announced this goal only about a month ago. While I don’t have anything concrete to report yet, so far I feel like it’s going pretty well.

In many ways, I actually feel like this is the most important goal of all for me right now. If I can play it smart and manage to increase my income without increasing my workload, I’ll have much more time and energy to spend on the vast amount of things I want to learn and experience.

Let’s review

So overall, how have I fared with the above goals? If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I’d have to say not very well.

I seem to have a tendency to be over-optimistic when setting such goals, believing I can make progress on them much faster than I usually do. I’m not sure if this over-optimism is such a bad thing though. I wonder if I would have even attempted some of the above goals in the first place if I’d been more realistic in estimating the time and effort required to achieve them.

I’m inclined to take comfort in that old optimists’ creed: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

Still, I’ll try to keep in mind my newly-exposed track record of goal achievement the next time I set a big one. Because it’s too easy to get disheartened down the road when a goal proves much tougher than anticipated.

Reviewed your own goals lately?

Here’s me encouraging you to do a similar review of your own goals. What does your track record look like? How often do you achieve what you set out to achieve? What can you learn from your past experiences to help you set better goals in the future?

Show 1 footnote

  1. Watch Derek Sivers talk about such studies in this 3-minute TED Talk

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50 Comments

  1. I think you’ll find Spanish very useful in South America. When I was last there, even in Brazil (where Portuguese is the primary language), Spanish was offered more often than English to communicate in.

    What were your planned routes between India and Thailand? I assume you haven’t found a way into Burma over land/sea?

    • The first plan was to go through Nepal and Tibet into China, and then down into Southeast Asia. But the Tibetan border was still closed by the time my Nepalese visa expired.

      Plan B was what I’m trying to do now. Unfortunately, there’s no overland crossing between India or Bangladesh and Myanmar.

  2. Yeah, I am running into the same problems as you Nial. I often set too many things to do and then find I have spread myself thin and I do not allow any time for doing sweet f.a. Which is just as important.

    Just to be doing what you are doing is hard enough. Not many people achieve that.

  3. It makes sense. If the opposite were true more people would be achieving new year’s resolutions. However, I can imagine at times it is difficult for a blogger not to share their enthusiasm in a blog post from time to time about future plans and aspirations; not to mention the rush one feels after receiving an avalanche of support and encouragement in the comments and e-mails.

    To paraphrase what I’ve said before if you fall short you have yourself surrounded by a supportive group of people if you ever need assistance in someway.

  4. Well according to my annoucements via facebook I can report and say I’m full of shit a bit. Especially with long term goals. I guess I made the mistake in thinking if I make public announcements that would give me enough incentive to accomplish my goals.

  5. I know I keep harping on this, but I just have never grasped the importance of “not flying”. It’s very arbitrary. You may have well picked something equally silly and pointless like “never wear a red shirt” or “never drink Pepsi products” – because in the end “not flying” is just as silly and meaningless a restriction.

    Hypothetical – say you befriend a hot air balloon pilot who offers you free passage to China in his balloon. You’re telling me you’d turn down that experience and practicality because of your stipulation that you made unknowingly over 2 years ago? Nah man – we’re humans. Part of being a human is having the rationality to adjust. Like when you left that meditation seminar after two days – you made a logical adjustment. You’re being a stubborn mile on this and you should ease up in yourself.

    • Hey Ron,

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment and all, but I’m going to stop responding to you since I’m pretty sure you never read my replies. You brought this up before and I explained my reasoning then. Go back and find that comment if you’re interested.

      • You can ignore me if you want, Niall. It doesn’t change the fact that I’m right in regards to the stupid “no fly” dictum :)

        • Not ignoring, just not seeing the point in explaining myself to you over and over again. I’ve never responded to a comment of yours and heard back, “Oh, okay, now I understand where you’re coming from.”

      • I regretfully and going to support Ron in WI, not about the arbitrary rule of flying but of listening to a dissenting voice. I follow your blog, because you do things people only talk about. Most of us are talk and no action. You are alot of talk and a lot of action. But keep your mind open to dissenting voices, sometimes there is useful wisdom in them. (not necessarily Ron’s ;-) ). I enjoy reading Ron in WI , even if it is to disagree with him.

        • I hear you, Nancy. Like I just responded to Ron, I’m not ignoring the dissenting voices, just giving up explaining myself to those who don’t seem interested in an explanation.

  6. I know I keep harping on this, but I just have never grasped the importance of “not flying”. It’s very arbitrary. You may have well picked something equally silly and pointless like “never wear a red shirt” or “never drink Pepsi products” – because in the end “not flying” is just as silly and meaningless a restriction. When you tell your grand kids about this chapter in your life 50 years from now, they aren’t going to care about the “no flying” part. Hugely politically incorrect, but you’re being illogical like a woman here. 90% of the “noooo don’t give in and fly” comments are by your women readers. Be a man and make the right call to change your restrictions.

    Hypothetical – say you befriend a hot air balloon pilot who offers you free passage to China in his balloon. You’re telling me you’d turn down that experience and practicality because of your stipulation that you made unknowingly over 2 years ago? Nah man – we’re humans. Part of being a human is having the rationality to adjust. Like when you left that meditation seminar after two days – you made a logical adjustment. You’re being a stubborn mile on this and you should ease up in yourself.

    • Another good post Niall. Some great goals.

      Weighing in on the opposite side of the argument, playing devil’s advocate to Ron’s argument…

      I salute Niall’s determination to stick to his guns on the ‘no fly’ stipulation. The point (I think) is that it forces you beyond your comfort zone, pushes you beyond the easy option of buying a ticket, and opens up the doors to the unplanned, unexpected options.

      This ‘need’ to get to Asia, not flying, results in talking with many folk, sailors, travellers, and learning new ways around the problem. Achieving the final destination will be tonnes more rewarding than stepping off the plane.

      I’ve taken similar adventures, e.g. mountain biking 1100k through northern Laos. Mountainous remote jungles, sometimes 90k distances a day were necessary just to get from one remote village to the next. Heavy pack, high heat, and steep, steep mountainous terrain, narrow unsurfaced twisty roads. That’s a lot of pedalling. I could have taken the bus, rented a bike when I got there. Why do the hardship?

      On the way I saw how the real jungle folk pick berries, harvest the natural resources, farm ants and termites for eggs. I saw their slash and burn agriculture. How they use sticks and wood chippings on a path to indicate the route they’ve taken to others that follow behind. And tonnes more. A couple of times, when the nearest town was just too far, I got stuck half way, and was forced to rely on the hospitality of some of the tribe folk. These experiences (encountered on the journey, and not at my destination) turned out to be the highlights of many months of travelling.

      As one of the local tribes people put it, I was no longer a tourist, I was a traveller. Its a different mindset. The local was right. Often, when I reached one of the towns, I’d see the folk who arrived by air-cooled bus to the same destination via the ‘motorway’ (in Laos, motorway is a kind way to describe their road system, but compared to a single-track to the jungle, the road is like the M1). And these folk for the most part were tourists, not travellers. Bored with their cool beers, banana smoothies, same-same t-shirts and souveniers. They didn’t seem to have much appreciation for the land they had just passed through. They were looking to buy the next experience. Show me the trail to cycle my hired bike down. Guide me to the beauty spot so I can take photos of the best bits.

      So, I think it is all about the mind-set. Do you want to be a traveller, or do you want to be a tourist?

      Having said the above, Ron’s point about being able to adjust is a good one. It depends on what you see as the real cost/value tradeoffs. These values are different for everyone. How the equation balances depends on what you choose to measure.

      If you only see the delay, and the hassle, then sure. Buy the ticket. But Niall has a bit of time on his side. Is there a rush?

      If you value the challenge of going beyond comfort-zones, pushing for the unknown/unplanned adventure e.g. a sailing passage. Or if you value the crazy folk you meet and talk with on your search, the ones that identify with your traveller mindset. Folks you wouldn’t ordinarily have needed to talk to had you the mind-set of a tourist. (‘I can just pay my way through these problems, and get the air ticket …’) If these things are valued, they tip the equation in a different direction.

      I hope the above comment goes someway to justify the principle of ‘not flying’.

      Ron still has a very valid point though. It does stand to reason that there ought to be a cut-off point, beyond which you cut your losses. I guess it is all about the trade-offs. It is possible to have several principles at work e.g. make the most of your time, as well as the principle of pushing beyond boundaries. If one principle starts to conflict with the other, sure, questions have to be asked.

      • Really appreciate you sharing your views on that, Bob. Very cool.

        I agree with you that there should be a cut-off point. If at any point this no-fly journey no longer appeals to me, I’ll drop it. But as of right now I’m still enjoying the challenge and the adventure, so I’ll keep on keeping on :-)

  7. Just watched the Siver’s video. As I understand it, the distinction is between “telling” someone your goal, or keeping it secret — not necessarily “writing” it down and making it public or keeping it secret. It might be an important distinction.

    I’m reading “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini. There’s a section on commitment and consistency. In the Korean War, through a series of psychological tactics, the Communist Chinese were very successful in getting American POWs to collaborate with the enemy, i.e. inform on other POWs escape plans, etc. — a striking difference from American POWs in WWII.

    Without going too deeply into how they achieved this, they were able to alter the American POWs commitment to each other, their country, etc., by having them write slightly pro-Communist/slightly anti-American essays. (Some of the essays were broadcast over the prison radio.)

    There’s a huge powerful influence in writing your goals down. I’m going to try a new tactic — writing down my goal each morning. One goal I’m working on is transitioning to a plant-based diet. So I am going to simply write out “I will eat a plant-based diet today.” Hopefully in addition to commitment, the influence of consistency (my eating-habits matching up with my written intention) will help mold my eating habits over time.

  8. I’m reminded of the book I’ve just read, “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman. He posits that most planning is no more than best-case scenario projections. For real planning, he suggeests, search for statistics of similar cases. How long does it take the average person to learn a language?

    • Depends on how much time they put into it. If you do at least an hour a day of effortful study and speaking practice, I’d say you’d be pretty fluent in 6 months, starting from scratch.

      I read a great quote by Eisenhower recently: “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable.”

      • I think you miss my point. You’re using a best case scenario thinking. Have you spoken to an adult who learned a new language to hear how long it took?

        For example, at four hours a week, in a modern, structured course presented by a professional, I learned enough Welsh to be a mere beginner, barely able to follow train announcements.

        • Yeah, I’ve talked to adults who have, but again: It depends.

          Talk to someone like Benny Lewis and he’ll tell you rightly that you can become conversationally fluent in just three months if you immerse yourself and focus on actually speaking the language daily.

          At the other end of the spectrum, you have people who spend four hours a week in a class and hope to become fluent. That’s not nearly enough.

          If I’m going to get back into language learning, I’ll want to commit at least an hour a day to it, with half of that being actual speaking practice. Anything less and I think I’d be wasting my time.

  9. Hey Niall,

    Aren´t you missing a SHITLOAD of other stuf you´re doing? Now one could say that it´s just distractions, but in your case, it´s other stuff that grows your personality and pushes you further, so yes, you might be missing on some of your big goals, but you´re doing so much more.

    And yes, you´re behind on some, but you haven´t given up yet.

    Like the languages one – I think it´s just down to the deadline, it´s too long. No sense of urgency with 10 more years to go. Also it´s pretty vague, maybe your least defined goal – I´ll learn some kind of language in about 10 years…

    How about breaking it down, if you like public commitment so much, short-term is the way. You´ll feel the urgency burning your ass, and you´ll do it, knowing you from your posts ;)

    So how about, “Before end of the year, I´ll speak fluent Spanish”. As you already have a start. And so on.

    Key with goals is breaking vague, big, long term goals, down into achievable and measurable bits that you can give yourself a tap on the shoulder for achieving in a short time.

    But you now all this, so c´mon man, just do it :)

    • Good point!

      I’ve consciously put the languages goal on the back-burner right now because becoming fluent in Spanish isn’t going to be much good to me for the next 18 months or so, since I won’t be in any Spanish-speaking countries. But yeah, when I get closer to South America, I should set a concrete goal with a deadline to motivate me.

  10. I too am full of shit, probably a lot more than you. The thing is, what sets my pants on fire now is so different to one year ago and most likely one year from now. I just think I’m evolving very fast so I don’t like to pin myself down to anything specific. In reality, if I’m that passionate about something I tend to follow through on it, if not, then it’s just not meant to be.

    I’m probably not that great at setting goals, preferring to amble aimlessly through life starting fires in lots of different places and either keeping them alight or letting them fizzle out…

  11. I am not normally a goal-oriented person at all, but this year I did some new year’s resolutions and I’ve met all but one of them already. I moved, got a job I like, and became vegan, but I haven’t yet published a novel, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to reach that goal by the end of the year. I didn’t announce the first three goals on my blog, but I did announce the last one. Is it a coincidence that the only one I announced is the one I’m probably not going to accomplish?

    In my case, I think it is a coincidence. The reason I’m not going to meet the goal is that I’ve decided to stop pushing myself to do something that no longer interests me (work on that particular novel) and I’m letting myself do what I really want to do (work on the novel I’m writing with my partner) even though it’s not what I promised.

    Now I am a bit wary of announcing goals, though, in case it’s not a coincidence and I lost interest in that novel because I talked about it on my blog. Not sure if I’ll make any more goals, but I probably won’t announce them if I do.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jillian. Worth testing out the goal-announcing a bit more and seeing if there really is a pattern there. I think Meecho’s distinction above is also worth considering.

  12. I’m thinking it’s important to remember where you were at (mentally, location wise, life experience) when you set the initial goals.

    Caught up with Raam Dev last week and we discussed his income ethics, about putting a cap on his ‘enough’ income that he needs. But how this might have changed over time as he’s grown as a person and his ceiling for experiences and personal development might have lifted.

    I dunno mate, a snapshot of where you were at when you set the goals, versus where you’re at now, kind of gives you a bit of leeway to cross of a few of the ones that don’t resonate with you anymore?

    • Yeah, agreed. I won’t stick to a goal if it no longer resonates with me. All the above still do, with the possible exception of becoming a paid newspaper columnist in Ireland. Not sure how I feel about that one right now.

  13. Hey Niall

    Thought-provoking, as usual.

    I thought I’d share some work-it-outs that occurred to me as I read the post.

    I know you’ve looked at some language training programs, I just wanted to add that you require 500 hours of training to master something. This may give you a new idea of how to put together your training time to achieve your goal. Do you want to train two hours a day for a year, or an hour a day for two, for example?

    P.S. Five languages in the time you have left is now doable. :)

    Now, regarding being a newspaper columnist, what are you submitting? An “article” can be well-written and achieve a spot in the coveted rag, but it’s an entirely different angle you’ll be wanting to have a regular column. What do columnists offer that article writers don’t? You’re a great article writer, and a good blogger. What kind of columnist are you?

    Hope these help.

    • Hey Toni,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Very good point about columnists. If I get serious about that goal again, methinks it would be smart to contact some columnists and ask them for advice. Last time around I really only reached out to other freelance writers.

  14. Here’s what worked for me.

    Setting up specific conditions and announcing them in public. For example, if I just tell people that I’m gonna do such and such, and I’ll be working on it, nothing is gonna happen. At all.

    But when I tell them things like…I’m gonna record a 60 second video every day, 6 days a week, indefinitely, it works out. Haven’t missed a day, and I’m on quick thought #231. Almost a year.

    Same thing with my great books quest. I set up very detailed conditions, and I don’t ever waver. I do this very sparingly, because the routines build up, and they take a toll.

    http://www.optimisticwellness.com/the-great-books-quest-my-journey-of-knowledge/

    Setting up specific conditions, rather than general goals/aspirations, and publicly committing to them, has helped me make MASSIVE progress in my life.

    • Yeah you right! Specificity is big. That’s the main reason I’ve been slacking on the language goal. No deadline!

      I’ll resist setting one just yet though, as I have enough on my plate for the time being. Getting my finances under control is my main priority right now. Once I have that handled, I’ll be able to devote a lot more time and energy to language learning and other cool stuff.

  15. When you get to Indonesia or Malaysia you may find you will want to replace one of those languages with Bahasa Indonesia / Bahasa Malayu (roughly the same language but don’t tell them that). This will be one of the fastest growing languages of the next 25 years because of the population growth rate down there. Bahasa Indonesia is also recognized as pretty much the simplest language to learn because it has been simplified and made regular by the government.

    From Wikipedia: “Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world. Of its large population, the number of people who speak Indonesian fluently is fast approaching 100%, making Indonesian, and thus Malay, one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.[1]”

    Learning Indonesian is also a bet on demographics in the next couple decades, because many countries, including China, have aging populations, whereas India, Indonesia, and Africa will continue to have youthful populations.

    The main reason that it’s attractive is because how quickly and easily you could learn it though. Good way to get one language out of the way.

    Even though my family members speak Hindi and Punjabi I’d rather learn Indonesian first. If I wanted a significantly easier path that still allowed me to speak with hundreds of millions of people, I would study Spanish, Portuguese (if you ever plan being in Brazil, and because of the ease of transitioning from Spanish), Bahasa Indonesia/Malayu (which is fairly easy), English, and Chinese as an outlier which would take a lot of time. If you are fluent in them by 40, and you use them in your 40′s and 50′s, you’ll also find that the language demographics will have shifted in your favour, with those languages growing by many millions of speakers, and English continuing to spread in India.

    • That sounds smart, Bryan. Thanks for the info.

      I’ve been thinking of adding Portuguese to my list because I have a feeling I’ll really like Brazil and it will be a place I’ll want to revisit many times. Another reason I don’t see much use in learning Hindi is that I’m not liking India as much as I thought I would, and so it’s unlikely I’ll spend much time here in the future.

      I’ll see how much I like Indonesia, will probably pass through there on my trip.

  16. Great work Naill, your updates and tips are always a inspiration on a day when I have none. Sounds like your chipping away at your goals, really appreciate the time you put in to all your online thoughts! Keep up the good work..

  17. I too, am full of shit. I think everyone is to an extent. Thinking about the goals I set over the past year, I’ve missed / will miss all but one ( getting the Competent Communicator in toastmasters was that one. )

    Still, the journey this year has being a good one, I’ve learned about myself more and what makes me tick and also trying too hard to do something is generally going to end in failure ( If I’m going to do a no drinking thing again – I’d probably only do it for 3 months, not a year, for example. )

    Good to see you’re not beating yourself up over not achieving these goals. Like I said, it’s all part of the experience. Besides, how do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans! :D

    • But if God doesn’t exist, can you really hear him laughing?

      :-P

      Congrats on getting your CC, Adrian, and for leveling up the self-knowledge. That’s always a good thing in itself.

  18. Hi Niall. I have a superiendous track record for achieving my goals :) These are my personal insights:

    1. Set up for success. If my goal is to train for a triathlon in two days but I haven’t exercised in two years, I’m not setting myself up for success. So, I set my Long-Term Goals high and set Short-Term Goals that lead me to the LTGs. It allows me to make motivating achievements along the way to the LTGs.

    2. Being specific about a goal can aid in planning and provide a means to measure achievements. Breaking a large goal down into multiple achievements is another possibility.

    3. An intelligent plan is often the first step toward success. But for some, “plans” may involve more improvisation. I typically work best when striving for a balance between outlining/visualizing the path to my goals and composing along the way. How do you “plan?”

    4. It’s important to recognize when something isn’t working and tweak the plan accordingly. However, your goal of traveling by land and water until you’re no longer having fun seems to be working.

    5. Most importantly… If I don’t reach a goal I don’t see it as a failure – it’s either a temporary setback, or the goal as its defined just isn’t right for me. With this, I like to redefine them or start over. I’m the boss; I make the rules for me ;)

    Thanks for reading. Happy ground-and-water travels!!! :D

  19. Niall,

    I salute your determination to master English. Your written blog posts already show good progress in this direction, but I have to say that when I watch your video posts, I can see that you have a long way to go. In fact, I think it might be good practice for you to try delivering your video posts in English instead of – hmmm…what language is that you speak in your video posts? Is it Gaelic? Irish? Some form of Celtic street slang? I’m not a linguist, so I can’t tell. Anyway, I think it would be very useful for you to master spoken English. I’m an American and I can assure you that everyone here speaks English. My friends who have traveled a lot also tell me that English is widely spoken in other countries as well. For sure it would be more useful than Hindi. I mean, as far as I know, the Indian word for “chicken korma” is “chicken korma.” Or, maybe they use some wacky local word for “chicken” but you could probably get that part of the order across by imitating a chicken and then adding the word “korma.” You get my drift? As for Mandarin, it’s the same deal: I’m sure the Chinese word for “General Tso’s Chicken” is “General Tso’s Chicken.” Oh, sure, they probably add some tone or other to the word “Tso,” but I’m sure if you get the “General” and “Chicken” part right, then you’re good. As for Spanish, I’ll admit it’s useful. Here in America, we have a lot of Spanish speakers who help us with things like dishwashing and cutting the grass. I find that they have a better attitude if you can pepper your work orders with a few pleasantries in Mexican, like “Buenos Dios” and “Hasta la visa.” So, Niall, I’d say concentrate your energies on mastering spoken English. It will pay huge dividends in the long run.

  20. I’m sure you’ve heard of Tim Ferriss (4 hour work week. etc). Not sure I believe everything he advocates but he does have an interesting take on language learning. e.g. his claim that it only takes mastery of 1200 words to have basic fluency. This seems like a much more specific and reachable goal than a vague ‘learn a language’.

    His language learning hacks seem to be focused on isolating the core vocab, and core grammatical requirements to allow conversational fluency as fast as possible.

    I certainly like his critical approach to learning, and determination to cut straight to what counts.

    You might find some value there for your language specific goals.

    • Hey Bob,

      Thanks for the comment. I agree partially with what Tim recommends. Learning 1200 words would be good, but if you were to just study them from a book and not actually get out there and practice speaking them, you’d struggle to converse in the language.

      If I had to choose between studying vocab for 30 minutes each day or spend that time trying to converse with a native speaker of the language instead, I’d have to go with the latter. Much more effective methinks. But also much more uncomfortable!

  21. Niall,

    Good on you! I assumed you’d either take offense or take down the post. Instead, you saw that it was a joke and played along. Much respect.

    Now, to get serious. First, about languages. I’m a native English speaker, but also speak and read Japanese to a pretty advanced level. I have to say that you really need a clear goal to learn a script-based language like Mandarin. Japanese uses fewer characters/ideograms than Mandarin and it still took me several years before I could read a newspaper, and even now, they’ll inevitably be lots of characters or combinations of characters I don’t know in the typical newspaper article. I had to learn Japanese for my work and I lived there a long time. Unless you have a really good reason to learn Mandarin, I just don’t see the point of putting in the minimum two or three years just to master the characters in common daily use. Plus, it’s a tonal language, so it would be well nigh impossible to learn the spoken language to any advanced degree without living there. In general, I don’t see the point of learning a language just to learn it. You need a goal. That makes the effort worthwhile, but it also makes it easier to make the effort. Of course, the goal can be as basic as wanting to speak the language of the country in which you live.

    As for traveling from India to Bangkok, surely you’ve considered the overland route: India, Nepal-Tibet-China-Vietnam-Laos or Cambodia-Thailand. Apart from that, I think your best bet would be a yachtie who’s sailing from India to Sri Lanka or the Andamans or straight on to Thailand. Or, how about simply trying to pay a fisherman to take you to Sri Lanka, drop you off in a rubber raft and you paddle in? Then, go declare yourself to the harbormaster and hope they go easy on you.

    As for adding muscle, perhaps you should refocus a bit. If you’re a typical ectomorph, you can train until you drop and add only a little muscle. And adding muscle just to add muscle seems like learning a language just to learn a language. How about mastering some skill (could be muay Thai when you get to Bangkok)? Also, it might be better to look at some metric that actually reflects fitness, rather than trying to build a useless and inflexible rack of “show muscles” like the guys you see at gyms. You could try to become lean and ripped, which diet and workouts would do. You could try to increase your aerobic capacity and lower your resting pulse etc. Or, you could pick something like swimming a mile or running 10km and setting a time and working toward that. Surely this is better than just bulking up, which is, as I say, impossible for certain genotypes.

    As for traveling without flying, I say, stick to your guns. If you look at most journeys or even endeavors in general, you’ll find something “artificial” and “contrived” about them, and it’s often these artificial and contrived elements that make them interesting. Why do you think guys are always trying to sail or row across the Atlantic in ever smaller boats? I mean, we know damn well that you can get across easily enough in an ocean liner or on a freighter.

    Finally, your success at increasing your typing speed should give you an insight into how to achieve any other goal on your list: You can accomplish most things by chipping away at them on a daily basis. Likewise, just deciding that you’d like to do something and then taking no actual and regular steps in that direction is meaningless. It’s the same as never having decided to achieve that particular goal. You get good at what you do. Simple as that.

    On that note, I gotta say you’re a damn good writer, blogger and motivator. Something great is going to come of what you’re doing all the time, right now. That much I’m sure of. Keep it up!

    • Hey Johnny,

      Great comment. And thanks for the kind words. (And your previous comment. That made me laugh.)

      Re: languages. Agreed that it would be silly to learn a language just for the sake of learning it. My thinking has shifted a bit in that regard. I’m starting to consider what countries I’d most like to live in in the future. Even if nobody outside that country speaks the language, it would still be good for me to learn it if I expect to spend a lot of time there.

      Re: travel to SE Asia. Travel overland via Myanmar isn’t possible. Well, not officially. I could maybe go to the border there and try bribe my way across, but if it didn’t work I’d be after going a long way for nothing. The fishing boat idea won’t work either unfortunately. A friend in Sri Lanka called up the immigration office on my behalf and they told him very clearly that it’s illegal for a private boat to arrive undeclared. There’s a lot of paperwork and red tape to do it legally. As for sail boats, I have found two here in Kochi that are heading to Sri Lanka, but not until the new year, which is too late for me. In short, there’s just no easy way! I’m leaning heavily now towards Pakistan. I’ll have made a decision by the end of next week.

      Re: bulking up. I agree with you. I’m not just looking to add muscle. I’m also interested in general fitness, learning how to swim better, getting stronger, learning martial arts, all that stuff.

      Thanks again!

  22. Thanks Niall.

    Okay, Myanmar sounds dodgy, but what about over the Himalayas, across China, and down into Southeast Asia via Vietnam?

    • That was my original plan, to go through Tibet into China from Nepal. Unfortunately, the Tibetan border was still closed by the time my Nepalese visa expired, so I had to come back to India. The Chinese change the rules for travel to Tibet all the time, so it’s a bit hit and miss.

      Now my Indian visa expires on December 5th and I’m not allowed back into Nepal until the new year. I’m thinking I could probably bribe my way across the border early though. Been through that crossing twice now and it’s remarkably lax.