At about the age of 27 I decided to learn to juggle. Nothing fancy, just three balls and a few tricks, for fun. Not trying to be a professional.

I was absolutely convinced then as I am now and as I believe any honest observer of mankind is obliged to be, that the human mind is pretty amazing. Yet most of the people who have wanted to juggle at some point never acquire the skill. The problem cannot be in learning the skill technically. The mind is far too adept at acquiring skills for this to be a problem. Expose someone to the challenges inherent in walking for any reasonable length of time and every physically able child learns to walk – it’s just the way we are, the way the mind works. We are a little bit wonderful in that way.

When I learned to juggle I was lucky. The guy who introduced me to the art explained how his uncle taught him. “Pick up 3 balls”, he said, “hold them in one hand, drop them, now pick them up. Get used to it! You’ll be doing a lot of that in the next few days.” I took him at face-value. That is the real challenge of juggling – isn’t it? Not tormenting yourself emotionally to the point where you would quit.

Of course, a process can’t annoy you. Only you can annoy you. And therein things start to get interesting. You know that if you had a child of age 5 and you wanted them to learn a second language, that annoying them would not help. So you would employ your creativity to try to find ways to make the process emotionally rewarding and not only the result. Is that how you treat yourself? Do you invest sufficient creativity and kindness into your process or have you convinced yourself that being an adult is about annoying yourself? And as Dr. Phil would say “How’s that working out for you?”

To give you just two examples from juggling, I found that dropping the balls was annoying “yes” but so was bending over to pick them up. I couldn’t do anything about dropping the balls, that was going to keep happening until I could juggle. But I could do something about having to pick them up off the floor which was starting to annoy my back. So I learned to juggle over my bed and when I had to pick the balls up I had less far to travel. I did a lot of small things like this to make things more tolerable. My second example is I found the annoyance was accumulative. So if I restricted myself to less than 5 minutes of juggling practice at one time my total annoyance was less. Basically, instead of trying to be a tough guy and force my way through the horror, I worked on reducing the horror to the point where I, a non-tough-guy could survive it. By using my creativity to increase the fun and decrease the horror, I was able to endure trying long enough to succeed.

Spend some time observing your language learning process. Learning a language is not the problem, it is the most natural activity in the world. Not tormenting yourself into stopping or reducing your performance is the fundamental challenge. Next time you see you annoying you while learning a language, why not take a moment and wonder how you would solve that problem for a young child and then solve it for yourself in exactly the same way.