About choice, willpower and my new listening strategy

Sometimes, too much choice consume your willpower, and you end up doing nothing. While wondering if I should listen to the news, a podcast, the radio, an audiobook, the audio from my textbook, the audio from the JLPT, let an anime run on my phone or listen to some Japanese music… I am just consuming my willpower and not listening to any Japanese.

I am very concerned with my poor listening skills at the moment, and as I said in another post, I am facing the following contradiction:

  1. Improving one’s listening skill is easy, listening to a lot of Japanese every day should settle the problem.
  2. Knowing this, and having a lot of material to listen to, I still haven’t transformed listening to Japanese into a daily habit. Even if I study or read Japanese every day, I can stay weeks without listening to anything in Japanese.

I tried to resolve this contradiction by reducing the number of listening material I can pick from and make it accessible. To be more concrete, I reduced the number to only one material, which is the audiobook from the novel 世界から猫が消えたなら・せかいからねこがきえたなら (If cats disappeared from the world). I have the audiobook on my phone, right away available in my “iBooks” application. It automatically starts where I quit the last time I listened to it, and I can choose to slow down the reading space (by 0.75x).

So far, it worked. I don’t lose time thinking of which material I will listen to and having this audiobook rapidly accessible allows me to launch the audio even if it’s for 10 minutes. I still don’t listen to it every time I could, but since I applied this method, I did listen to it a little every day. Having some Japanese enter my ears every day (even if only for 10 minutes), compared to not listening at all, will certainly pay off.

About choice and willpower

This experience reminds me of something I have read in the book: 自分を操る超集中力・じぶんをあやつるちょうしゅうちゅうりょく by メンタリストDaiGo. In this book, DaiGo explains why and how our willpower is consumed. One of these reasons is that we continuously have to make choices during the day. More than the actions themselves, it is this endless necessity of deciding whether to do or not do something, how to do it and so on, that leaves us exhausted.

The author then cites a fascinating study about consumers in a supermarket. The study compares days when only 6 sorts of jam were proposed for a jam tasting and days with 24 sorts of jam displayed. As one can imagine, the 24 different jams attracted more people to taste the flavours. But, if we look at the proportion of individuals who actually bought a jam after having tasted it, then the table with only 6 different flavours to choose from wins by far.

自分を操る超集中力, メンタリストDaiGo, かんき出版, 2016, p.40

I feel exactly like a consumer before 24 kinds of jam. I taste everything, that means, I listen to an episode of this newly discovered podcast, to the first 10 minutes of my audiobook, to the first episode of this anime, to today’s news, etc.  Then I conclude that every flavour is tasty and that I want to buy them all, meaning that every material is worth listening to, and I can see my listening skills potentially improving. But I end up buying nothing, that is, listening consistently, from beginning to end and on a regular if not daily basis… to nothing.

As is suggested in DaiGo’s book, one way to avoid spoiling willpower in those daily choices we have to make, is to decide in advance what you are going to do.

I will take another example that is not in the book. Personally, I hate cooking, but strangely, I do find some pleasure while working in the kitchen. In fact, what I hate is not the act of cooking in itself, it is the question that comes back twice a day, every day: what should I make for lunch? What should I make for dinner? I am tired of having to decide twice a day what I will eat.

Now let’s supposed that I make a plan for the week, deciding in advance what I will cook for every meal. I won’t have this feeling of tiredness when it comes to cooking. Maybe, on a particular day, I will not want to prepare what I had planned for that day. But doing it anyway will be less tiring than having to think of what to cook. Because, as DaiGo said in his book, having to make choices is more exhausting than the action in itself or, to say it in other words, deciding consumes more willpower than the performance of the option we chose.

自分を操る超集中力, メンタリストDaiGo, かんき出版, 2016, p.41

Following this reasoning, I don’t have to limit myself to only one audio in Japanese, but defining beforehand what I will listen to on a particular occasion will surely help me saving time and willpower. For example, I can select one audiobook for commuting, one podcast, which episodes are about 10 to 15 minutes, that I will listen to while playing with my cats, the news will be while getting ready in the morning or drinking coffee, and so on. If I know what to listen to and where to find it quickly, I won’t have to think about it, and I will reduce the probability to eventually give up listening to Japanese while doing this or that activity.

Anyway, memorising vocabulary is hard, studying grammar can be boring, reading a book takes efforts… but listening to something does not require much time (as you can do it while doing something else) nor efforts. Even if you can’t study Japanese every day, not listening to some Japanese on a daily basis is a shame (I say that mainly to myself…🙄).


I do not usually read self-training books, and I don’t know much about willpower, but I must admit that this study echoes strangely well with my apathy when facing the listening injunction. Since I have started learning Japanese, I have been frantically gathering materials, some of which I never exploited. I guess that I am like those jam connoisseurs: a wide range of choice enchants me, but a reduced range of choice gets me moving.

Of course, listening to a lot of different things is better than locking oneself into a single source, but, once again, it’s better to listen every day to one thing than letting the days passing by without training your ears at all.