It can be really exciting when you get started on a study binge. You’re feeling motivated. You have the time to study for a few hours a day. You’re storming through level after level on your flashcard program. Then you get burned out.
Burnout can happen after studying for several hours or several days in a row. Your brain is a muscle and it’s not good to overworked it for long periods of time. When you over work it you can get headaches, feel tired and irritable. And in worse cases get migraines!
This post will look at how to avoid study burnout and how to recover from it quickly.
(Thanks to all the feedback from Japanese learners on the JTalkOnline Facebook page! Your tips were really insightful and many I hadn’t thought about.)
Burnout, for me, is when my head hurts, I’m tired, nothing’s going in. I have a break for a day but this can quickly lead to a week and suddenly I’ve stopped studying altogether. Burnouts make me not want to study anymore either even though I know I should.
My last huge burnout was after taking the JLPT N1 for the first time. I got burnout from studying every day for 3.5 months! It was so bad I didn’t study Japanese for 7 months after the exam!!!
I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen ever again!
How to Avoid/Minimize Burnout
I understand the excitement and motivation to study for hours on end every day. But although you feel productive now, it will set you up for failure later.
Pace Yourself and Take Breaks from the Screen!
Studying for hours is great, but try to stop yourself from doing that. Instead of studying for hours and hours, study for 20-30 minutes, then take a break by getting away from the computer/your phone/the textbook.
If you need a language break then walk around for 5-10 minutes, get a drink/snack.
When you take a break try not to do something like Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t even read something in English (because it’s harder to switch back). If you look at a screen your brain still thinks it’s in work mode and it’s harder for it to relax.
One person on the Memrise forums said they read a page of Japanese manga, study 5 words on Memrise, read another page, study another 5 words. That way they get a LOT of study and a LOT of manga done without burning out.
Keep Using (not studying) Japanese – Spice Things Up & Have Fun!
When you have a break from studying why not spend the time using the language for fun?
You could listen to a Japanese podcast or some J-Pop, read something easy/fun in Japanese (manga or a novel).
If you take a break to watch anime try to pick a short show, or stop when you reach the break. Try not to get distracted for too long. And defiantly don’t binge watch an entire series instead of studying. (Not that I’ve done that…..)
Doing something fun with the language means you’re giving your brain a rest, but will still be learning/in Japanese mode. You’ll be having fun and won’t be over working your brain.
Focus on Fun Things More than Study
If you’d prefer to you can always shift your habits away from study and more on using the language.
So everything you would normally do in English in Japanese.
Change your online language settings to Japanese.
Read books/watch TV/play games in Japanese.
If you watch anime watch it without the subtitles.
But still make sure you’re studying what you don’t know as you go along. You still need to push yourself if you want to improve.
This is arguably harder than studying because you need a lot of self-discipline to stick to doing everything in Japanese, and studying what you don’t know.
Take a Step Back (Refresh Easier Materials)
A great way to give your brain a rest but keep studying is to refresh easier materials. It won’t be as hard as learning anything new and will help solidify your foundations.
Going back over easier materials is also a great confidence boost. It gives you a feeling of achievement as you’ll know most of it already, and you’ll see how far you’ve come!
One person told me they do this particularly when they feel they’re getting bogged down by new things. They do this when they start to feel like they’re not making any progress.
If you need a break from studying then you can also just refresh words you’ve already learned. This is easier with programs like Memrise or Anki. Each day chip away at your refresh list, it doesn’t have to be much, but a little goes a long way.
What Not to Do With Burnout
It’s so, so, so, so easy to stop studying altogether if you stop because of burnout.
These are my stats on Memrise. You can see where the JLPT was in December… followed by about 6 months of not studying much at all.
This is particularly bad because when I needed to start studying again for the JLPT (in probably June) it took a LONG time to get back into the swing of studying. You Can see where I finally tried to start in July, missed a week or so, then got back into regular study.
Luckily I was still using my Japanese in those 6 months by reading books and translating. BUT I should have continued to study, even if it was just refreshing old vocabulary.
Keep Studying Until Your Brain Dribbles Out of Your Ears
I’ve done this before, studied so hard my brain just stopped taking anything in, but I kept on going! This was stupid because it meant I was wasting time. Wasting time not learning properly and wasting time recovering.
If you’re getting to the point where you’re not learning anything, just stop!
If your brain hurts walk somewhere, whether it’s around to the shops to get a snack or around the park. Walking is great because it gets the blood flowing and helps your brain not focus on anything and relax. Running is even better if you enjoy it.
I’ve been studying Japanese for over a decade and I still make these mistakes when it comes to burnout. I think it’s important to be aware of your own struggles so you can help fight against them.
It’s important though to never stop studying cold turkey!
If you do here are 10 Ways to Study Japanese After You’ve Stopped.
Keep studying just a little bit everyday, even if it’s just refreshing old words.
Make sure you use the language and have fun as much (or more) than you study. Using the language and having fun with it stops it from turning into a chore.
Go out for a walk, read something, listen to music, anything to get away from a computer screen if you’ve been on it too long.
What do you do to prevent/recover from burnout?