If you are learning a skill right now, stop for a moment. I’d like you to take a moment to analyze what you’re doing and what you’re aiming at in the long run. It often happens that we get excited to learn a new skill but soon forget its underlying purpose. We end up asking ourselves, “Why am I learning this skill?” We lose focus. Whether or not it’s your chief purpose in life, it’s important that you’re clear about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Say you’re learning Spanish—but for what specific reason are you doing it? Well, to learn how to speak Spanish, of course. Good. But if you want to maintain consistency and prevent dropping the endeavor, you need to define your goals more clearly. While learning Spanish for the sake of learning the language definitely sounds rational, as a mental stimulus it is too ambiguous and often fails to provide long-lasting motivation.

You may have heard that emotions are not rational, and in most cases, they completely dethrone rational thought. Now, motivation is an emotion. Once you lose motivation, it can be demanding to regain it. And when you have unclear goals, it doesn’t take much to lose focus and motivation when you don’t see any tangible results. You might be putting a lot of effort into learning Spanish but you are probably not going to be speaking fluent Spanish even after a couple of months of intensive studying. It’s important to keep this goal in the background, but you should also come up with better defined and more realistic goals that you can more clearly see the progress of.

Let’s continue having Spanish as an example. Surely you would have something else in mind except just learning it. Maybe you would like to be able to pepper your conversations with some of the local lingo when visiting Valencia or Havana. Or you might want to pursue learning Spanish for the sake of appreciating the texts of Gabriel García Márquez or Cervantes in the original language.

You should learn to define realistic goals. Compare the following statements, and see if your current goals relate to either one.

  1. I want to learn how to speak basic Spanish.
  2. I want to learn how to greet people in Spanish.

As you can see, even a slight modification can make a big difference. The first statement is obviously too unclear to serve as a realistic goal. What is “basic Spanish” anyway? Does it mean that you know how to say hello and goodbye; or should you also know something about sentence structure and the difference between male and female articles? I would say the second statement is more realistic because as a goal it is more exact and also much easier to fulfill. Stick with goals that can be attained within a realistic period of time.

Instead of “I want to learn Spanish” say, “First, I’d like to learn five Spanish phrases that I can use every day when meeting people.”

So when you’ve defined clearly what you want out of your endeavor, keep those goals organized, and try to work toward completing them. It would be too big a task to just focus on “learning Spanish,” so you should primarily focus on completing goals that are the building blocks that eventually get you to “learn Spanish”.