Kicking the Habit of Aiming for Perfection, Stepping out of my Comfort Zone

Just a short rant at myself, after a recent attempt at using my Mandarin at a Chinese restaurant.

I’ve always been somewhat of a perfectionist which is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to learning Chinese. I’ve also always been quite an anxious guy who has lived too much in his comfort zone. This I can’t say has been a blessing, but I have gotten a lot better with it over the past few years.

For learning the four tones, I’m glad that I have that perfectionist side to my personality, the attention to detail and obsessiveness of getting the tones right at the start of this adventure has put me in a good position early on.

I’m however realising that a combination of my need to speak perfectly mixed with anxiety is really limiting my communication ability. I need to get over myself and accept I’m going to make mistakes. Does it matter if a stranger thinks I’m odd for talking to them with imperfect Chinese? Of course not.

People can get by in China speaking much less Chinese than I can, so I should have a bit more self belief in my abilities

If I want to say something that I haven’t learned yet, that’s no excuse for me not to give it a go and try my best using what I have already learned.

I’m at a point now where I believe I could express pretty much anything (outside the realms of specialised subjects). That’s not to say I could express these ideas in a grammatically correct fashion 100% of the time, or without using some dodgy vocabulary, but I could umm and err my way through it enough to be understood.

The trouble is I don’t do this. I do it in my head, but when it comes to actually voicing the words I either:

  • Fear that I won’t be understood which in my head I imagine would lead to an awkward social situation,
  • Be concerned with how my Chinese level will be judged, because I often don’t say it even if I’m more confident with what I need to say.

I can tell this is how my mind is working, because when I’ve had a few drinks I have no problem talking pretty much non-stop, not caring if what I say is grammatically correct, or even understandable.

How to Solve this?

Drink more.

Just kidding.

I need to talk to more people. Stop whining, suck up the nerves and just do it.

Easier said than done, but I need to force myself into as many situations as possible where I need to use the language. I know it’s possible because I have done it before in other areas of my life.

This should be pretty easy when I get to China, as fortunately I’ll be in Haikou, a city where very very few people speak English.

It will be a real test of my commitment to the language if I can avoid spending my spare time with classmates that are speaking English outside of the classroom, I’m going to push myself out of my comfort zone and befriend Chinese speakers as much as possible.

I’m convinced this is the best way to do it after reading about Scott Young’s adventure in China, where he stuck to a strictly no English self-imposed rule.

The more I can use Chinese in daily life, for practical and social reasons, the more my confidence will grow and speaking Chinese will become more natural to me.

Sure, this won’t solve me getting things wrong, but over time hopefully through my studies in and out of the classroom, a number of things will correct themselves.

Rant over.


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