It’s my belief that the internet is making us dumber.
That’s right, the internet – that treasure trove of knowledge at your fingertips – is undoing generations of progress in humankind.
And I’m not just talking about social media… (Which, by all accounts, is ruining the very fibre of civilisation.)
I’m talking about the internet itself.
Since the internet has come about, we have become used to instant access to knowledge and information.
Want to know the population density of Tokyo?
The effect of Adam Smith’s economic theories on the industrial revolution?
The ideal water-to-milk ratio in a cup of builder’s tea?
Just type it into Google and you’ve got your answers.
Surely more knowledge is a good thing?
Well, the problem is, ladies and gentlemen, we don’t have to remember anything anymore.
Your aunt’s phone number…
Your friends’ birthdays…
If you can find anything with a quick search on your phone, what’s the point of learning anything?
And what do you think happens to your brain when you stop using it?
I don’t need to spell that out for you, I’m sure.
Now, one other thing that’s come along with the rise of the internet, is a phenomenon called the “life hacking” movement.
The idea that anything and everything can be optimised with a trick or shortcut of some kind…
Weird tweaks to your workout routine for optimal muscle growth…
Funny sleeping positions for optimal, I don’t know…sleep…
Everything is “optimal”.
And along with the idea that all the information you could ever need is out there somewhere, the internet gives people the false belief that there’s a hack or a shortcut to everything.
Everything can be sped up…optimised to the moon!
Now, here’s the thing with this stuff…
A lot of these hacks actually work!
But there’s something very important to remember:
Hacks and shortcuts only work when you already have all the basics in place.
Hacks can add small increases to something you’re already doing well… but they can’t fix something you’re doing wrong.
Here’s an example.
I remember seeing a fitness video on YouTube where the guy was talking about how, if you want to lose weight, you should never eat bananas.
Well, because bananas are high in carbs, and if you eat bananas, you’ll increase your overall calorie intake and that will make it harder to lose weight.
So… does that mean you should pay attention to this guy and stop eating bananas?
Well, objectively, he’s not wrong.
All other things being equal if you are currently stuffing your face with bananas, and you… stop stuffing your face with bananas… you will actually lose weight.
But for most people, stopping eating bananas is probably about #164 on the list of things they should do to lose weight.
And this is important, because…
On any kind of list of priorities, the 1 or 2 things at the top of the list are usually more important than everything else on your list put together.
For the person who wants to lose weight, I have a suggestion…
Cut out sugary food and drink from your diet.
If you cut out sugar from your diet, I promise you, you can buy up every banana in Sainsbury’s, eat the lot, and you’ll still lose tonnes of weight.
In this case, cutting out sugary food and drink is what I call a “big domino”.
You push over that big domino, and everything else starts to fall around it.
It’s a beautiful thing – you just do one thing, and everything gets easier.
But there are so many options and so much advice out there (thanks Internet!), that you can’t possibly do it all.
Your only hope is to cut out the noise and prioritise.
Whatever stage you’re at, I can guarantee you there’s always one thing you can do that will have a disproportionately massive effect on your results… far bigger than anything else you could even think of.
So stop thinking about bananas, will you?
The only time you should even bother thinking about tinkering with your banana intake is once you’ve knocked over every “big domino” there is.
The key to speaking your new language better most likely lies in one or two “big dominos” that need pushing over before you worry about the bananas.
I meet a lot of people who complain about their vocabulary.
So, they mess around on Duolingo or something, and hope it works…
Or at least entertains them for a few minutes…
Now that’s fine…
If all you did was start to read in your target language for 30 minutes every day, your vocabulary would go through the roof.
There’s no point messing around with silly apps and other “learning hacks” unless you’re getting quality input in the first place.
So do yourself a favour and grab yourself a copy of my short stories, available in fine bookstores everyone, and spend 30 minutes a day just enjoying reading.
You can forget everything else.
In this case, the simple activity of reading is your big domino.
One thing you’ll notice about these “big dominos” is that they can often seem like a lot of hard work.
And this is especially true if your language learning habits tend to fall on the “quick and easy” end of the spectrum.
It can be tiring to work your way through a book when you’re falling asleep on the sofa…
So you might have to start experimenting with your language routines and doing these more vigorous activities at times of day when you can really focus and concentrate.
But you know, one of the things I’ve noticed about really successful language learners is that they’re very good at focusing on the kind of activities that really drive them forward.
If it looks too easy, ladies and gentlemen, or feels like a shortcut…
Then it’s probably not going to change your life.
If you’re searching for the secret sauce to learning a new language…
Firstly, sign up for my best language tips using the form below…
And secondly, start to look for big dominos, not new gimmicks.