There seems to be a plateau in all learning experiences … a lull when you stop seeing results and might start thinking it’s hopeless. The brain, being a muscle, mimics the same kind of leveling effect that workouts have on other muscles in the body. Daily practice is the only solution for getting past plateaus and continuing to make lasting change. The 20/90 Challenge is a daily practice for leveling up.

Creating a habit takes time. Likewise, it takes time to reach fluency by creating a whole new mental database connecting to all the other parts of your thinking. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes a day for 90 days. The 20 minutes is arbitrary, but it’s a short enough time commitment not to be daunting. The 90 days is not arbitrary. Social scientists have found that it takes 90 days of repetition for an activity to become second nature, a habit. I dare anyone to defy this, and dare say I challenge Howler readers to create a new habit for 2018. As always, I am here to help. Here are some tips to survive the 20/90 Challenge for Spanish learning.

Don’t call it studying! It’s been said that studying is the abbreviation of “student dying.” It’s commonly regarded as a boring interruption from real life. Instead, call your 20 minutes a day “Engaging with Spanish,” “Chillin’ with Lingo” or “Living the Vida Loca” … anything that doesn’t weigh down the process with years of traumatic school memories.

Carve out time. Designate a time of day when you are alone and quiet. It could be your morning coffee time, or evening when all the little creatures are asleep. It doesn’t matter what time. Just find a quiet spot and create a comfy nook with a drink, a snack and a computer. Take 20 minutes out of this time and focus on your new habit.

Make it fun. Engagement is the key to learning. Otherwise, it can seem like being on a treadmill. Engagement means you are inherently interested in what you are doing. It also means not doing the same thing every day. All reps and no fun makes learning impossible. Change things up … do something different each day and see what makes you engage. Learning should not be boring. If it is, you will take three times longer to make a true memory.

Variety is everything. Learning a language is nuanced and complex. Tackling it actually requires a bit of chaos to deal with the complexity. Every day, just do something. It doesn’t need an end goal other than fulfilling your 20 minutes and experiencing Spanish. Listen to music in Spanish for 20 minutes, translate a song you like, sing along to it, explore other songs by that artist or by other artists in the genre, learn the words to one song … that was one week right there. Take the same approach watching the news and reading the news, or reading anything that interest you. You can watch soap operas, game shows or that movie you know by heart. Take a class or play online games. These are all valid ways to spend your 20 minutes each day.

Be nicer to yourself. Adults tend to hold a very high bar for themselves. We want to see results and we want them now. Some learning doesn’t work that way; the mind and the body need time and patience. Psyching yourself out is one of the biggest learning pitfalls. Relax and embrace language learning as a lifestyle change, not a subject. Stop focusing on your success and focus on what you like. Practice with people and enjoy the new experiences. Finding yourself having a 20-minute conversation in Spanish means you have arrived at another level. Then it’s time to keep plugging away until it’s not plugging anymore; it’s just a part of your daily life.