Gabriel Wyner is the author of Fluent Forever. Over 1.5 million people have read his material to learn how to speak a foreign language and remember it forever.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
I genuinely enjoy both learning and problem solving, which has been instrumental to my career. Basically, I study learning. Then I use what I learned, to problem-solve learning challenges. That problem solving process teaches me more about learning. Rinse, repeat.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I got divorced in 2013, shortly before my book came out. Divorce is one of the most painful things in the world. It’s spectacularly difficult. And the only way through is to simply embrace the pain of it.
I learned a lot from the experience about who I was and what I wanted in life. That said, it’s a brutal way to learn those things and I’d recommend against that path.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
You can’t please everyone. You can try, but it will leave you spent and anxious.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
“Wait until you’re an advanced speaker of a language. Then work on your pronunciation.” – This one just slays me. It’s just wrong on every possible front. Poor ear training from the start means that the whole language will be harder to learn.
Poor pronunciation means that you’re going to be practicing bad habits the whole time you work on your language, which you have to spend an enormous amount of effort to unlearn. And poor pronunciation means that you’re not going to get native speakers to actually speak with you, further retarding your acquisition speed.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up, then I suddenly remember that I have some extremely pressing thing that I absolutely must deal with right this moment. I rush to the computer and work on it for an hour. Put dog out, take shower, eat breakfast, return to computer and continue putting out fires there until I’m exhausted. The end.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
I’ve found that working with a good therapist and doing a lot of self-reflection has done more for my quality of life than anything else I’ve found.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I run on anxiety, so I guess my main strategy is to pursue extremely large and complex projects, fuss over them for years, and then immediately start larger, more complex projects when the first project is over. It’s been a very effective strategy in terms of keeping me productive, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it long term.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
If I’m truly feeling overwhelmed, then I’ll work on taking care of myself. I’ll read a book, or take a nap, or find some friends who’d be available for board gaming.
That will usually give me enough distance from feeling overwhelmed that I can approach my problems again with a clear head and start to handle them more effectively.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I would recommend:
- Getting Things Done by David Allen
- Thank You for Arguing by Jay Heinrichs
- Style by Joseph M. Williams and Joseph Bizup
Getting Things Done doesn’t have much of a personal story attached to it for me, but it’s been pretty essential from a productivity standpoint.
The other two have a much better story: I turned in my first draft of chapters 1-3 of my book to my editor, then waited a month, and finally heard back that he hated it, giving me a 4-page detailed letter as to everything I was doing wrong.
I was basically writing a technical manual, and he wanted a book. He recommended I look at Thank You for Arguing as an example of quality nonfiction. It’s a How-To Manual for argumentation, but it is so enjoyable to read.
Though that book, I discovered that writing good nonfiction isn’t a matter of writing out detailed analyses and how-to guides; it’s about sharing your story, being open, and becoming your reader’s new nerdy friend.