Maximization, Minimization & Satisficing
There are three important concepts in economics that can be applied to language learning: maximization, minimization, and satisficing. Maximizing the variables that lead to better language learning, minimizing the variables that interfere with learning, and adopting a satisficing strategy to accept “good enough.”
For the past several years, I have been trying to create a better methodology to help students learn a language more efficiently. I have taught at language schools, universities, and also run my own private practice. Language, for me, is an intellectual problem. The reality is that a great methodology is necessary because it is based on best practices, but that doesn’t mean it’s a one-size-fits-all solution. A methodology can organize learning so that students can follow a recipe that maximizes learning. Yet, recipes are not compatible with every student’s learning style. Moreover, each student progresses at different speeds because of a multitude of different variables: language aptitude, motivation, habits, class, teacher, community, psychology, access to resources, wealth—and among others. I desperately want to find a solution, a magic bullet; however, time and time again, I come back to the same conclusion.
There are too many factors that influence language learning. No one can perfectly control all the variables. Besides, there are always competing, conflicting forces. For example, motivation is constantly at war against resistance. Instead of feeling regret when giving into temptations or distractions, or feeling ashamed when there is a lack of progress, a better strategy is maximization and minimization. Maximization means that students try their best. They focus on what they can control, such as the learning process or the amount of effort they put in, and ignore what they can’t, such as the level of fluency they achieve. They don’t worry about the end result and they don’t worry about tomorrow, because they know that at least today, they have maximized. Today, they have allocated limited resources such as time, money, focus, energy, motivation, and emotion on factors that maximize learning. Today, they have also fought against—minimized—factors that hinder learning. They have battled against resistance, distractions, negativity, and limitations. Not all of these things are in their control. They can only focus on what they can control. Success will follow as long as students develop these two attitudes.
Satisficing is acceptance. Accepting the result knowing that the student has done his or her best. Students can achieve self-satisfaction by knowing that they made the maximum effort to improve. John Wooden, also known as the wizard of Westwood, was a hall of fame basketball player and coach. He won 10 NCAA championships with UCLA and six-time national coach of the year. An inspiration on and off the court, Wooden preached character building and effort, “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Wooden understood that he couldn’t win every basketball game, but that didn’t mean he or his team wasn’t a success. He knew he was succeeding with his team, even though he wasn’t necessarily winning, because he was doing his best to become the best. Every mistake was a mere learning opportunity. With every defeat, he picked himself right up and went about his life without a loss of enthusiasm. Students can learn a lot from his wisdom. They need to understand the difference between winning and succeeding. They don’t have to compare themselves to other people’s progress or ability. They can’t be afraid of making mistakes. They need to stay resilient in the face of adversity, obstacles, and setbacks. They need to be honest with themselves and ask: have I tried my best? If the answer is yes, then they are succeeding. If the answer is no, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
My simple advice is: do your best, forget the rest.