Personal Development: From depressed to PUMPED at 5 am

In the latest podcast episode (AFP 33) I had a great talk with Alberto Arrighini about motivation, self-development and just basically how do we become successful in anything (and everything!) – If you haven’t already listened to that episode I strongly suggest you do, as it contains a ton of actionable steps to overflow with motivation.

In that post I also shared that I decided to write about self development a bit on the blog. I have actually been playing around with this topic for a while, and at one point I was even considering to start a new blog just to write about personal development.

But then I realised that although not entirely related to learning languages, it is super helpful, and thus decided that I would also post these personal posts, on top of the current language learning content that you are used to seeing.

This first post is a kind of introduction to how I discovered personal development, and what results I have achieved so far with it.

Language learning is a form of self-development

When you choose to learn a foreign language, you are actually taking on a massive personal development task. You are studying, which helps the brain stay fresh and young but you are also upgrading your own “persona.”

This means that even if you have never heard of self-development or studied a book on the subject, you could very well be doing it extremely well already.

For me language learning totally opened a door into the personal development, because I realised that to learn languages you need to have the motivation to study on a regular basis and motivation can’t just be summoned or consumed in the form of tablets or drinks.

So my thought process went, how do I get more motivation? Which is a question you will frequently hear me ask my guests on the podcast. To me, the concept, that some people are capable of motivating themselves to do something that very few others do, is very intriguing.

How do some people learn multiple languages in a year and spend hours every day doing flashcards or studying?

The answer is motivation. It’s this mythical intangible that seems to be the pillars of every action anyone has ever taken. Without it we are nothing, and with it we can be everything we ever dreamed of – and more.

Before I started my Russian language journey in 2014, I was depressed. Useless and just wasting every day. I had high ambitions, even showing great promise in whatever I managed to do, but the motivation was really never there.

When I started Actual Fluency and my Russian mission, I had still not cracked the code on motivation and the site back then was quite awful and I did not spend much time studying Russian. My estimates are about 15 minutes a day on average.

Now that is likely 15 minutes more than most people on the planet, but to me that is irrelevant. I knew I was capable of more, so when I wasn’t doing it, it really hurt.

And not only did I let myself down personally, I was not producing enough content for the blog, as a result of my relaxed approach, which means I was letting down the people who were interested in following my story.

The turning point

I would say my turning point came in Berlin, at the Polyglot gathering.

Meeting extraordinary people, who even with remarkable language skills still managed to stay humble, friendly and outgoing. This is the person I want to become, I said.

The gathering reinforced that the future Chris, that I was working on via the blog, actually had a future. Suddenly it was not studying languages in a dark room all by myself, but I became part of a community that worked towards common goals.

Now, a word of warning. Changing your life is not an overnight process, and I do not claim to be an expert in motivation, working hard or anything. I’m a work in progress. And that thought keeps me hungry for knowledge and information.

I'm doing way better now than I was before, and if you can say that to yourself every day – you are definitely doing something right.

Information is everything

EVERY TIME I tell non-language learners that I'm studying Russian, they ask me what school I go to.

This means that they are missing information. Without the knowledge that you can, in fact, learn a language on your own, how is anyone ever going to get started? This for me is step one. Faith.

And I'm not talking about religious faith, although that can certainly be beneficial too.

If I hadn't found famous polyglots on YouTube like Luca or Benny, I would never have even imagined it was possible to learn 10 foreign languages to fluency, let alone one. But I saw them do it, read their recounts and absorbed all information.

The information we need to change our lives is widely available. For me personally I'm absorbing information by reading successful people. When I realised the power of reading self-help books, I romped through a book in less than 2 days.

And I have maybe read less than 20 books lifetime. Another weak point.

Remembering the low times

About three years ago I had just returned home from a year in London.

This was at my lowest point yet. Unemployed and out of school I moved into a small room with my mother and her partner. I had nothing going on, so I was just mindlessly surfing the internet all day.

When I came across the polyglots I didn't take it in 100% but I got that 10 second motivation, some of you might recognise. You convince yourself that you are a overweight and go on a long run. You feel great.

But the next day you don’t go. Because your 10 seconds of motivation didn't last through the night.

My run was listening to Michel Thomas French, a few of the CDs, and that was exciting. I could really feel the power of the method and I quickly understood a lot more French than I had before.

A week later I was not listening to it any more, and I have not since gone back.

I was obviously lacking motivation, but more importantly, I've later realised, I was missing a vision. Yes it’s great you want to learn French, but why, and where do you see yourself using it?

The old me, bad way: I want to learn how to Speak French so I can speak another language

The new me: I see myself in the south of France, the sun is shining and I'm drinking a lovely glass of red wine while casually speaking to a few French girls sitting around me. I order in French from the waiter and even throw in a few jokes, he laughs and says how amazing my French is and how awesome it is when foreigners take the time to really learn it.

I write this down in a book, which I call my dream book. Every morning at 5:00 am I get up and the first thing I do is to read through all my visions. They range from health to language learning, and everything important in between.

Moving forward

I'm not superhuman, I'm still overweight, my room looks like crap, my personal finances are questionable at best but you know what, I'm working relentlessly on improving all those things – and more. I'm changing my life positively, and these changes would've never come about unless I started to learn languages and decided to blog about it.

And the blog is also important to talk about because It's also part of my life. I want to provide you, the reader, with awesome, inspiring and helpful content. Not just half-arsed posts about how to do flashcards or how you can learn Spanish by setting your phone to Spanish.

I want Actual Fluency to be the best language blog in the world. And you are invited for the ride. Let's be awesome together!


I know this post is a little different from the others, so I’d love it if you took a second to comment below. What did you think about it? Would you like to see more personal development posts on AF in the future?

  • Valter Mendonça

    I’m not a fan of all that self development books but I really appreciate posts like this where you tell us your experiences,dreams and difficulties that you had,because we can learn with your errors.I’m still working in my second language and the main problem that I don’t “finished” that is motivation.Thanks,Chris for the post and the podcast. I’m really glad to enter in the Polyglot World and your work is inspires me to work hard.

    • Chris Broholm

      Thank you Valter, that’s very kind of you.

      And if you work hard you can meet your goals so fast!

  • I really enjoyed this post Chris. I don’t usually read self help style books, but love reading about personal experiences like yours. Sometimes, I find it hard to stay motivated as I don’t know anyone in the ‘real world’ who is learning a language as an adult, which can make it quite a lonely pursuit. I’m usually asked why on earth I would want to learn Russian (over say Spanish or French), or the old ‘doesn’t everyone speak English now anyway?’ Keeping in mind the Russian children I volunteered with, and looking back over my photos does help. I also agree that learning a language becomes much more than that – it opens our eyes to the world and all the people in it, and connects us together. 🙂

    • Chris Broholm

      Thank you Emma, and I think it’s very important to underline how hard it is to stay motivated, no matter how much we love what we do.

      And yes, by connecting we are no longer alone, in dark rooms, following an obscure passion. We are working together to make the world better, or at least our worlds better to start with 🙂

  • Sally Seward

    Bravo, Chris! Thanks for sharing your story. I found that I identified with a lot of what you said. I really like the vision notebook idea.

    • Chris Broholm

      Thank you Sally. Appreciate the feedback.

      What are you working on at the moment?

  • Nick Adams

    This was a really inspiring post, Chris. I’ll leave the 5am starts up to you though, thank you very much 😀 Joking aside, I think that there are loads of additional benefits that come from being a successful language learner and it is good that I’m not alone in thinking this way

    • Chris Broholm

      Thanks Nick, appreciate it!

  • This is a really nice inspiring post to go with that wonderful podcast. I like the way you’ve put things and kept it realistic. I remember when I used to have to be up at 4AM because my job started at 5:30AM and while I was super active (because I was on a shipping team) it wasn’t for me so maybe I’ll leave that bit to you. I do think though that remembering where you are coming from and having a much clearer idea of where you are going is very helpful.

    • Chris Broholm

      Thank you Alex, really appreciate it 🙂

  • Very honest post, Chris. How do you find the 5am wake up calls? I’m getting up at 5.15 now after my early italki lessons in October changing my body clock and it’s so productive! I love it! 🙂

    • Chris Broholm

      Hi Lindsay, thanks for your comment! I find the 5 am wake up calls VERY hard to say the least, but that’s the beauty of the system. If you aim for 8 am and hit say 10-11 your day is ruined, but if you aim for 5 and hit 6-7 you still have the whole day ahead of you, no problemo.

      Still best to actually be up by 5, but it’s a nice failsafe anyway 😉

      • I know what you mean about the …shall we call them ‘less guilty lie ins’?! 😀

        • I’m in awe! How are you all getting up so early?! I’m a real night owl, but I know that I need to start getting up earlier to fit my Russian in. Any tips?

          • Chris Broholm

            Hey Emma, as a lifetime night owl I definitely know where you are coming from. What I did was simply set my alarm at 5 am and make sure that I had enough motivation to understand why it was important to get up that early.

            I’m not perfect, I want to make that clear, I don’t get up at 5 every day (although I do try to) and as I recently posted on Twitter, if you aim for 5 and hit 7-8 that’s a LOT better than aiming for 8 and hitting 10-11

            I also make sure to get to bed before 11pm, but other than that I find that the challenge is just to get out of bed when the alarm calls, and that is when you need the reason why. For me it’s because I want to write a book, learn languages and make Actual Fluency the best language learning blog in the world. Then I just can’t stay in bed anymore.

            It’s still hard though. Every day is and will be a struggle 🙂

  • Your positivity and motivation come through your writing, well done Chris! I love that you’re on the journey – it’s a mega important one and you can tell from these comments that we’re all with you on the path and supporting you all the way.

    (I got up at 9:30 this morning! HAH!)

    • Chris Broholm

      Thanks Kerstin, very happy to be on the journey with people like yourself who can greatly inspire me to do better every day 🙂

  • I’m all for creating the “us” that we want to be, and I look forward to reading your thoughts as you go through your journey!

  • ali

    hey, Chris nice post and i’d LOVE to see more posts like this in your blog. Actually I’m lazy too and also overweight and it’s really hard to change that. About 3 month ago i didn’t have any motivation in improving my English and starting to learn Esperanto, But Esperanto really changed my life and make me motivated, Now i study both English and Esperanto hardly. By the way i just could wake up once at 5 AM :D.

  • Incredibl ChàmsEdine

    I can honestly say that this is the best post i’ve read in ages !!!!! keeeep up the goood work sir, a thumbs up from Morocco.