The words below the characters above are Pinyin, a "go between" between English and Mandarin that help English speakers pronounce characters.
For example, take the first character above, pronounced "zhōng". I remember it as a bell with a crack down the middle ― the bell helps me remember the pronunciation, "zhōng", and the perfectly centered crack helps me remember the meaning, "middle".
I remember the second character, "màn", as a man in a suit of armor blocking the way ― remembering the man helps me recall the pronunciation, "màn", and the clunky armor reminds me of the character's meaning, "slow".
The last character, "hē", appears to me as an office water cooler with a stack of cups to the left. The water in the cooler conveys the meaning, "to drink", and I like to think of the pronunciation, "hē", as one of the gurgles in the machine as it dispenses.
Okay, maybe the last one was a bit of a stretch ― trying to come up with stories for each character can feel like trying to finding meaning in a ink blot test, and sometimes I have to just memorize ― but overall, the characters with the stories behind them were the ones I remembered the best.
Coming up with stories was fun, and the fun was what motivated me to continue.
But, as three hundred days came and went (I soon realized that using only Duolingo wasn't quite cutting it), and as I dug deeper into the foundations of the language and my daily practice sessions went from flying by to dragging on, I realized I wasn't having fun anymore.
So, I stopped.
After doing some reflection, here's what I learned:
While planning is helpful the majority of the time, sometimes spontaneity can give you the kick to get going. As celebrity Shia LaBeouf famously said, just do it!
If you can't find significance, make your own. Fun makes time fly, and stories can make work more engaging.
Realize when you need to take a break. If you're not having fun anymore, think twice about your situation.
Will I ever return to Mandarin? Perhaps. I'm nowhere near full understanding of the language, and while my written skills are passable, my listening and speaking are almost nonexistent; I would like to become fluent eventually. Regardless, I'll take my takeaways with me.