It's interesting looking back on my trials and errors up to the point I'm at now - what's worked for me, what hasn't; what I've enjoyed and what I've occasionally downright loathed. If you've been following my verbal spew for a while, you've likely noticed enough trial, error and frequent change in my routines and methodology to drive any sane man to the brink of insanity. It's a good thing I left mine in the gutter years ago! Sanity, that is.
I'm quite happy and comfortable with where I am now, in both my methods and habits and my current Japanese level, to be honest. If I had focused harder and spent more time on my studies (so to speak), I'd probably be a good deal further along, but given the time and energy I've had I believe I've made a significant dent - an ever-growing crack, perhaps - in my ultimate goal of breaking down this language wall for good.
Besides - all things in moderation... including moderation. I'm in no rush, I know I'll obtain fluency soon enough, and besides, I still have another good 50 years or more of walking this Earth if all goes well!
As any serious language learner can most certainly tell you, though, it's not just the language knowledge that you obtain from an ordeal such as this. Recently, especially, I've noticed some incredible things with my memory which, while usually more akin to a rusty wheel than a workhorse, has been rapidly leaning further toward the latter as time goes on.
Of course, it could be the fact that I've been out of school for a few years and simply haven't had the mental stimulation and challenge required to keep my memory up to par (until recently with my Japanese studies), but I think it would be a crime to rule out the visual memory, associative memory and mnemonic techniques I've been practicing this past half-year as heavy contributors to my heightened mental prowess. And let's not forget this wonderful, versatile tool known as SRS, the power of which I've fully realized and utilize on a daily basis.
I've noticed that I'm able to pause briefly, reach into my head and pull out any variety of information with very little effort, such as words (in either English or Japanese), people's names (subconsciously associating a name with a face - not much different from associating a reading with a kanji compound), dates (again, associative and visual memory at work) - it's really quite incredible, yet unsurprising in the grand scheme of things.
This has all impacted my language studies significantly as well, of course, as I'm constantly finding that new words stick easier and I'm no longer failing the same card a dozen times over before I have even a chance to remember it (unless, of course, it's a ridiculously boring word that I'd rather forget, in which case it's probably getting deleted from my deck).
I still have a long way to go, but (at risk of sounding arrogant) I've really impressed myself with how far I've come. I know that there's absolutely no possible way I'll stop now, so it's only a matter of time and exposure. I'm curious to see where I'll be another six months down the line, but that's a tale for another day!