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It’s entirely normal to hate your PhD from time to time. The further you travel on the PhD journey, the more you start to resent the thesis.
That’s natural – spend years working on something, often with little immediate reward, and it natural that you will start to crumble.
Here we’ve put together a list of 15 things to remind yourself of if you’re started to lose motivation. They’ll remind you of all that’s special about your thesis and, hopefully, inject some enthusiasm back into your relationship with it.
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1. You should work less
I find that most people fall into one of two camps.
There are those who throw themselves into their work, always chained to their desk and never feeling like they’re on top of things.
Then there are those who get easily distracted, putting things off to the last minute and feeling guilty that they’re always a little behind.
In both cases the outcome is the same: long hours spent working, with the fatigue and the stress that comes with it.
But what about doing less work? What about being more selective with your time, and more selective with what’s on your to do list, such that you didn’t have as much to do at all?
It means accepting that your value and output is not measured on the basis of how many hours you put in, or how much work you get done. It’s measured instead on the quality of the work, and on the level of focus you can achieve.
So if you find yourself burning the candle at both ends, ask yourself whether what you really need to do is work less.
2. Don’t Push Away Negative Thoughts
3. Remember That Your PhD Is Trying To Drown You
4. Routines Come And Go
For many, the simplest way of making the PhD journey more manageable is to develop consistent routines.
For me, that involves going on a morning walk, exercising a few times a week, getting my emails and admin done first thing in the morning, and going to bed at roughly the same time.
But it’s easy to slip out of routines. We may be away from home, or the holiday season may disrupt our daily rhythm.
Whatever it is, we can start to drop the good habits we carefully nurture and start to pick up unhealthy ones – we might start exercising less, eating more processed foods, or staying up late.
When that happens to me, I can quickly start to feel anxious about whatever it is I’m working on. That makes sense; if routines introduce stability into our lives, it’s logical that disrupting those routines can mean we feel ungrounded and out of sorts.
If you can relate this holiday season, go easy on yourself. Like everything in life, this is temporary. As long as you’re conscious of what good routines looks like, and as long as you’re conscious that you’re temporarily departing from them, it won’t be long before you get back into healthy habits once the thing disrupting your routine has passed.
5. Ask Yourself: Are You Biting Off More Than You Can Chew?
6. Set Your Intentions
7. Embrace The Crappy Drafts
8. Remind Yourself That PhDs Are Hard
Finding your PhD hard is kind of the point.
Repeat after me: if you’re finding your PhD hard it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it means you’re doing it right.
9. Keep failing
10. Remember That You’re Never Going To Please Everyone
11. You’re Going To Get Criticised
12. Don’t Focus (Too Much) On The Problems
13. You Have To Admit When You’re Wrong
14. Ask Yourself: Am I A Perfectionist?
Most of the PhD students I talk to are perfectionists. You probably are too.
With perfectionism comes a desire to have control over day-to-day life, knowledge of what’s going to happen in the short term, and the certainty that the PhD thesis will be, well, perfect.
And then along comes coronavirus.
Your day-to-day life has been disrupted as you work from home and away from you normal routines, you’ve got no way of knowing what will happen in the short or long term, and you may worry that your thesis will be sub-optimal as you step away from fieldwork, labs and supervisors.
The perfectionist in you is panicking, right?
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it can fill you with drive, passion, dedication and motivation. It can inspire you to try your hardest and do your best. It’s likely what got you on to your PhD programme in the first place.
But at the same time, it has a dark side. For as much as it can inspire, it can lead to panic. Anxiety, worry and dread often follow in the footsteps of perfectionism, such that when you lose control over your reality, or when you get things wrong, make mistakes or produce something sub-optimal, you panic. What starts off as a simple mistake can quickly become the end of the world.
Part of the challenge of doing a PhD, and particularly in the current context, is learning to embrace imperfection and recognising that sub-optimal does not necessarily mean failure. Managing perfectionism involves reminding yourself that you’re only human, and that humans face stresses, make mistakes and sometimes struggle to produce their best work. Even the brightest and most competent of people have off days.
The more you can remind yourself of that, the better equipped you’ll be to deal with what life throws at you and your thesis.
15. Lastly, Remember That It’s Okay Not To Be Productive
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