Another personal post? What is this? I guess I just have a lot of feelings going into my second year which apparently get written out at 2 AM when I’m home alone (which means this was written last week. So hello from past Krystal!) Don’t worry! There are some tips at the end and if you don’t want to read through all the narrative, feel free to skip straight there.
I’ve been feeling a giant lack of motivation lately in just about everything in my life. And this is bad…because I feel like I have a lot to do. I have to write. I have to figure out the next step in lab. I have to figure out what the hell this pile of data means. I have to sort of, kind of start thinking about candidacy. And I have to appear like I’ve made some sort of progress before I have a meeting with my boss in October. Yikes! It’s gotten to the point where I feel that if I keep feeling unmotivated like this–if i keep procrastinating–everything is just going to go to pure…shit, for lack of a better word. And shit is not what I want in my life right now. So, in a desperate effort, I’ve been trying to pinpoint the reason for all these negative feelings (and by pinpoint I mean lying on the floor, blasting angsty music in my hears wondering why the world hates me) and I think that I’ve finally narrowed it down.
In addition to this case of imposter syndrome that I have going on, I realized that I am absolutely and positively scared of failure. And this fear is not new to me. I’ve always been scared that one day I would make some huge mistake and my life would be over and everyone would be disappointed in me and I’d be all alone in life because everyone would leave me and [insert catastrophizing, ad nauseum]. I am also scared of letting people down. That includes my mother, my boyfriend, my boss, my lab mates, and even you guys reading this right now. I just want to work hard and make people proud and have everyone realize that I’m trying my very best to make everyone I care about (personally or professionally) happy. On the worst days, it gets to the point where sometimes I just feel like the entire world is on my shoulders and if I don’t manage to please every single person on this earth, well…let’s just say the anxiety strikes.
For the record, I have no idea how to fix this kind of thinking. It’ll probably be something I bring up when I go back to counseling. I’ve even started googling self-help and motivational books about these kinds of topics in hopes that I read something one day and have an “Ah-ha!” moment and everything makes sense in the world…(I am totally taking recommendations, by the way). But, what I do happen to know is that the result of these fears make me procrastinate. It makes me unmotivated to even start the bulk of my work. Because, in my head, I can’t fail or disappoint anyone if I don’t try. Which, by the way, is such a catch-22! You procrastinate because you’re scared of failing, but ultimately that thing still needs to get done. So when the deadline approaches or your boss suddenly wants an update (Woops!) you just end up rushing to meet the deadline and probably end up doing a worse job than if you hadn’t procrastinated in the first place! It’s just so frustrating!
Now, I apparently can’t fix my way of thinking very easily because I’m sure all these feelings come with their own baggage that I have to sort out, but I have been looking for ways to regain my motivation. Now, a good scientist would try only one of these tips at a time to see which were the most effective, but because I’m getting desperate here I decided that I needed to try as many tips as possible in order to get back on track! Are they going to work in the long term? Who knows! But at the very least they’re making life a little easier for me right now.
Form the habit of exercising
I like to visualize this lack of motivation and fear of failure as pure negative energy. What better way to get rid of that negativity than by sweating it out. I recently going to some exercise classes at my university’s gym in the morning and not only does it keep me physically healthy but it also helps calm my mind and start the day a little more focused. After all, it’s hard to over-think your life when you’re brain is trying to stop your muscles from giving out or your just to exhausted afterwards… Or am I just that unfit?
Stop with the frantic checking of the email
I used to push all my phone notification to my computer so that I could check them as soon as they arrived. Bad idea. My focus was interrupted every single time I got an email–important or not. And yes, some emails may require your attention. But when the majority of your emails are just noise, you really need to ask yourself if being constantly disrupted by your notifications is actually beneficial. I am currently trying to limit myself to checking my email maybe once every couple hours when I’m at my desk or in lab and maybe a bit more often if I’m working elsewhere. Regardless, I feel that killing my habit of frantically checking my email definitely kept me more focused and reduced the amount of distractions (and email anxiety) during work time.
Set small attainable goals
I talked a little bit about how I make weekly to do lists and keep track of deadlines in my Organizing my Grad School Life post. Shortly after writing that, I also took up the habit of writing my day’s to do list on a post it note that I stick it on my computer. Much like this:
I basically extract some of the bigger, more daunting tasks from my week and break them down into much smaller chunks, noting the approximate time I want to dedicate them that day. For instance, my weekly to-do list might say “Make full draft of NSF Proposal” and my daily to-do list breaks that down with tasks such as “Edit NSF Introduction (1 hr)” or “Edit Figures for Proposal (30 minutes).” All in all, this has definitely kept me from feeling overhwhelmed as the semester started picking up pace, and it’s a nice bonus to see each item crossed off as the day goes on.
Take breaks away from your desk
Every day for lunch I close my laptop. I go to the break room, warm up my lunch and then plug in my headphones. I then find a nice bench to sit on outside and listen to a 30 minute podcast while scrolling through tumblr. I am completely tuned out from work. Work is not allowed to be on my mind for those 30 minutes to an hour I set aside for lunch. And it’s great! I get a few minutes to unwind and temporarily forget about that error Matlab keeps spitting at me or that blinking cursor staring at me on my opened and empty Word Document. I feel that stepping away from my desk has actually proven effective at allowing me to come back to work with a fresh, cleared mind. Essentially, be sure that when you take breaks (because breaks are important) you are actually taking a break!
For the record, my recommended app to listen to podcasts is Pocket Casts. It’s available for Apple and Android, though unfortunately it’s not free ($6, one time fee). (And no, I’m not sponsored or anything. I just really love this app).
Reach out to your support network
No one is alone in this world. Somewhere out there is a person that has your back and is willing to give you that boost of support you need. Whenever I’m feeling down, I either call my mom or rant to my boyfriend. If I really need a day to recoup, I try organizing a get together with my best friends. These wonderful people in my life know to give me a reality check and tell me when I’m being to hard on myself or if I really am slacking off. If nothing else, they can remind me of a time where I was really excited to come to work or tell me that everything will work out in the end. Either way, after talking to them, I definitely feel a little more motivated to work, even just to thank them for always being there for me.
Remember why you’re here
Research is hard. School is hard. And sometimes you just get sick of all these obstacles popping up, making the end goal seem laughably far away. But you got to this point for a reason, right? There has been something motivating you not to quit. So take a moment, go for a walk, and remember why exactly you love what you’re doing. Why do you love school? Why do you love research? Why are you getting this degree? Though difficult to do, nothing is more motivating than rekindling that fire that made you say “I want to do this” in the first place.
That’s all I managed to try out in the past week that seemed to work the best. I hope that these help give you a good starting point on how to get out of that unmotivating funk that we often find ourselves in.
Readers, what are your ways to find your motivation? Share them in the comments! I’ll definitely be trying out your suggestions and report back later! 😀