My alarm goes off. As I hit the snooze button and roll over a kind of exhaustion settles on me like a blanket of low damp clouds. I don’t necessarily want or need more sleep, I just seem to have no desire to get out of bed. I know there are things I should be doing, there are actually more things to do than I have time for, but I can’t seem to get up the energy to get out of bed. Yes, the blankets are warm and my bed is comfortable, but there’s something more, I don’t seem to have any motivation.
At other times in my life, in and out of academia, I was great at getting up and out the door, rushing off to accomplish the tasks for the day. But now I seem to lounge in bed – a prison of my own making – in the mornings. This seems odd to me after spending 4 years pining away for this very opportunity. Although, when a passion becomes work it does odd things to motivation. The more I thought about it the more I realized there were a number of contributing factors, not least of which is the sheer mass of a PhD that seems to rise up like an insurmountable peak. And beyond that peak is another even more difficult one – finding employment – as I’m reminded at every workshop with statistics on the prospects for those graduating with a PhD in the humanities.
However, a few good supervisions have really begun to boost my motivation. They helped me start to see a way forward. In reflecting on that change, I began to tease out some practical ways to build on that forward progress and keep up my new-found momentum. They’re not magic pills or a quick fix, but they’re more daily reminders for when I don’t feel like working. Reminders I thought I’d share in hopes that you all might find them helpful as well.
Remember you love this – I spent years before my masters and PhD longing to be back in academia where I could read, learn, and write about all those subjects I’m passionate about and interested in. When I remember that it isn’t work I have to do, but something I’m interested in and want to do. This all makes for better, faster, and more enjoyable work.
Remember how you’ll feel at the end of the day – I think one of the best feelings is crawling into bed after a long day of hard work. That contented feeling, almost a kind of earthy joy you get from being productive, from using the day well. A kind of pleasant and life-giving exhaustion like after a long walk in the highlands. You’re sore and tired, but happy. Working towards that small goal can help get me working if I’m stuck in a procrastination feedback loop.
Remember community – Maybe it’s the people pleaser in me, but it’s motivating for me to have something positive to tell my friends and colleagues when they ask how my work is going. It’s not to brag, but to share in that common joy when everyone has had a productive day. There’s an energy and comradery in it that I find incredibly motivating. Also, the desire to have something to contribute the next time I’m brainstorming with my supervisor and colleagues on our collaborative projects, motivates me. So I try to remember to think about those future conversations when I’m struggling.
Remember to think positively about your goals – In my first year I tried to motivate myself with the possible negative consequences. Essentially, if you don’t do this you will never finish, never get a job, and will have wasted a monumental amount of time and money. Far from motivating me, these thoughts sapped me of energy and made the task and my future seem more hopeless. When I remember my supervisor’s and my own grand ambitions and goals, hopes and dreams, it drives me to work harder to achieve them. On the hard days, I find it even more helpful to remember that a PhD and a career are not insurmountable tasks, others have done it and so can I.
Remember your accomplishments – Remembering what you’ve already achieved gives you the confidence that you can accomplish this new task or overcome that next obstacle. It could be as simple as remembering that productive day you had, that conference paper you wrote, or the other degrees you’ve achieved. To get here you’ve done some pretty impressive work and you can do it again.
What I think these all contribute to is a sense of purpose and hope. If the future looks bleak and you feel a sense of purpose is beyond reach, then it’s quite difficult to motivate yourself. In that situation, what’s the point? But if you have hope and purpose there’s a reason to pull the covers off and embrace the cold Scottish air. I’m not saying to practice a kind of unrealistic positive thinking, always keep reality in mind, but don’t let it stop you from hoping and dreaming. Remembering that hope and those dreams I think will cultivate a deep motivation and drive. In many ways these little reminders are my way of cultivating that hope and sense of purpose in order to rediscover my motivation.
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