PhD Blog – January 2022

First things first, let us get the obvious out of the way. I did not post a blog article for December 2021 which would have been written in early January. In all honesty, January was a bit of a motivational roadblock. Having come off a three-week break where I did not work on anything related to the PhD or otherwise, plus a move into a new flat, I found that I could not get back into a regular work schedule and lifestyle. Old habits have come back, including sleep issues and anxieties on the quality of my work. All which has contributed to little progress made during this past month and a bit, not helping my mental wellbeing. It is the first time in this process where there is this massive roadblock between now and the next phase of the project, and in normal circumstances this would be an obstacle I could overcome.  Yet this past month has given me cause for concern on whether I can complete this project and reach the finish line. What is most frustrating is that the solution to this problem, to get back on track and feel confident again, is a simple one yet has been difficult to push myself to do. So, I made the decision to take a hiatus from regular work to reflect on these self-inflicted stresses. In short, I took the time to ask myself: “What’s going on? And what can I do to address it?”.

For me, getting started on something is the hardest part of a project. So, if I stop completely, such as what happened during the festive break, it takes a much larger effort than expected to get started again. It reminds me of some advice I was given when climbing some mountains in the UK, that stopping and starting requires a lot of energy and mental strength than if one were to keep moving regardless of what speed you travel. It is like the principle of momentum, keeping a moving object going is easier than one with no speed whatsoever. Within the context of my project, even the smallest amount of progress on a project per day is better than none because it means that I do not need to deal with that initial motivational hurdle of ‘starting’. Now, it is worth mentioning that sometimes you need a break from work for your mental wellbeing, to distance oneself from the stresses that it brings. But maintaining some form of momentum when you are working is vital to ensuring that you can continue to make progress, however small that is.

To do this, I will be following advice that I have given to some of my students in the past. That is to set yourself a small task each day. That can be to read an article, make notes on some work, book some professional development sessions, anything. What is important is that it is manageable with as little effort as you can make it. This principle can be found in a great speech given by US Navy Admiral William H McRaven to the University of Texas at Austin Class of 2014 at their graduation. “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day”. The idea is that if you complete just one task, it gives you the motivation to do the next task and so on a so forth. It seems somewhat trivial but soon those small tasks add up. I was told right from my induction to the PhD that this process was a marathon and not a sprint, so its high time that I started treating it as one.