I have been inspired by The Thesis Whisperer to start writing my own #pandemicposts. I am currently in lockdown in the UK and although I still have ups and down, the short of it is that I am grateful to be at the analysis and writing up stage of my PhD. I have something to channel my energy into. I’m going to try my best not to dig into COVID-19 in these blog posts because I want to escape from that for awhile and there is plenty of other content online which addresses that.
May was a great month for me. I was in a flow with my thesis writing and felt in control of my projected timeline but somehow May merged into June, I fell out of my flow, became unmotivated and apathetic. It took me a few weeks of beating myself up and not being able to put my finger on why I was feeling so down to eventually come to the conclusion that I was stuck in a rut.
What led to the rut?
The biggest factor was a change to my routine. In June, I started a new part-time job as a research assistant as well as started co-hosting a weekly webinar series (shameless plug here if you’re interested in attending). I didn’t account for the increased workload in my week and readjust my expectations accordingly so I was unable to achieve my daily goals each day which set me off on a vicious cycle of feeling defeated, out of control and unmotivated. With this added workload, I was not spending my energy on the most important thing. I told myself that I was stressed so I should have a relaxing morning routine. I stopped writing my thesis early in the morning and replaced it with an array of avoidant tasks labelled as ‘self-care’ which was ironic because this only added to my stress-levels.
But the thing that really got me, was the level of guilt and shame that I felt. I knew that other people were busier, more stressed and have more serious concerns than me. This made me angry at myself; why can’t I just suck it up and get on with it?! I was comparing myself to others in all of the unhealthy ways and I got myself all worked up because it is suddenly the end of June, the writing is slower than I anticipated and I have not met my monthly writing goals. The other frustration is that, if I take the deadline pressure off of myself, I can honestly say I am genuinely enjoying the writing process and the other work that I am doing.
Getting out of the rut
The only way I can see myself getting out of a rut is by acknowledging that I am in one. I sent a check in email to my supervisor acknowledging that I had been a bit low the past few weeks. I talked about it to a PhD friend on the phone and I journalled about it. I had an epiphany; I was in a shame shit storm! The Brené Brown fans here will understand this reference. If you don’t know about her and her work- look her up. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing she is and the influence she has had on me.
Once you have acknowledged that you’re in a rut, it’s time to hit the reset button. This could mean different things to different people but for me, this involves stepping away from work and getting out in nature. On Friday, we went for a morning swim in the sea and on Saturday, a hike in the Pentlands. The sense of clarity and calm that I get from trudging up a hill in the rain never ceases to amaze me.
With a clearer head after my reset, then next step was to restructure my routine. I won’t harp on about the importance of routine because you can find that info all over the internet right now. I spend today (Sunday) getting caught up on life admin and planning my goals for the week ahead. Going forward, early mornings are for writing then during my ‘9-5’; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are for misc. tasks (mostly PhD-related work), Thursday is for RA work and Friday is for (more) writing. I am one of those people who loves a Monday morning, an entire week of jobs to be done excites me! Looking back, I haven’t felt that in the past few weeks because I have spend them chasing my tail but as I write this one a Sunday night, that familiar feeling is back.
Learning from the rut
This PhD is teaching me so much more than my research field and how to write a thesis. I am learning how to grow emotionally, how to handle whatever life throws at me and actively work through difficult times. PhDs are undoubtedly a stressful experience but to do one is such a privilege. I want to enjoy this process as much as possible. So until the next bump in the road, I best get back to writing up in my little box room!