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Loss of motivation & stress procrastination


User: jw5 - 29 July 2021 15:20

Hi everyone!

I know they’re over discussed topics but just try to write my problems out to combat my anxiety.

I’m doing a masters by research and planning to upgrade to a PHD. I had a very hard time during preparing my first milestone. Although the feedback of panel was surprisingly positive, there’s a lot of things I need to catch up. However, in the last whole month, I made ZERO progress. There’s a mix of thoughts that I literally have no idea on what I should do, I’m so scared to experience what I had before the 1st milestone, I don’t believe that I can make it, and I don’t deserve a research degree. There’s anxiety, depression, self doubt and guilt. I’ve lost my motivation but also feel super guilty of doing nothing and anxious when I aware that the deadlines are coming. I don’t have any HDR peers which I can ask for suggestions. Just wonder how you overcome this kind of situation. How do you manage self care and catch up on research simultaneously? Thank you peers!

User: wing92518 - 29 July 2021 17:23

At the initial stage of my research, I did many experiments wrongly. I asked all people for help because I did not know how to perform experiments. I did everything I could to perform correct experiments.
I talked to my family members and close friends who care about my mental health. I took one or two hours off every day to do my favourite things. I focused on improving on the quality of experiments, rather than getting a PhD. The reason is that at the end of the day it is the quality that determines whether one can get a PhD.

User: rewt - 29 July 2021 20:49

Hi jw5,

I am sorry to hear about your issues and can completely sympathise with you. I am a master procrastinator and have suffered at least 2 major bouts of depression during my PhD, as well as having major issues with anxiety and impostor syndrome. The simplest advice I can give you is try to learn to forgive yourself. We all have bad days, bad weeks and bad months. We all have lost motivation at one point and suffered issues during our PhDs. Don't think you are alone and what you are experiencing is incredibly common but most PhD students never admit it to one another.

This might sound counter productive but take a week break. Take a week to sort yourself out mentally and physically. Try to get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise outside, was regularly, meet friends and follow your hobbies. Take a week to sort yourself out and not have to worry because anxiety is a killer. When you think you are ready, start small and celebrate the little things. When having motivation issues at the end of the day I write down every little thing I did and that sometimes including just going for a walk. As it is easy to focus on the big goals when really it is just a lot of small accomplishments bundled together. I also make to-do lists filled with 5-10 minute jobs as I find I get a small dopamine rush checking things off. Big goals mean less things I have completed and therefore less dopamine. I also know some people who try to do their least favourite objective at the start of the day to get it out of the way. Finding little tricks to motivate yourself can help long term. There is a lot more advice on the internet but just remember you are not alone.

Also, I wouldn't worry about catching up. If everyone worked at their top pace all the time you could probably do a PhD in 18 months. Seriously, I think every PhD timeline includes several months of procrastination. So don't feel you have to catch up as the last month is gone, you can't get it back. That is completely outside your control and it is better to focus on what you can control. If you are worried about finishing, make a list of everything you want to do and prioritise. Everyone is overambitious at the start when in reality you probably only need to do half the things you wanted to in order to form solid conclusions. So just focus on one week at a time and things will start snowball.

User: wing92518 - 29 July 2021 22:21

Quote From rewt:
Hi jw5,

I am sorry to hear about your issues and can completely sympathise with you. I am a master procrastinator and have suffered at least 2 major bouts of depression during my PhD, as well as having major issues with anxiety and impostor syndrome. The simplest advice I can give you is try to learn to forgive yourself. We all have bad days, bad weeks and bad months. We all have lost motivation at one point and suffered issues during our PhDs. Don't think you are alone and what you are experiencing is incredibly common but most PhD students never admit it to one another.

This might sound counter productive but take a week break. Take a week to sort yourself out mentally and physically. Try to get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise outside, was regularly, meet friends and follow your hobbies. Take a week to sort yourself out and not have to worry because anxiety is a killer. When you think you are ready, start small and celebrate the little things. When having motivation issues at the end of the day I write down every little thing I did and that sometimes including just going for a walk. As it is easy to focus on the big goals when really it is just a lot of small accomplishments bundled together. I also make to-do lists filled with 5-10 minute jobs as I find I get a small dopamine rush checking things off. Big goals mean less things I have completed and therefore less dopamine. I also know some people who try to do their least favourite objective at the start of the day to get it out of the way. Finding little tricks to motivate yourself can help long term. There is a lot more advice on the internet but just remember you are not alone.

Also, I wouldn't worry about catching up. If everyone worked at their top pace all the time you could probably do a PhD in 18 months. Seriously, I think every PhD timeline includes several months of procrastination. So don't feel you have to catch up as the last month is gone, you can't get it back. That is completely outside your control and it is better to focus on what you can control. If you are worried about finishing, make a list of everything you want to do and prioritise. Everyone is overambitious at the start when in reality you probably only need to do half the things you wanted to in order to form solid conclusions. So just focus on one week at a time and things will start snowball.
Yes, I think that these pieces of advice are helpful. When the people feel very helpless after doing these things in my university, they also ask Counselling Centre for help frequently. The reason is that the need for psychological help is tremendous for MPhil/PhD students and the university has always reserved capacity to help student go through these stages.

User: jw5 - 01 August 2021 14:09

Thanks Wing,
It’s a very important point that the quality of research matters rather than just passing the deadlines or milestones. Focusing too much on the deadlines is one of the reasons of my demotivation.

User: jw5 - 01 August 2021 14:11

Quote From wing92518:
At the initial stage of my research, I did many experiments wrongly. I asked all people for help because I did not know how to perform experiments. I did everything I could to perform correct experiments.
I talked to my family members and close friends who care about my mental health. I took one or two hours off every day to do my favourite things. I focused on improving on the quality of experiments, rather than getting a PhD. The reason is that at the end of the day it is the quality that determines whether one can get a PhD.

Thanks Wing,
It’s a very important point that the quality of research matters rather than just passing the deadlines or milestones. Focusing too much on the deadlines is one of the reasons of my demotivation.

User: jw5 - 01 August 2021 14:26

Quote From rewt:
Hi jw5,

I am sorry to hear about your issues and can completely sympathise with you. I am a master procrastinator and have suffered at least 2 major bouts of depression during my PhD, as well as having major issues with anxiety and impostor syndrome. The simplest advice I can give you is try to learn to forgive yourself. We all have bad days, bad weeks and bad months. We all have lost motivation at one point and suffered issues during our PhDs. Don't think you are alone and what you are experiencing is incredibly common but most PhD students never admit it to one another.

This might sound counter productive but take a week break. Take a week to sort yourself out mentally and physically. Try to get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise outside, was regularly, meet friends and follow your hobbies. Take a week to sort yourself out and not have to worry because anxiety is a killer. When you think you are ready, start small and celebrate the little things. When having motivation issues at the end of the day I write down every little thing I did and that sometimes including just going for a walk. As it is easy to focus on the big goals when really it is just a lot of small accomplishments bundled together. I also make to-do lists filled with 5-10 minute jobs as I find I get a small dopamine rush checking things off. Big goals mean less things I have completed and therefore less dopamine. I also know some people who try to do their least favourite objective at the start of the day to get it out of the way. Finding little tricks to motivate yourself can help long term. There is a lot more advice on the internet but just remember you are not alone.

Also, I wouldn't worry about catching up. If everyone worked at their top pace all the time you could probably do a PhD in 18 months. Seriously, I think every PhD timeline includes several months of procrastination. So don't feel you have to catch up as the last month is gone, you can't get it back. That is completely outside your control and it is better to focus on what you can control. If you are worried about finishing, make a list of everything you want to do and prioritise. Everyone is overambitious at the start when in reality you probably only need to do half the things you wanted to in order to form solid conclusions. So just focus on one week at a time and things will start snowball.

Thanks rewt,

It means so much to me to know what I’m not alone. I’ve also experienced depression from last year and took a few months break to refresh myself. I recognise I should take a different approach to cope with this journey (not putting 100% of my life on study because of anxiety and guilty, but build my life outside it). However it’s not easy to try a new approach but not going back to my old way. Having someone to remind me that is so helpful to me at this stage. Thank you.

User: rewt - 02 August 2021 11:39

Quote From jw5:

Thanks rewt,

It means so much to me to know what I’m not alone. I’ve also experienced depression from last year and took a few months break to refresh myself. I recognise I should take a different approach to cope with this journey (not putting 100% of my life on study because of anxiety and guilty, but build my life outside it). However it’s not easy to try a new approach but not going back to my old way. Having someone to remind me that is so helpful to me at this stage. Thank you.

It is no problem. COVID has isolated too many PhD students from their peers and is causing severe issues. I come on this forum to simply ground myself and realise I am not alone with my issues.