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This Category: > PhD Advice / Support


Self Discipline Disaster

User: Ziad - 22 March 2012 19:02


I am just having stress and lack of self discipline. Time, days, months, go without doing a thing in my Ph.D. research. I was suppose to finish an important part nine month ago, but time just went by. The Uni is strict about that, and I might be expelled.

The issue is that I can't get hold of a routine or a daily program for more than days. Some say because I am a perfectionist, either It should be great, or no at all. When I pick up my studies, I work like a charm and sleep well at night. But I tend to find ways into getting distracted and struggle to pick up my studies. I even missed up my sleep, it's 5 am now, and I haven't sleep. I haven't done sports for a long time, and feel really down.

I used software, internet blocker, paper systems, todo list, reminders, etc. I just get around them and spend hours and hours surfing youtube, fb, twitter, refersh gmail. Sometimes, I get some energy, and waste that over procrastinating.

I don't know, I just feel that I should discontinue it, and go back to my career life. I even got here procrastinating over writing my to-do list, and after that, I guess I will keep refreshing my gmail every min :S. I know I should break up tasks to small pieces, imagine successful endings, etc. i can teach those stuff. I just find genius ways into getting distracted. I even can distract people easily too when they talk to me, I can get them worried over a thing and let them leave me alone. I even distract my ph.d. supervisors into other stuff and got them busy. I asked my wife to help, but I tend to get back and find ways to get distracted.

In my masters, I spend most of my time thinking more than reading. I answer some exams without studying and I manage to get through with an advanced master degree. My family always used to tell me that I would fail since I wasn't serious about studying, still I get through. In my masters, I write papers in the last 5 hours, and I get Bs and Cs. This however, doesn't help me in my full time Ph.D. It's actually all getting back to me now. I am burning my self for the next 3 years like this if I stay doing this. It just kills me, even though I am 27, my hair turned grey from the stress over procrastinating. The truth is, it is about time, till I get kicked out. I love navigating knowledge and researching, but the amount of work and writing kills it all.

I don't seem to respond to systems, I just wish if I can find an simple way of just picking up my studies and doesn't get distracted.

My ph.d. is funded, and my goal is to work as a consultant and have my own business. I don't aim to work in acadima. So, Ph.D. because I want to learn a lot about my area and be the best at it.

Does anyone have the same self discipline issue?

User: waddett - 22 March 2012 21:21

Hi Ziad,

You have had the misfortune to be good enough that, before now, you have sailed through your academic career where you could get away with less effort and still pass.
However, at PhD level it is effort that counts even for the academically gifted. All of a sudden we can't tell ourselves a rubbish result is because we have just coasted - A rubbish result can STILL occur even if we have tried really hard!! Fear of failure could well be what is causing you to procrastinate.

First thing: you need sleep, you have no chance if you are too tired and will make mistakes. You are going to procratinate anyway so "GO TO BED!". Allow yourself six hours minimum a night - there will be nights when you wiggle and the mind is racing but the physical act of resting will at least give your body a break.

Next: You mention you feel down because you are not doing sports. set an hour or two each week to do the sports you love. You obviously are not focused so withdrawing this pleasure is not helping. Give yourself this opportunity for exercise. It can help take your mind off your problems and may give you the chance to see things in a new light after an active session.

And now the hardest part: get a clock, sit down, and work for half an hour, do this every day for 5 days. Only half an hour. Next week have 2 half hour slots per day. Up by half an hour when you have found the previous level easy. If a day goes rubbish, try again the next day: every day is a clean slate. Every day is a new start to improve on the past.

You can get through this, I know because I have major lazy days and weeks (and it doesn't get into months cos I have a supervisor who will wop my ass!). Often I produce substandard work but hey, tough! That's just what they're gonna get - Better than nothing!
Give them rubbish - no major disaster will happen because of it.
Then work on that rubbish - now you have a target for improvement.

The computer seems to be a souce of your distractions: can you print out papers, have books to read and go and sit in a uni library or local park? Take yourself physcially away from the distraction. Go to a cafe for a coffee (without laptop) and sit reading. (yes you may spend most the time daydreaming and people watching but at least this time you will have spent a relaxing hour or two).

Consider this as your training for your future job: YOU are the business. You need to devote study time for YOU every day. Just a little bit at the start and build it up day by day, week by week.

User: HaloChanter - 23 March 2012 07:59

Disconnect your interest, like pronto! Seriously, call up your service provider and get it cancelled, and just use the one on your phone, if you have one!

User: timefortea - 23 March 2012 09:12

Yes, I have similar problems. I agree with getting rid of the internet. I turn off my wireless - it takes ages to get running again so I don't like turning it on and off but it gets the job done. I have set times that I have the internet on for looking for articles etc. I also sometimes work in libraries on paper - a bit slower than typing but again, I actually get more done that way.

User: DrJeckyll - 23 March 2012 16:06


I personally don't suffer from this problem, but I have a friend who does. Her main income comes from producing consultancy work for companies. I have noticed a few common things:
1. She is a perfectionist too
2. Throughout her academic life she got away with working hard, because she was smarter than average and had a strong background.
3. Up until now, she leaves everything for the last minute, and then goes for a week without sleep trying to meet the deadline

So, first of all you need to realise that you cannot complete a PhD in one go like a 10 page report for an assignment. If you feel that you have plenty of time to complete your PhD, it is an illusion, you have very little time for the things you have to do.

Since you know that you work well under pressure and deadlines, break the PhD in smaller parts. Literature review in 3 months: Write exactly the topics you will cover. Case studies: when, how long? Make a timetable and hand it to your supervisor after explaining him your problem. Ask him to abuse you everytime you fail to meet the deadlines.

Alternatively, you may book cheap holidays -nothing fancy really, and try to meet the deadline so that you can go away for a few days (if reward works better for you).

I use both techniques (reward and abuse) alternatively because I am a perfectionist too; I am capable of working for a month on a finished paper, I cannot let go.

Finally, allow yourself procrastination time and don't feel guilty about it.High expectations also lead to increased procrastination, surprisingly.

Finally, if you think that you cannot self-discipline yourself, then it is better to go back to industry than to waste 3 years procrastinating online doing nothing. Or go travelling (or anything else that gives you self-fulfilment) life is too short to waste time.

All the best

User: KataD - 03 January 2018 23:13


Self-discipline means doing what you committed to do regardless of how you feel. This is a big deal because a lot of people can be counted on to do the great things in life if they feel like it.
Oftentimes, when you wake up, it's as if you want to go straight back to bed. Sometimes, you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or you have a bad hair day.

How Do You Build Discipline?

The best way to build self-discipline regardless of where you come from, regardless of your experience, regardless of your expectations is to adopt a three-pronged approach. These are based on three fundamental facts. If you approach building discipline from these three avenues, you increase your likelihood of success.
You have to adopt all three. You can't just cherry pick or treat this like some sort of cafeteria. You pick a couple and then you leave the rest behind. That' won't work. You have to adopt all three. That's part of building discipline.

Fundamental Fact #1: Discipline is Like a Muscle
Just like building muscles, discipline needs to be challenged. You need to put a lot of pressure on it. You need to put yourself in situations where you need to exercise it.

Fundamental Fact #2: Discipline Requires Willpower
Willpower is like a block of ice that's given to you.When you work to make sure that you have an adequate starting supply of willpower, and you commit to using it efficiently to maximize discipline, you get optimal results.

Fundamental Fact #3: Mindfulness Helps You Boost Discipline
If you adopt some sort of mindfulness or meditation practice, you can train your mind to work in such a way that you are able to become more disciplined.

'Self-discipline. Get yourslef motivated and learn how to achieve your goals.' by Maxine Hay

All the best

User: pm133 - 04 January 2018 14:48

Maybe you just simply dont want the PhD badly enough.
I had my fair share of problems when I was doing mine and what I always remember was asking myself whether I wanted the damn thing badly enough or not. Fortunately I kept getting a resounding yes and this kept me going through some dark moments.

Before you start planning and organising anything you might want to start with that basic question.

User: Dunham - 04 January 2018 21:34

Sometimes you also have to accept that certain things are just not for you. Some people need structure in their daily life and do great things when they have it. Others do exceptionally well if they have a lot of freedom and can organize their time themselves. Friend of mine studied a humanities subject that required very little university attendance. Most of the time you are supposed to do research for your assignments, which he always did last minute with the result of mediocre grades. He just couldn't motivate himself to start earlier at home. He often started few days before the deadline to work on an assignment they had 3 months for. Another friend of mine absolutely thrived during a similar degree and probably did much more than the degree required him to do. They are both intelligent. To some degree it is just personality.
You seem to have analyzed the issue quite well and know what the problem is, yet you didn't manage to change that behavior in 27 years. Unlikely that there is some magical technique out there. You just have to pull through and do it, but you already know that ;)

Do you really need that PhD to achieve your career goals? If not, maybe starting your own business or working as a consultant would be the better choice.

User: helebon - 06 January 2018 18:52

This is an old thread and KataD was marketing something by the looks of it, the post was edited by the moderator.

User: pm133 - 07 January 2018 16:25

Just noticed that. Grrrr.

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