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Visitor Question: How to Stay Motivated
User: Admin
Date: 8/27/2012 4:19 pm
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Response to an E-mailed question of how to stay motivated while taking classes, taking care of the family and completing the doctoral work?

Burnout comes from not refreshing yourself. You are in a Ph.D. program so you are one of the most intelligent and capable people in our nation. You have the basic skills, innate intelligence and motivation to succeed. But if you are feeling burnout creeping in then your reserve strength is not being refilled on a regular basis. If you read the posts on the website they talk about being refilled. The ideas will work for those who are still in classes as well as for those writing the dissertation. There is a lot of how to advice buried in each post.

Almost everyone in my doctoral cohort worked full time and completed the degree. There were about 15 of us from my department and more if you count the other department they added to our dissertation seminar. Of our 15 only three of us had graduated after ten years. All three of us worked full time. So yes, you can make it and others have in the past. Remember that fact, it will help you when your brain says that you cannot do all of this.

Take your time as you move forward and do not take too many classes at once. Yes you have 7 years but we had a departmental form to extend the degree time. (See if your school has an extension component) I took 10 years to finish my doctorate and I was the last of our three to graduate. Unbalanced doctoral work takes away from your work and your family and friends. Folks that sprinted ahead in our group and in groups of other past students I have talked to did not always finish and get the degree.

Twenty five years ago I was in a brand new doctoral program that the college had to drop due to a huge recession. In one class during a break the other students gathered around me to ask me questions. They had heard that I had a full time job. That was an oddity and they had all sorts of questions about how I could finish all the assignments and still work 40 hours a week for the state running a mental health program. We got to talking and none of them had ever had a job just constant schooling and all were in their early thirties. Back then I was quite an odd specimen to them. Now many people in a doctoral program work full time and the course work is just as hard.

So here you are with the same demands and you also work full time. Do you see where despite all your talent and motivation you are in a hard place? What you feel is real and understanding where you are now is important. It drives the fear away and helps you to plan correctly. You are going to have to decide that you need this much rest each night, that you will skip this particular task and you will say “no” when people ask for time or help with a task. Guilt has to be tossed out the door. You need some time just for yourself. You may need to cut back on classes or make other changes. Do what you need to do so you do not burn out. This doctoral degree is a long process and that fact must be in your mind daily.

Family and friends time is critical and so is alone time. Do not let the college process rush you without cause. Ask for alternatives and see what works best for you. Yes you work hard and ask as little as you can for special treatment but ask if you need help. Be assertive but polite. Read my post on the holidays.

Write down when and where you feel like crap, feel overwhelmed or sick to your stomach. Look at what is going on and get some solutions there (those places and situations). You must make changes so those feelings go away. Remember this doctoral work will not be your best work and you can get a B sometimes (as long as you are already accepted into the program). Do not beat yourself up. Realize you are very smart and special to be where you are. Being chosen for a doctoral program is a blessing that so very few people will ever experience. You should be happy most of the time if your reserves are getting replenished. If not you need to put that oversize brain to work figuring out what is wrong. You should be happy, tired but happy, but not exhausted or ready to quit.

Remember the world is going through a tough economic spell and everything is negative. The news, other people, news about your job, relatives etc. are all challenged at the moment. Watch out and if you feel yourself being pulled down then realize who you talked to or what you listened to that affected you. Watch your inputs and what they do to your emotions! You can help others and support them but some folks just want to focus on the negative. You do not have time for that now. Counter it with strong goals and stay away from negative people as much of it as you can. Make it a game to avoid negative people and situations. The awareness of the negative variables and how they affect you will shield you from some of it.

Lastly some of us used faith in a higher power. Mine was asking Christ for help and strength but others have used slogans from smart people like Einstein etc. Some used a sports motivational approach or others used the rags to riches motivational systems like the book “Think and Grow Rich”. I have talked to successful doctoral people who used a lot of different systems and had faith in a lot of different approaches. A lot of different things have worked for different people so figure out what is bigger than you that you can attach to and draw strength from.

The fact that you have these feelings is normal and it is a warning to adjust what you are doing. Realize how cool it is where you are. You are not alone. Sorry this is so long I just want you to succeed. I wish I could show you what wonders lie in front of you. A lot of challenge and work too but most of it helps to change you for the better. You will come out of this a much better person in many ways and you will move science ahead a bit.

Stay in touch, read the postings on the web site. Get some fun back into your life.

Dr. Parker