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What to do when you Lose the Motivation to Complete your PhD

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What to do when you Lose the Motivation to Complete your PhD

The PhD journey can be exceptionally challenging and stressful, and it is not unusual for PhD candidates to sometimes feel so overwhelmed and demotivated that they feel unable to continue with their research. If you find yourself in this state, take comfort in that fact that you are not alone – there are doctoral students in disciplines and universities across the world who have experienced or are dealing with many of the same feelings.

Take heart that there are always ways of dealing with these blocks and stressors that can help you begin to feel better about your research again. Sometimes, all it takes is a slight tweak to your work routine, a fresh, alternative perspective on your research or the adoption of a few new practices or activities to get you back on track. Consider some of our suggestions below for reviving your PhD mojo.

1. Talk to someone

Don’t try to struggle through these difficult moments alone. Find someone to talk to. This could be someone more senior to you who can offer guidance and advice, such as your supervisor, a mentor or another academic in your department. They should be able talk you through your current situation or offer practical solutions for dealing with whatever is causing you to feel demotivated and stuck.

Alternatively, you might find it helpful to talk to other PhD students, either from your own department or a different discipline. By speaking with others who are on a similar journey to you, you may gain tips and solutions for addressing similar challenges. In turn, these conversations might prompt you to think and talk about your research in novel ways that can provide exciting new perspectives and ideas to incorporate into your work.

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of empathy and solidarity. You may find a lot of relief and reassurance just from speaking with other people who understand what you’re going through and who are willing to share their own experiences. Remember that you are not the only PhD student who feels this way and the researcher community can be a valuable source of support and understanding to help you get through a rough patch.

2. Read or watch something you love

If you’re finding it hard to progress with your own research or writing, find inspiration by reading research and writing by other people you admire.

You might want to return to a journal article or a book that has always excited you about your area of research. Revisit old writings, theories or discussions that first got you interested in your subject or return to material that has been a constant inspiration for your own work. This type of inspirational material doesn’t have to be limited to academic texts.

Alternatively, you could branch out and read something completely different – for example, a new theory in your field or writing from another discipline.

Or, take a break from academic work altogether! Check out podcasts, magazines, online blogs for new, refreshing ideas, perspectives and styles of writing.

3. Turn to your research journal

Writing in a research journal to record your reflections on your research or to reflect upon the challenges you are facing can be very helpful for sorting through exactly what is causing you to feel demotivated or stuck. Keep this as a safe space just for you to work through the issues that you’re struggling with. Use it to ask yourself questions, articulate what feels wrong and clarify what you need to move forward.

You could use mind mapping methods, drawing, free writing or any creative tool that will help you to be open and honest with what you are going through. You might find that the practice of getting your frustrations down on paper is enough for you to release some of your stressors and move on. Or, it could help you identify exactly what your obstacles are and what you need to move forward.

4. Make (tiny) notes

Even if you still don’t feel motivated enough to return fully to your research, try to reignite your creative thinking by working around the material you’re reading or watching. Write down useful quotations, jot down first impressions or ideas from whatever you’re reading, or write very short thought pieces to reflect upon any new material you’re engaging with. You never know where these ideas might lead you. It might spark some new thinking and incite you to pick up some aspect of your research and start writing again. Or, even if you don’t use these ideas straight away, they might come in useful at a later time.

5. Don’t chase the motivation

This option may seem contradictory. After all, isn’t the whole point to find new motivation so we can keep progressing? However, trying to force yourself to be motivated when you’re feeling exhausted, fed up and overwhelmed can be counterproductive, and end up causing more frustration. Motivation is not something that can be manufactured just because you want to feel motivated.

Instead, sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re feeling really stuck and stressed is to take a break from the PhD altogether. Ensure you catch up on rest. This does not just mean physical rest, but a mental and emotional break away from thinking about the PhD altogether. Allow yourself to find relief and enjoyment in other activities that you enjoy, even if it is something that is not at all academic, such as sport, crafting or baking. Getting enough rest and distance from your PhD will help you move into a more relaxed, receptive mental space and be open to new creative ideas and solutions.

So, go out and have some fun! It’s the most productive thing you can do for yourself.


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