Motivational strategies in this module have been organized into the following themes:
The more intrinsic interest you have, the better.
Find a reading or research question that you enjoy thinking and wondering about.
If the answer is no, think about ways to incorporate your intrinsic interests into your work:
Our attitudes or opinions stems from our values which, in turn, result in our actions. When our actions (e.g. chronically missing deadlines) and our values (e.g. being a responsible student) don’t match, we tend to feel conflict. Unity and cohesion of values and actions is the goal.
What are my values?
Do my current actions reflect my values?
Think clearly & specifically about your future plans
Operationalize a goal into action steps or sub-goals.
To assist you, use the TOOL: Values-Based Goal Setting Analysis
My Value: ________________________________
Goal I want to achieve: _______________________________________________
Steps to achieving my goal
My Value: Being a valued researcher
Operationalizing Goal: Publish my latest research findings in X Journal
Steps to achieving my goal
1. Set aside 2 hours each day for writing
Very tired after working in lab all day
-Have a rest after my lab shift. --After my two hours of writing, treat myself with some ice cream.
Now until end of the month
2. Send a 2nd draft to my supervisor
Lack of concrete feedback
-Ask post-doc in my lab to read over my draft. In exchange, offer to do something for her.
-Set app’t with supervisor.
By end of next week
Source: Forsyth and Eifert (2007) The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety
Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to enable those choices to be acted upon or imposed on the world.
The degree to which a graduate student has agency often depends on the individual’s experience and the supervisory relationship. It is common for students to swing between feeling uncomfortably independent and alternatively voicing concern that they do not have enough scope for making choices regarding their research project. An “autonomy supportive” supervisor will know how much latitude can be given to a student so that he or she can perform optimally.
PhD students are generally given a great deal of independence to design and manage their own projects while Master’s students might need to work more closely within the protocols or research focus of the supervisor.
Use the TOOL: “What do I control?” to assess how much control you have. Doing this exercise often helps you see that you have more agency than perhaps you thought.
It is important, too, for your well-being that during times of limited agency, you have mechanisms and approaches to help you cope, relax, and accept.
See TOOL “Learning to Accept What We Can’t Change”for ideas on how to practice acceptance.
1. Choose one of your challenges. Using the model above, enumerate which aspects of the challenge are under your control and which aspects are externally controlled.
2. From there, prepare a plan of action to attain and maintain what you do control and a plan for managing those elements over which you have less control.
3. For elements in your life over which you have no control but still must face, acceptance of your situation will help to relieve stress.
The following are some ways to help your learn to accept what you cannot change.
Mindfulness is awareness, without judgment, of life as it is, of you as you are, of others as they are. It is a condition of “being” present rather than “doing”.
How to practise being mindful? Mindfulness is a learned skill that develops with practice.
Resource: Dr. John Kabat-Zinn’s wonderful book Full Catastrophe Living lays out his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.
Love Your Problems
Celebrate Your Mistakes
How I am feeling?
Am I suffering from ‘academic fatigue’ or burnout?
Due to the enormous pressure during grad school, maintaining a state of well-being is critical to feeling motivated. Tiredness after many months of non-stop work, exams, meetings, etc. is normal and can usually be remedied with more rest and relaxation. Burnout, on the other hand, is more notorious. It steals your internal drive, happiness, energy, and sense of connection.
Consider speaking to a counselor or mentor if you wonder whether you’re experiencing burning out.
Beware of the Fate of Don Quixote
In short, he so busied himself in his books that he spent the nights reading from twilight till daybreak and the days from dawn till dark; and so from little sleep and much reading his brain dried up and he lost his wits.
A chronic lack of balance in your work and personal life is all too common amongst graduate students. Many grads (and their supervisors) have a hard-driving, “workaholic” approach to their schedules, which has some benefits in terms of deliverables. However, the downsides are many: loss of connection to friends and family, isolation, low mood, exhaustion, reduced recreation and exercise, etc. Aside from the psychological need to relax and unwind, humans have a social need to connect with others so taking time to hang out, go for a coffee, etc. is TIME WELL SPENT.
Creative thinking, based on the intense research you may be doing, is most likely to happen when you allow your mind time to wander. A real gift with many positive returns.
So, are you taking good care of yourself? Consider using the Tool: Self-Care Check List to assess this. If you sense an unhealthy imbalance, set a few goals to invite balance back into your life.
Rate Yourself: 5=Frequently 4=Occasionally 3= Rarely 2= Never 1= Didn’t occur to me
___ Eat regularly
___ Eat healthfully
___ Get regular medical check ups
___ Get medical care when needed
___ Take time off when sick
___ Get massages/ body treatments
___ Dance, swim, walk, run, play, etc
___ Take time to be sexual
___ Get enough sleep
___ Wear clothes I like
___ Take vacations
___ Make time away from phones, computers
___ Other: ______________________
___ Spend time in the company of those I enjoy
___ Stay in touch with important people in my life
___ Give myself affirmations, praise
___ Love myself
___ Revisit favourite books, movies
___ Seek out comforting activities, objects, people, relationships, places
___ Allow myself to cry
___ Find things that make me laugh
___ Play with children
___ Other: ______________________
___ Make time for self-reflection
___ Have my own personal counselling
___ Write in a journal
___ Read literature unrelated to school/work
___ Try something I am not expert in or in charge of
___ Notice my inner thoughts, judgements, beliefs, attitudes, feelings
___ Let others know different aspects of myself
___ Engage my intelligence in a new area
___ Practise receiving from others
___ Be curious
___ Say ‘no’ to extra responsibilities when I need to
___ Other: ______________________
___ Make time for reflection
___ Spend time with nature
___ Find a spiritual connection or community
___ Be open to inspiration
___ Be aware of non-material aspects of life
___ Try at times not to be the expert or in charge
___ Be open to not knowing
___ Identify what is meaningful to me
___ Have experiences of awe
___ Contribute to causes in which I believe
___ Read or listen to inspirational literature
___ Other: ______________________
School/ Workplace Self-Care
___ Take a break during the day
___ Take time to chat with colleagues/ other students
___ Make quiet time to complete tasks
___ Identify exciting, rewarding projects
___ Set limits with clients, colleagues, friends
___ Arrange a comfortable work space
___ Get regular feedback from mentors, supervisors, etc
___ Negotiate my needs e.g. schoolwork—extension, deadlines, etc.
___ Have a peer support group
___ Other: ______________________
___ Strive for balance within my academic and work life
___ Strive for balance within my WHOLE life: family, relationships, school, play, rest.
From the activities above, choose 5 which I would like to start now:
Guilt-Free Play & The “Unschedule”
Another common concern expressed by students is feeling guilty when you are not working. Constant, pervasive guilt means you never have time to recharge your mental and physical batteries. In his book “The Now Habit: A strategic program for overcoming procrastination and enjoying guilt-free play”, Neil Fiore, PhD, espouses the virtues of guilt-free play. In fact, he argues that not taking time to recreate and enjoy life may lead to procrastination. Using his own form of “reverse psychology”, he invented a technique called the Unschedule which prioritizes life goals over work goals thus (he argues) leading to more work and less procrastination. It may seem unconventional, but it works!
Purpose: get you working again; face your fear; produce quality work, give you guilt-free time for recreation; turn a procrastinator into a producer
1) Get working.
Start by committing to 30 minutes of work each day. 30 minutes is enough time to solve a problem when you’re highly focused, but not so long that you lose focus, or can’t muster up the energy of start. Once you’ve done 30 minutes you can choose to do another block of 30, or stop.
2) Prioritize recreation time.
By starting with scheduling recreation first, the Unschedule avoids the common resistance we have to work. Traditional work schedules leave our play unstructured. The Unschedule tells you to play, exercise, take a day off, not overwork each day or each week, and start small. By limiting your work activity to predetermined periods of 30 minutes and requiring recreational time, the Unschedule subconsciously builds up your desire to work more and play less.
1. Punch in-Punch Out
Get a sense of the actual time you spend on quality, productive work. Using the Punch in-Punch Out time clock approach—write down when you start work and when you stop, accrediting yourself with actual time worked. Add up the total time you are spending over a week.
2. Now take a weekly schedule or calendar.
a) Block off times for all committed non-work activities (including recreation, sleep, meals, etc).
b) Now take your number of real work hours and fit them into the ‘empty’ spaces. Organize small, chunks of 30-minute blocks onto the Unschedule.
More “ABC’s” on Balance and Connection:
“Self-talk” is the private conversation we have within ourselves- which we may or may not be awae of.
A shift in your language can create powerful shifts in your thinking. Negative self-talk contributes to procrastination and lack of motivation while positive self-talk can jumpstart your work, build self-confidence, and keep you moving forward. Neil Fiore, writer of “The NOW Habit”, contrasts the language of Procrastinators and Producers. Producer language moves you forward while Procrastinator language gets you stuck. For example statements, go to TOOL: Language of the Producer
Procrastinators : get overwhelmed, feel pressured, fear failure or success, try harder, work longer, feel resentful, lose motivation, focus on what they “should” be doing, feel like they have little or no control of their circumstances
Producers: put aside fears (e.g. failure, feeling overwhelmed, low self-esteem); enjoy guilt-free play; feel in control of your life/create your own narrative; focus on what they can start now.
Self-Statements that Distinguish Procrastinators from Producers
Procrastinators say: I have to… Producers say: I choose to…
Procrastinators say: I must finish… Producers say: When can I start?
Procrastinators say: It’s too much for me! Producers say: I’ll take one small step.
Procrastinators say: I must be perfect. Producers say: I can be perfectly human. Procrastinators say: I don’t have time to play. Producers say: I must take time to play.
a) Identify any negative or counterproductive self-talk which incites procrastination or low motivation. e.g. “At this rate, I’ll never finish”; “I should have started earlier”; “There’s only more work after this”; “It’s not working”.
b) Prepare challenges to these negative statements e.g. “I’ll never finish” à “I’ll start the next step NOW.”
“Producer” Statement: _____________________________________________
Source: Fiore, N. (2007). The NOW habit: A strategic program for overcoming procrastination and enjoying guilt-free play. 2nd edition. Toronto: Penguin Group.
Even when you are not feeling especially motivated, visualizing yourself as a motivated person can help. See the guided visualization
TOOL: Visualizing my Best Self.
Read the following statements aloud or quietly, and take time to really experience the thoughts, feelings and sensations as they arise. Allow about 10 minutes of uninterupted time.
First: close your eyes.
Take a moment to relax and focus on your even, easy breathing.
Now: think of a time when you felt confident, focused, energized and stimulated.
This can be in a school related experience or outside of school – it could be standing in front of people presenting on a topic, it can be writing a paper, it can be playing a sport, doing a paid or volunteer job, helping a friend or family member. Place yourself there.
Where are you? Notice your surroundings…
Are you in a group? Alone? With a friend?
What are you doing? What did you do to prepare for this moment? Did you have someone’s help to get ready? Did you rehearse what you would do?
Are you speaking? If so, what does your voice sound like? Do you sound strong? Animated? Calm?
How do you look? What is your facial expression like? Are you smiling?
What are the people around you doing? How do they look? Are they listening to you? Are you working together?
What’s happening in your body? Do you feel relaxed? Strong? Comfortable? Excited?
Are you sitting, standing, doing something physical?
What’s happening in your mind? Are you thinking? Creating? Planning? Writing? Performing? Just being?
What thoughts are going through your mind?
Finally: how did you feel when you had finished what you were doing? Did you feel satisfied? Relaxed? Proud? On top of the world?
Did you reward yourself in some way for your hard work?
How to use this Motivation Tool:
When you are faced with a challenging situation or a difficult task you are avoiding, take a few moments to remember how it feels to be motivated and energized. Remember how you felt in the above scenario, before, during and after the experience. Tap into this image of your “Best Self” whenever you need to motivate yourself to face a new challenge. Imagine yourself performing the task competently. Generate an image of yourself in the situation, fill in the details and draw on this to motivate yourself to work toward this goal.
Written by: Liz Racine, Learning Strategies Development, Queen’s University
In order to relax the mind, it’s important to relax the body and vice versa. Some people accomplish this through intense physical activity and others prefer calming activities.
The mindfulness approach has been used for many years in the East to increase mind stability and clarity. Taking a few moments to gently watch your breath, without forcing, can often be enough to naturally slow the breath and heart rate, and release muscle tension. Another approach is to simply watch what is going on in the mind, without judgment or criticism.
Get comfortable in a place where you’ll be undisturbed for 5-10 minutes. You may sit on the floor or a chair. Sit upright with your palms up or down on your lap. Close your eyes and gently guide your attention to the natural rhythm of your breath—wherever in your chest or belly.
Simply notice the breath as you breathe in…and out…in…and out. There’s no need to make the breath faster or slower, deeper or shallower. Just allow your breathing to do its own thing. Sense the air passing from chest through the nose as you breath. In and out.
Notice your breathing with a sense of kindness and gentle allowing. There’s nothing to do except notice your breath. Sink into its natural rhythm: the rising and gentle falling of the chest and belly as you breathe in…and out. In and out.
If you find your mind wandering or you feel distracted, just kindly notice that, and return your attention to the rhythm of the breath and the rising and falling of the chest and belly.
Continue this practice of kind observing for as long as you wish.
Goal: to notice our judgmental and worry thoughts rather than getting caught up in them
Start by taking a few slow, deep breaths. Continue breathing throughout the exercise.
Imagine you’re in is a medium-sized white room with two doors: your thoughts come in through the front door and leave out the back door. Pay close attention to each thought as it enters. Now label the thought as either a judging or a non-judgmental thought. Watch the thought until it leaves. Try not to analyze or hold on to it. Just acknowledge having the thought. If you find that you’re judging yourself for having the thought, just notice that. Don’t argue with your mind. Just notice it for what it is and label it: “Judging—there’s judging”. You’ll know if you’re caught in a judgment by your emotional reactions and by how long you keep each thought in the room.
Keep breathing. Keep watching. Keep labeling. A thought is just a thought. Observe your thoughts as if they were visitors passing in and out of the white room. Let them have a brief moment on the stage and then let them leave when they’re ready to go. Then greet and label the next thought…and the next.
Continue this exercise until you sense a real emotional distance from your thoughts.
N.B: Observing your thoughts without judging or reacting to them isn’t easy at first, but with time and regular practice, your mind will get less and less wild.
Adapted from: Forsyth, J.P., & Eifert, G. (2007). The mindfulness & acceptance workbook for anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
For a number of relaxation tips and techniques, go to our online module http://www.queensu.ca/learningstrategies/grad/stress/module.html
You might also consider joining a yoga or meditation group where you can relax with others!
Supervisor & Faculty Support
Faculty can play a key role in helping you stay motivated.
Set regular meetings with faculty involved in your learning. Have regular, ongoing email communication, even when your supervisor is not physically available.
Develop Mentor Relationships
Sometimes students benefit from additional mentoring and support:
Develop these relationships with people around the department:
If you want to re-shape your program of research, discuss this with your supervisor
Get professional support: learning strategists, Writing Centre tutors, other faculty members inside or outside your department.
Colleagues can help you keep motivated. Find a colleague who is a role model. Ask what his/her strategies are.
Explain your student life to your partner and family, and enlist their cooperation in making realistic plans or committments.
Is it normal for my motivation to wane and wax during my program?
How can I keep my motivation going over a long period of time?
2 - 4 years is a long time to keep motivation high while running the grad school marathon. However, there are things you can do to build endurance and keep moving ahead.
a) Manage Your Time
E.g. 3 hours in morning- read and write
3 hours in afternoon- office hours and lab time
2 hours in evening- think on the day’s readings, mark assignments
Use large breaks at lunch and dinner to exercise, eat, socialize, check
b) Be Productive EVERY work day
Even when you have low motivation, doing a small task means that you can honestly say, “I worked today”. Most grad students want to feel productive and if a whole day is frittered away, it’s usual to feel bad.
Monitor your accomplishments (even those very small bits of work) by writing them down. You can make lists in iCal, Google Calendar, etc. or you may simply jot down the task and how much time you spent doing the task.
Try using time monitoring software. The following two are easy, free, and fun to use. ‘My Tomatoes’ also helps to get you started on tasks, although eventually longer periods of work will be desirable.
My Tomatoes http://mytomatoes.com
Time Tracker www.formassembly.com/time-tracker
c) Pace Yourself
Behave like a not a .
In the Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” the steady paced turtle got to the finish line, not the sprinting rabbit. Sprinting is alright when you have a small, time-limited task or project, but racing through a 4 year PhD is madness.
Go to our online module http://www.queensu.ca/learningstrategies/grad/tm/module.html for TOOLS to assist in planning, organizing, and monitoring your time.