Home PHD Overcoming Procrastination during the “valley of shit”.

Overcoming Procrastination during the “valley of shit”.

by Ivan
Overcoming Procrastination during the "valley of shit".

I am sure I am not the only one routinely fighting with this. Sometimes my motivation is COMPLETELY gone.

I have been warned about the “second year blues”. “Due to a PhD’s length and intensity, it is inevitable that at some point you will experience an unwelcome dip in motivation, morale and confidence.”

The Thesis Whisperer calls this “The Valley of Shit”.

In essence, it is a time when you question yourself, your motivation, and the reason why you’re doing a PhD.

I researched this – as any researcher would – and found levity in finding so many resources referring to the same dip in motivation. Not because I found profound ways of dealing with this, or a well designed and tested instrument that will help me navigate my way out of this “valley”, but because it made me realise I am not alone!

The initial excitement that you have during your first year has worn off and the harsh reality of how long you still have to go has hit you, the time you have left seems both too long but also not long enough. Your project may not be unfolding as you thought it would be and you may not have achieved as much as you thought you would have at this point.

A lot of people compare this to different things, such as being so far through a tunnel that you can’t see the start anymore, but not far enough through to see what’s next in front of you, let alone the light at the end.

There are many analogies online, and many ways this dip in motivation is described.

For me, it feels like at times I am not getting anywhere with my project, and that prompts me to lose motivation and confidence. Any work I do is not good enough in my eyes, even if my supervisors say it is. It’s a self perpetuating spiral – any papers I produce make me feel worse which prompts me not to write papers which makes me lose motivation and confidence!

PHD Comics on Twitter: "The Spiral https://t.co/Ge62Cjtmnk https://t.co/pGqIZg24ox" / Twitter

So, how to deal with it?

If you can, speak to other PhD students, people in your lab, or your supervisors. They’re all people that are in, or have been in, the same position as you. I can promise you that others will be feeling the same way. You have no idea how many people fake it and pretend like they’ve got it together!

There are so many wonderful resources online to help with this, to help with productivity, and to help move past this and take each day at a time.

For me, one of the most valuable tools I have as a remote student facing the social and professional isolation afforded by the COVID pandemic is my writing.

If you don’t feel motivated, if you are going down this spiral of dispair, this “valley of shit”, I have a suggestion:

Write a letter. It could be to yourself, to an imaginary friend, or to the universe.

I have done this to help me with various areas in my life where I have felt stuck, and this is no exception.

Aim to answer the following questions:

  • Why did you pursue your study?
  • What do you want to do after your PhD?
  • What will getting your PhD bring you?
  • What does your life look like when you have completed your PhD?
  • What are the most enjoyable parts of your PhD?
  • What inspires you?
  • How will you feel if you actually finish it?

These are a few thoughts which will, in the future, help remind you of the positive sides to this journey.

If you have any tips that have worked for you, let me know. Otherwise, I hope you get through this! For now, I can’t wait to wear my fluffy hat and celebrate!

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