A pattern I’ve started to notice in my PhD is that every time I finish a big milestone, such as completing coursework, my qualifying exam, and now my proposal, I often lose motivation after it is complete. At first, I shrugged this off as me needing to take a break and nothing more. And I think that is part of it. It is necessary for us PhD students to rest or else this marathon will not be sustainable. We also need to recognize the difference between only needing a break and signs of burnout. After my qualifying exam, I was burnt out. But this time it is different. After completing my proposal, a goal I have been working on for so long, when I began to return to my work I was missing that sense of challenge, excitement, and stimulation. So, if you are finding yourself reading this after a major milestone, first off – congratulations. Secondly, whether you are experiencing burnout or simply just need some guidance to work towards your next goal, below I share some tips that help me get back to a routine after I finish a big accomplishment and hope they can help you too.
You’ve completed your milestone – congratulations! This is something to celebrate. Celebration may come easier to some, compared to others. For me, it is really easy to dismiss these accomplishments and act like the finish line is the only thing that matters. But that’s wrong. These milestones are huge and celebrating them along the way should be required. How you celebrate however will look differently for everyone. You could go all out and throw a party, or you could celebrate by ordering in your favourite food and curling up on the couch to binge watch a good Netflix series. Either way, make sure to celebrate. You deserve it.
2. Take time to rest
Taking time to rest is different than celebrating. After you have celebrated, you don’t have to jump right back to it. Schedule in rest to rejuvenate both your physical and mental health. Often completing a big goal, takes deep concentration, stamina and adrenaline. Help your body come back to a sense of balance by taking time to sleep in, get outside, and mostly listen to what your unique body and soul needs at this time.
3. Go inwards
After I complete I major milestone, I often come out of it realizing I was in survival mode. I had my head down, routine down to a science and my all my mental energy was prioritized toward that task. But now its time to re-centre, go inwards, and connect back to your Self. I find that reading books such as “The Untethered Soul” by Michael A. Singer help me to come back to consciousness. I also find meditation and journaling helpful tools as well. Do what works for you to listen and connect back to your true self. If you are finding it difficult to connect, it might be time to ask yourself those difficult questions – is this burnout or do I simply just need some more time to rest?
4. Be kind to yourself
When I talk about taking time to rest and going inwards, I recognize how difficult these practices can be. It’s not easy for me to rest. The narrative in a PhD program is to ‘go, go, go’, ‘be productive’, ‘build that CV’. There is always something you can be ‘doing’. So taking time to slow down, goes against your ultimate goal of your PhD. But the further along I am in my PhD, the more I realize how much this rest is needed. Deeply knowing this has allowed me to more easily change my negative and ego driven thoughts when they pop into my mind while I rest. When you start to hear that voice, firstly recognize that it isn’t your true self speaking, and remind yourself that it will take you longer than usual to get back to a normal routine and working as many hours as you were before – and that is okay. Tasks that normally take a short time, while likely take longer – and this is okay. Provide yourself the same self-compassion that you so freely give others.
5. Set new goals
One thing that can help while returning back to a normal routine is to set new goals. We need these goals to stay motivated, to keep learning, to keep motivated. We need something new that brings us excitement and challenge to our work. Make time to organize your to do lists, next steps, prioritize your tasks and brainstorm those new actionable goals with estimated timelines.
6. Chat with mentors and friends
If you are struggling with any of these steps, chat with mentors and friends. Not only will it allow you to digest and reflect on your experience, it can also help you see things from different perspectives. I often find that my mentors and colleagues are approaching their work in different ways, which allows me to reflect on a different way of doing things. In fact, my colleague and I just scheduled a call next week to brainstorm and plan our next goals together. This will help us stay accountable but will also give us an opportunity to hear how we are appraoching our next steps differently.
Don’t lose hope after finished a major milestone. And don’t feel different for not feeling excited and unmotivated after it is complete. This transition takes time, be kind to yourself Scholars.
What is your experience with finishing major milestones? Leave any tips below.
Until next time,
P.S Don’t forget to use #ScholarCulture #ScholarSquad to keep me updated on your experiences as grad students.
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