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feel miserable, desperate and unmotivated

User: in_between - 30 June 2011 12:59

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Hello, all,
I started master's program in social sciences three years ago. It was supposed to be two years. Probably it is how I feel impedes progress. Before I had a job connected to writing (not academic), was successful at it, receiving praise. I had a tendency to write too much back that time, but I managed to fit in the format required, sometimes working at nights. I was not good at time management, but I had deadlines... Now I do not have any clear external deadline since I missed the first one, which was for all students in the program. My supervisor is not pushing me, but I think it's good - I would like to learn time management and be able to stick to deadlines which I set myself. But I miss them - quite always. From few days to a week. Like now, I set new deadline to make a half of big chapter in specific time and now it has taken 1/3 more of the time and I have only one fourth of it written - but I have done some work on it, but I am not sure, whether it's right (I know there is no one right way to write, but I torture myself thinking maybe the way which I did it before was better - I had a bit different approach and wrote few pages using it, and my supervisor said it was quite OK, but I decided to change it, focusing on that part of chapter as a whole.) I feel miserable and think that others see me as failed. I feel like I have already failed. Despite I know that if I finally write my thesis, I will not get "fail". During these years of writing I very much lost confidence in my abilities. Not only abilities to write a thesis in scheduled time, but abilities as a person. I feel I am not professional and could not be. I have thoughts about my supervisor thinking that I am not good at writing and not professional at all. I even started to think that I do not deserve his help anymore, after not keeping my promises to meet deadlines which I set myself. I also became afraid of setting deadlines for myself, because I do not meet them. After some months writing, when I have already missed to comply with some suggestions of my supervisor, I proposed to my supervisor to make a plan, a schedule, when I should do which step to complete it in time. We made it and at early point I started missing these short deadlines and got better at procrastinating. Some delays were bec.of health and family problems, but not now. I have read parts of Becker "Writing for social scientists", applied smth from Foss & Waters "Destination Dissertation", many articles about stopping procrastination, developing regular schedule, etc. in the net. Maybe applied smth, but was never satisfied with myself. Two psychologists told me I am indeed working on thesis,but my progress ALWAYS seemed too little. Supervisor will be on vacation (friend will give feedback), so I probably will not get his feedback for a longer time. Smth - or many things - is wrong with me. I am also oversensitive.

User: in_between - 30 June 2011 16:26

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Probably I should also say that I was considering quiting my degree several times, cause I have this attitude that everyone should be doing the thing which they want most to do. And I realized I want to do something else - and I was doing it a bit - it also became some form of procrastination, but for a good reasons, producing good outcomes (not for thesis, though). But I quited that type of procrastination almost to zero long ago. At some point I decided that I have to go, that I want to finish it - after all, I liked my program very much and a degree might be some use in the future (despite I value more what I learned, not the degree itself). I was one of the best students in the program and this thesis down... I am probably tieing too much my performance and value as a person. I know it's not true, but still hard to convince my inner critic. The fact that my significant other harshly criticized me once tieing my performance and me as a person does not help. Despite he is and was very supportive. Also, before beginning thesis, I was tired of myself writing up/doing things last minute/week/day, so I decided that I can learn being more consistent, have a normal life and write a thesis at the same time. I failed at it. Also, I don't like being in a country where I am now, despite it has many advantages, do not have many friends here, and lack social contacts overall. And I am not supposed to search for social contacts when I am supposed to focus on my thesis, am I? I was also changing the focus of my thesis partly, which made some work I made on it useless. Also, my thesis does not seem so interesting as before. It is also quite characteristic to me that I want to work most and get in the shoes of working, when I should be finishing it - before when it's time to sleep (I cannot work at night because of other people, at least not at home), on Friday late afternoon, before vacation, before the party. Anyone, who has overcome something similar to my situation - how did you did it? Others, who has seen this in other people - what helped them? Maybe I should forget all deadlines - but that I have already tried and felt not knowing where I am and where I am heading.

User: Intellectual - 04 July 2011 16:57

Hi In_Between,
I cannot say I have been in exactly your situation but I think for all of us writing a dissertation is quite a challenging task. Perhaps if you look at it from the point of view of what you have to lose if you don't complete it then that could be a motivating factor. For me, I was a self-funded student juggling work and study along with my personal life. There were times I felt so frustrated that I could chuck it all in but then I thought I worked to hard for the money I had to spend out of my own pocket so lets get on with it. I didn't really work to any set schedule. I just constantly chipped away at it by spending at least 15min per day on it. Well of course one may thing that not much can be achieved in 15min but if you set small goals and look at it from that point of view rather than this mammoth task that helps the motiviation a lot. And once you sit down and start writing that 15min turns to 30min and then 2hrs as the ideas start to flow. If you neglect it though and think "I can't be bother tonight, I will do something tomorrow" then you find you are always putting it off. What I would do also is to write in an haphazard fashion rather than a set structure. I would set out the template of the chapters and if I am stuck on the lit review, I simple move to the methodology so in this way I am not wasting time agonising over one part. Later I move back to the problem area and find new inspiration and I weave back and forth through the different sections like that until I complete it.

Self reflection is good but don't waste to much time reading books on how to plan dissertation - utilise the time to research your lit review etc. And don't spend too much time beating up on yourself. Stay encourage.

User: huhu - 05 July 2011 13:14

Hi In_Between

Hope you are feeling better today.

Unfortunately, I procrastinate a lot too. Do you know why are you procrastinating now? Is it because:

1. you couldn't meet the previous datelines that you had set and this frustrated you, thus causing you to procrastinate further? If yes, I wouldn't say forget about the dateline. Instead, set a realistic dateline that you think you can achieve. Even if you can't achieve it, just acknowledge/ appreciate what you have done so far and then move on-continue to complete the unfinished things on the next day. Slow progress is better than not progressing at all.

2.  you feel that the task is overwhelming and you feel that you can't finish it, so you feel reluctant to carry it out? If yes, as many have said in this forum, try to break the task into smaller parts and solve them solve little by little everyday/ every working day rather than looking at it as a whole. In my opinion, accomplishing few/ many smaller tasks can motivate/ boost some confidence to continue doing the next tasks.

3. you feel tired/ stressed that you can't stand to look at the work anymore? If yes, it is better to take some rest- do something that you like and then you can return to the work feeling fresher. I am usually able to complete the same work faster when I am fresh than when I am tired. Sometimes feeling tired/ stressed can hindered you from seeing the real problem clearly as it appears to be unsolvable and larger than it actually is.

4. you are being perfectionist? I see many of my friend who got lower grades than me during undergraduate finish their PhD earlier than me. I think one of the reason is that I procrastinate a lot as I want my work to be perfect. So, I loosen up a little on this and it helps me to move on.

5. you are not confident with your work? I think, it is better to do as best as you could about it and then just move on to the next part. After that, just make improvements if your supervisor suggests any. Because, if you keep on focusing on the same part, it is difficult to move on the next part and it will take a long time to finish the whole thesis.

6. you are stressed about what people think about you? Previously I was also stressed about what my supervisor thinks about me. Does he think that I am wasting the laboratory money and the government money on my scholarship? Do my friends think that I am a failure and stupid as they have already finished their PhD although I started earlier then them? etc, etc. I had once asked one of my friends about this, and was so relieved when he told me that no one think I am stupid at all. Sometimes our mind are just creating false things/ assumptions that do not exist. In my opinion, it is best to focus and think about the thesis. Stop wasting energy on other things which might be not true at all.

Sorry if you have already known and tried all these. These are just some of my efforts in minimizing my procrastination.

As for the confidence issue, is it possible to send any paper from your research to a conference now? I had a terrible viva during my master that I completely lost my confidence a human being.  However, I try to regain my confidence back during this PhD, by sending my papers to conferences and to my surprise, I was given the "Best Young Author Award" in the conference that I attended last week. Although I think that they might have made some mistake for accepting my paper and selecting me for the award, this helps in improving my confidence for the time being. Although the panels during my master presentation look down on me, at least there other research community who accept my work.  

I agree, it is very sad and frustrating when the significant other condemns us during 'down times' when he/she is the one who should support and believe in us the most. Have you ever read about 'the story of the frog?' Perhaps you already know about it, but I just would like to share and

User: huhu - 05 July 2011 13:26


... paste the link here in case it is helpful http://www.crystal-reflections.com/stories/story_73.htm

I understand, it is hard. I feel it too, but keep on trying. Nothing is really over until you stop trying.

User: in_between - 12 July 2011 18:02

Thank you, Intellectual and Huhu, for your support. I have been better for some time, made another deadline for the same chapter and was working quite productively on it (haven't seen popping up so many pages in so short time for a while). The deadline was a bit external - I agreed someone (who knows about troubles with progress) to comment on my work, and this person only has limited days to comment, so I gotta send it and get comments, or I will not get any comments for a long time. This quite motivated me. Also, I planned a two day trip as a reward after completing the draft (this was also motivating, at the beginning). But I was wholeheartedly writing only when I saw the prospect of completing it on time. When I lost this prospect, seeing too much work in too little time - today (today evening or tomorrow morning is the deadline), I did not write at all. Neither did something really pleasurable. As a result, I do not want to eat normally, and to do things which I usually enjoy. I doubt, whether I deserve going to that trip (I can easily not to go, no tickets bought). And this is kind of a cycle I see when I look back to my writing.
I can beat the bad side of perfectionist in me, all the other bad feelings, I can forget that I thought of other people thinking about me as failed person and write with those bad feelings staying somewhere around, but I cannot beat this monster of "deadline close, it's too much work, so let's hide the head in the sand". Any suggestions, how to cope with this? For some time back I was trying to work without any interim deadlines, but this did not felt good. Maybe I demand too much of myself and set unrealistic deadlines... or I work too little.

User: FallenAngel - 28 November 2011 09:03

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User: webaeten - 26 September 2013 20:34

Hi 'in_between',

I was wondering : how are you now? How did you broke the circle you were in? Currently I am in a very similar situation of the one you were in almost two years ago. Can you give me some advice on what worked for you? I am also an extreme perfectionist and oversensitive ( I tend to overthink every situation/pessimist) My writing process is going terrible, i am practically stuck, can't write a damn thing anymore ( even tough i have i enough evidence that once i was capable of writing and meeting deadlines)

Thanks in advance !



User: in_between - 27 September 2013 23:46

Hi, webaeten,

I have been doing something else, what does not require academic writing and what I like, and I got back confidence. I have been enjoying life quite much as well :)
Well, one thing what helped lastly was that I knew that money will be finished soon and we have to move to another country (I was dependant on another person for that). I also made some plans for the future, like applied to internship in another country and got it, while still writing. So I got some fixed dates to the changes in my life and I knew, yeah, well, I could still do without writing my thesis, but I knew I would feel so much better after handing it in and having a diploma might be handy. So, I got some kind of deadline. I think I actually sent it out like almost the last day of leaving the country, but I was kind of planning towards it and working bit by bit all the time. And then it was taking me another year to send an updated version with just some language and formatting corrections needed, but I also was very busy with life and work during that year and I did not needed to get that diploma for what I have been doing nor I was too much stressed about not making it. I sent the last last version after some new agreed manageable date (at the end of the year) with my supervisor.
When I was still in the country, I made some good friends, found activities which I really liked and had less stress. Some of the friends were in similar situation, so that was helping. I kind of learned to enjoy life more, planned freetime, also took time to deal with stressful things in my life. When I look back, it was really harder to be a student than what I am doing now - it is just the system and no deadlines, which makes you feel miserable. So if there is no deadlines, find creative ways to create them!

User: in_between - 28 September 2013 00:06

Also, doing sports regularly have helped. Some people get their best ideas for the thesis in the gym. Also, taking showers (as this is the time which you can think and somehow it many times gives some clarity). The comments of Intellectual and huhu were also helpful. I have many times looked at huhu comment and was deciding, ok, now I feel more tired, so I have some rest (I think it is also very important to control, how do you rest, how do you rest best. E.g. staring at Facebook might not be the best way to rest, but using Facebook to plan to which next party (or whatever activity you like) you will go might be helpful. You feel more rejuvenated and fresh and in a working mood afterwards. I can still remember that I was not going to one party which I would have enjoyed a lot and anyway instead of working on thesis just wasted time on the Internet), or, do I feel it is overwhelming, then I try to divide the work in small parts.
Well, and we all know that the best thesis is the done/written thesis. Webaeten, do you have deadlines?

User: in_between - 28 September 2013 00:11

Also, have a look where your procrastination energy goes - I kind of created some social capital, connections doing the things I liked, which later helped me to get the internship/money more than my thesis work (for a moment). If you procrastinate, do the things which are good for you.

User: webaeten - 20 October 2013 09:33

Hi in_between

I do have deadlines ( in agreement with my supervisors) but i keep on missing them. First it had to be due the first of the september, than i said to myself well okay, mid september.. then it became october.. and now we are the 20th of october and I still feel like I just can't finish it. My supervisors are getting upset, especially since they didn't here from me for two months. I just didn't want to confront them without having something 'good enough'. So I kept on postponing communication or appointments. And this is only for my draft version of my thesis..

And I did the exact same thing over and over again : telling a friend i can't go for a drink because i want to work for my thesis and then i found myself hours randomly surfing the internet. With sports I find myself in the same place as my thesis. Because i did university for 5 years and i did spend most of my time 'sitting' behind a computer, i have no condition what so ever and like with my thesis, getting into shape seems like another route of dissapointment, so i start for like 3 times and then i'm like .. naah. I can't motivate myself anymore. I don't even recognize myself anymore because I was really different when i started university 5 years ago. This thesis has dissapointed my so much I just don't want to spend time on it anymore.. but i have to , to get a degree..

Thanks for your advice! :)

User: inbetween - 20 October 2013 21:39

I suggest you send them what you have. It is much better than sending nothing. Forget for a moment about not good enough, because it can never be. Theses can take a lifetime to write, and it will never be perfect. I am sure that you have been working on it, so your supervisors might as well appreciate your work. Or show it to your friend. But i'd recommend it sending better to supervisors. I have sent to mine some really shitty version, but the got some comments and could see, where I need to work more, whether I was heading right direction.

Go for that drink with a friend! When you see yourself randomly surfing on the net, it is really time for a drink or fresh air, or smth else...

For sports, you do not have to set up some big goals. You don't even have to go to the gym :) Do some push-ups and observe how this increases your productivity :) on the very busy days with thesis I used to do some quick sports even in university toilet to get my brain working better. It really helps! I would have been much worse without sports. I never had good condition, but it was eventually getting better - see it more as something what helps you work on the thesis.

After all, you don't have to spend time of the thesis. You may decide that you want to, because you want the degree.

Ok, choose what fits you from what I wrote, but go out with friends - either you talk about thesis or smth else, changing the scenery a bit might help you get more perspective.