Our education trains us to perform written assignments for deadlines. The 10-step cycle goes like this: 1) the task is assigned, 2) you put it off, 3) you procrastinate some more, 4) you begin to feel a dim sense of apprehension, 5) you procrastinate even more, 6) the deadline looms and you realize you’ve done nothing, 7) your being becomes flooded with intolerable pangs of remorse and dread, 8) you plunge into a monomaniacal flurry of work, 9) you complete the assignment just before the deadline, 10) you get a grade. Maybe even an “A.”
You are probably pretty good at this if you got into graduate school. Why’d they have to change the game in doctoral programs? How do you motivate yourself for long-term projects like dissertations that have either very fuzzy deadlines or none at all? What if you’ve been trained to work only when you have an immediate deadline that activates your adrenal glands enough to transcend your resistances?
If you don’t happen to naturally be to be a self-motivated student who applies yourself consistently to educational goals even in the absence of a fear-inducing external structure (a rare bird), you may discover that graduate school is quite a challenge. You may be lousy at it, not because of laziness or lack of ability, but because you don’t have proper work habits. Not only is the material harder to understand and the work more demanding, you also have to be able to make yourself stay on task consistently for long periods of time.
You’ve been betrayed. The procrastination/writing binge cycle that you’ve been taught isn’t adequate for the PhD. You will set goals and then revert to the 10 step cycle outlined above, and inevitably you get mired in one of the “procrastinate” steps. There isn’t enough immediate deadline fear to push you past your resistances, so when you get to Step 4, “a dim but growing sense of apprehension” you respond to this discomfort by utilizing the tried and true Step 5, “procrastinate even more.”
You can get by with this strategy for quite a while, but eventually the dissertation chickens come home to roost.
Next: What to do?
And for comic relief…check out: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php