Saturday, June 22, 2013

Punishment & Reward - How to get past that Thesis Fear

So I have problems, big ones, getting the motivation to work on my thesis. It seems that I have developed what I have dubbed "Thesis Fear". Thesis Fear can be described as the giant feeling of despair when you think about your thesis - either you have writer's block, or have fear that an experiment isn't going to go well or sometimes just the feeling that you are completely off-track. Instead of working on my thesis, I do more hours of job work (I work part-time), or flick between different thesis activities, hoping that I will suddenly feel like working on one of them.

This state is very difficult to get out of and I believe it is a form of Thesis-induced depression

At my weekly dinner with M club, I was discussing my issues, when one friend told me about his Thesis Punishment Scheme. He had to do the 20 hours of Master's work a week. For the first hour he failed to do, he must run 5 km... and then add on an extra kilometer for every hour he misses. He invited me to his punishment scheme. I chose my hours to 18 a week. (8 of Thursday, 8 on Friday, and 2 that I have to fit in somewhere). Master's needed to become priority one. And at least if I wasn't doing Master's, I was keeping healthy.

I don't know what it is, but it is working. Maybe its the competition? Perhaps it's just the idea that someone is checking up on your (and you on them) constantly to see how many hours you've done? Perhaps it is the fear of punishment?  But I just sit down and FORCE myself to work. We believe that it allows one to automatically set very small short goals (what I believe is the key to getting anything done in life) thus inspiring productivity.

It also helped me realize something about myself. I struggle with the routine of sitting in the same lab all day, eating the same lunch, seeing the same people. I get very bored and struggle to concentrate when my surroundings become uninteresting. I figured that if I allowed everything else to vary according to what I felt like, and just make sure I got my hours done, I could get more done. I need things to be dynamic. I must allow myself to work on a Saturday or at Midnight. I never used to do this. I used to say "MUST WORK 9 to 5", and decided that my evenings and my weekends were for myself. But life just doesnt fit to my strict schedule. So I must learnt to adapt. 

For this, I initiated reward scheme - Thesis by Coffee shop. If I just cant convince myself to sit in my lab any longer or cant motivate myself in the morning to go there in the first place, I choose a coffee shop or restaurant (or even a park if I have stuff to be read) which has wifi (preferably) and go work there for a few hours. The music is different, people are coming and going - general busyness, I can drink and eat something different every time. It makes working on my thesis a little bit more novel. Eventually, I am forced to go to my lab - when I need to do some serious programming or lots of data analysis - but I really do enjoy thesising in a coffee shop. I think perhaps that is the reward for working on my thesis - being able to go somewhere cool to do it.

I have made more progress in the last 3 weeks with my running punishment and coffee-shopping than I have all year. Nearly time to run those experiments! I guess that I need punishment and reward and that helps me get past my thesis fear. Do you suffer from thesis fear? Do you have a thesis punishment and reward system?

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