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Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\

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Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/21/12 8:34 AM
I'm not sure this is in the right place, but since the problem affects my relations with other people, I figured this would be the best place for it.

"Research is endlessly seductive; writing is hard work" - Barbara Tuchmann

The latter part of the quote is the gist of my issue. I started my PhD seven years ago and soon started feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing. Fast forward to now and things haven't got any better.

Every day I promise to myself that I'll get some work done on it, and it's rare for anything to materialise from this promise. To be fair, I have written 120 + pages and several papers (but all of those were rushed to meet a deadline and left me exhausted for days). I know where I am going with my thesis, I like reading about the topic and it's not like it's utterly dominating my life. I can and do enjoy other things.

And yet the very thought of writing sends me into a nausea. When I sit down in front of the PC it's a struggle even to open the file. I feel crushed; I cannot concentrate; I cannot find the right words to express my ideas. Fifteen minutes go by, and I've written a single sentence. And that's on a good day.

I try to be aware of the aversion, and keep an eye on it while I'm writing. It's a block of cold concrete in the left hand section of my chest; an iron wedge through my throat. It's a also a vibration in my shoulders, extending all the way down to the elbow. Worst of all, it's like a plastic bag on my brain, tightening around my forehead during every effort of concentration, blocking the mental roads to the words I'm looking for (I can kinda visualise all of these things), telling me I'm dumb and that my writing is primitive and empty. The lighting in the room makes my head all prickly and stuff, regardless of its intensity. It only takes so long before I have to break off and do something else. And good luck getting me to go back to writing on the same day.

Yoga, focusing on the breath, observation of sensations (mostly the above), metta to self and others - all provide only temporary relief. I tried reminding myself that I enjoy the subject, and I certainly do - I just despise having to write about it. I tried walking around the room while thinking of what to write next, instead of passively sitting in front of the PC, and it helps a little, but only a little. If I have a break for whatever, the moment I take my thoughts back to the PhD, I instinctively visualise it as a huge slab of concrete I have carry somewhere or drill through and the only reaction to it is a gigantic HELL NO!!!

I know I'm whining; I know this is something most PhD candidates go through. It's just that all of this has really been going on for much too long now, and it's taking a toll on my family and professional life, not to mention my my sanity. And I cannot abandon the PhD; too much depends on it. Not to mention that my thesis supervisor, patient as she is, is just also beginning to be frustrated. I realise there is most likely no easy way through this, but I've found so many wonderful and creative tips on improving one's life here that I'm really counting on learning something that would help me just chill out a bit and work more regularly. I guess a 3-week long A&P event would be helpful emoticon

I'll be very grateful for any suggestions. Heck, I'm sure even a "quit yer whining" will help.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/21/12 11:42 AM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
This may call more for therapy than dharma; I don't know. I got my PhD years ago, have been an academic for years, and believe me, it doesn't get better (in other words, you'll be expected to keep writing) unless you're in a field where you can get a PhD but not teach. But I've seen students with this kind of writer's block, and I myself have a couple of phobias that have so far been resistant to treatment. My own problems with writing are not nearly as severe as yours, so what you're going through is not normal graduate student B.S.; what you've got sounds like equivalent to a phobia. I'm recently past Stream Entry and I am still doing EMDR therapy for my phobias. I don't really know what the outcome will be, but being SE helps keep things in perspective. I have wondered whether such problems are Dark Night, but it's impossible to know for sure. But I'd try some kind of intensive therapy, such as EMDR, to address the issue. Good luck.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/23/12 2:03 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
You have a certain extent of control over your mind. It's true that on a fundamental level, there is no self, but from a higher level, you can actually influence your visualizations. Instead of just accepting and feeding into visualizations of a cold block of concrete etc., make an effort to create your own visualizations of success. Imagine yourself successful in your field, doing brilliant research, writing brilliant papers, and enjoying every moment of it. You are relaxed and comfortable, yet playful.

It's true in the beginning all of this might seem disingenuous, unreal, unhelpful, futile. That's because patterns in the mind don't completely change from one day to the next. Usually they don't even noticeably change from one week to the next, but in time simple visualization techniques can make a huge difference.

I tell my students about these things all the time, and most of them seem unable to even understand what I am saying. In reality they probably simply have absolutely no faith in the method, mainly because, from an early age, they are taught the lie that the mind is dependent on the body, but the body doesn't really depend on the mind. It's a shame, since the method does work beautifully if you just stick with it for a few weeks, and it most definitely works for people who are already actively doing the opposite: creating and reinforcing their own negative visualizations.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/23/12 3:14 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Hi

How about sitting down to write just one small, targeted piece today? E.g., Just generally write on the topic for, say, 15 minutes, then walk away for 8 minutes. Then, absolutely come back right away and read what has been written. Write down what is the next small piece to do.

Apply some deep , slow breathing (minimum of 5 sec inhale, 5 sec exhale) with friendliness.


How's that?

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/23/12 3:13 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
I would like to see the outcome of a prolonged engagement between you and some knowledgable, open minded devils advocate who has your best interest in mind.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/23/12 5:49 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Hey Brother,

I suffered the same sort of thing from writing screenplays (what is it about writing?? :\), and actually posted on another dharma board for help (specifically about procrastination), and they, like another poster here, recommended a non-dharma solution: The Now Habit, which is apparently the best book on dealing with procrastination. One of the main things it talks about is diminishing fear, which sounds like exactly your issue, so it may be helpful.

I forget now how exactly it recommended going about diminishing one's fear, but it seems to me like that actually does have a dharmic solution: for me, at least, the fear came from the desire not just to write something good, but the desire to have a great career and all the pride, money, and respect that comes with it. The fact that you said that "too much depends on it" makes me think that this may be going on with you, too. Basically, can you just let go of the desire that it be any good, or even finished? A therapist once told me, for instance, when I was panicked about the prospect about not getting straight-As, that I had to be okay with getting a B. It really helped lower my anxiety, and I was better able to focus on the material and the love of learning and all that.

Now, if you get rid of the desire for it to be finished, it begs the question: why in fact bother finishing it and getting a PhD? Some will say that you can "desire" a PhD without craving it per se and bringing up a bunch of dukkha and stuff, and I agree, but it still begs the question: if pride and greed are not your motivators for choosing that course of action, then what is? Is it the best means possible for you to make a living? Will your work make the world a better place? Whatever it is, focusing on those reasons--i.e. merely doing your duty to provide for yourself or helping others--will make it so that it's not your entire basis for self-worth that's at stake. (Sorry if any of this is incorrect or assuming too much.) It reduces it to the equivalent of the "desire" to make yourself dinner or volunteer at a homeless shelter, which typically don't elicit such a stress response.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Even after I quit screenwriting (I decided that it was not of value to the world and that I was doing it only out of pride and greed), I nearly went back to finish up a screenplay purely as a favor to a friend and just the thought of doing so revved up waves of panic in me. There's a certain amount of ingrained classical conditioning at this point that is really physiological and won't go away even with the steps I touched on above. In that case, probably my favorite technique to circumvent this is to write something that "doesn't count". It got to the point where even writing in screenplay format made me nervous, so I just wrote stuff out in long-hand so I would feel at liberty to write totally badly, but just to get something out. Sometimes it actually came out good and just typed it up in screenplay form without changing it; sometimes it came out, in fact, super awful, but it was at least in some sort of shape or form that I could work with, and it was considerably easier to spruce that up rather than attempt to write something perfect at the get-go.

Another, sort of similar technique is that I started writing projects other than the big screenplay--just stuff for fun. It kept me reminded that writing could, in fact, fun, that I did, in fact, have the capacity to write flowingly, and that good stuff could result even though I wasn't trying hard. It showed me a mode of thinking that I could then try to duplicate in my "real" writing.

Next (sorry for bombarding you with all these--as you can see, I've dealt with this a lot!)--this is a bit contradictory to the last point, but you know, you throw everything you have at it and one works one day, another works a different day--give yourself to permission to go slow. There are (supposedly true) jokes about both James Joyce and Oscar Wilde going SUPER SLOW; I mean like one sentence per DAY. Of course, perhaps that's a luxury you feel you can't afford given that you say this has already gone on too long, but first of all, better late than never, and secondly, what the stories about Joyce and Wilde tell me is that sometimes good things just take time. I read advice from some no-name screenwriter that one should be able to finish a screenplay in three months, and at first I was panicked (I had only ever been able to finish a screenplay in two years!!), but then I was like, should I listen to some no-name screenwriter or James Joyce?? But even if you're like, no, really, I need to go faster, giving yourself permission to go slow can, paradoxically, make you go faster than otherwise by taking your energy out of whipping yourself over how little you've done and how much you need to do and back onto the material itself.

Sorry if you've already tried all this stuff. If not, hope it helps! emoticon

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/23/12 7:59 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Brother,
You've peaked my curiosity.
In twenty five words or less, what is the thesis about?
Gerry

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/24/12 4:11 AM as a reply to Gerry T.
Hi all,

Thank you all for your generous advice. I've taken it in and have decided on a course of action. I'll report back in a week or so with details and if it helped or not.

Gerry T - the thesis is on the complexities of medieval perception of conquest, as expressed in several interdependent chronicles. Useless*, but loads of fun to read about, and - yes - fun to write about (when the words actually decide to show up).

* Well, not quite. The basic idea is that conquest can only lead to more conquest... there's a decent analysis of desire in there somewhere.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/24/12 7:34 AM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Brother,
Sounds like a very cool subject.
Don't know if this helps. But maybe you can write about it as if you are talking to a very good friend. A good friend that is interested in what you have to say and won't judge you for it. It might make it easier to work on.

I am fortunate to have a couple good friends that I can talk to about anything and they won't be critical or judgemental. When we talk we actually listen to each other and allow the other person to speak. (unlike most discussions where everyone is trying to get their viewpoint in.) It makes it possible to talk about anything, even things I might be embarrassed about.

Good luck with your thesis. You will have to post a link so we can check it out when you publish it.

Regards,
Gerry

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/24/12 11:34 AM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
I agree that that subject sounds fascinating!! emoticon I hesitated in saying so, because sometimes praise freezes me up just as much as criticism, but just in case encouragement would be of benefit, I decided to post it. emoticon

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
2/25/12 1:42 AM as a reply to Morgan Taylor.
My only suggestion would be to figure out exactly what is the least you need to do in order to hand in your thesis. In the end, nobody reads your thesis, except your examiners. they are extremely generous and hate failing a PhD. Is it possible for you to have a conversation with your supervisor in which you say, "i just need to get this out of the way. for everyone's sake. please help me figure out how to just get this in a submittable form. we all need to move on" ?

I know the agony. been there. My thesis was awful. It was kind of as simple as it could possibly be. it's the only way to go. PhD candidates have notions that their thesis is their defining life's work. it's not true. they often over-estimate how much is required. let yourself off the hook. give up hopes of grandeur: your work afterwards, and the papers you've already done, will be far more important. and find generous examiners. i know your supervisor will pick those for you but they can pick easier ones and hopefully he/she will discuss this with you.

you've got three papers, that's already plenty of content for a PhD anyway. seriously. throw your pride out the window. glue the papers together in some form and submit it.

Hope this helps. Jacki.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
3/8/12 9:48 AM as a reply to wacky jacky.
Hey everyone,

So today I gave my supervisor everything I've written so far (two and a half chapters) except for the introduction, which I'll be ready with for next week. This is following an honest discussion where I told her about my issues. Now I'm freaking nervous I'll have a lot of re-writing to do, duh, and am noting the hell out of of every sensation I get my attention on. Noting is the only technique that doesn't allow me to buy into content, so I've found.

Anyway, somehow I managed to spend almost entire three days doing nothing but writing, and I actually made some progress and didn't go crazy. Funny thing I can't really pin this let-up in the Anti-PhD Demon assault on anything specific I did or that happened.

I started a kasina-based concentration practice (a candle in the kitchen and a green bowl next to my PC) and found it rewarding. I can see it bringing awesome fruit in the future, and likewise for the visualisation practice I made up thanks to Dauphin Supple Chirp's advice, but I'm not really sure it helped in the brief span of these two weeks.

Another thing I tried was focusing on the sweet spot. This was really helpful whenever the head/chest nastiness got too much to handle, but it didn't really help with the writing itself. I guess concentration/visualisation is the way to go here.

@ wacky jacky. Ah, the old "paper + paper = Phd" trick ;) Been there, done that ;) But yes, your post really put things in perspective. I did have to remind myself that I'm dealing with a topic that's freaking huge and there's no way for me to exhaust it.

So yeah, good news emoticon Again, thank you all for the advice and support.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
3/26/12 2:06 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Heya Brother,

Glad to hear that various techniques are working for you. ^_^ I decided to continue on my own rewrite and am facing (yet again) the exact same things you've mentioned. Ugh!! What is it about writing???? (Or anything important one works on, I guess.) So it's time to take my own advice, and others people have mentioned on here--thanks for all these tips everyone!!

(Wacky Jacky, the perspective you mentioned really helps. Thanks! ^_^)

-Morgan

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
7/17/12 5:02 AM as a reply to Morgan Taylor.
Dear all,

I'm slowly getting this thing done. 'Slowly' being the key word here - I reread Morgan Taylor's splendid advice and this time decided to actually force myself to go slowly, Heck I'm actually trying to do everything slower, including breath and movement. It's a little awkward, but I find myself able to bring more mindfulness into the whole thing.

Being stuck in the seated position is definitely a major part of the resistance towards writing. I intend to break out my yoga mat and basically think about each and every sentence in an asana of my choice, the reason being that my head is much clearer in these positions and I feel next to no aversion to thinking about the whole deal then. When I have a full sentence, I'll write it down, but will hit the mat the moment I feel stuck.

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
7/17/12 6:45 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
You may try doing "feeding your demon" practice.

You can find a small description of it in a message by Voku Hila at the following link:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/3269828#_19_message_3265278

RE: Overcoming aversion to my PhD :\
Answer
7/18/12 12:59 PM as a reply to Brother Pussycat.
Brother Pussycat:
Dear all,

I'm slowly getting this thing done. 'Slowly' being the key word here - I reread Morgan Taylor's splendid advice and this time decided to actually force myself to go slowly, Heck I'm actually trying to do everything slower, including breath and movement. It's a little awkward, but I find myself able to bring more mindfulness into the whole thing.


yay, glad to hear it's helped. ^_^