I find that doctoral students frequently face many challenges with motivation, especially when they come to the end of their doctoral journey and are primarily working on their dissertations. Maintaining consistent motivation with doctoral writing while working on dissertations or theses is especially challenging when your personal life includes family, full-time work, aging parents, health issues, etc. Lack of motivation happens to most people somewhere along the journey. No matter what lifetime reinvention process people engage in, whether it is professional development, learning new skills, etc. momentum is always difficult to maintain during times when the life you are currently living is full of challenges or distractions. As an example, no parent wants to miss the precious time of their children growing up because they have a paper to write. Similarly, care for an aging parent can often become a daunting task. I see it as a balancing act, and one where the balance is never even but, like a teeter totter, has one side up while the other is down.
Picture your dissertation or thesis writing on one side of the teeter totter and the current distraction or challenge you face on the other. Building a writing habit is the first tool in your motivation toolbox. First consider that it takes 21 days of consistent movement for a new routine to be ingrained in your systems so that you no longer struggle against it. Similar to writer’s block, but on a deeper level, boredom or feeling overwhelmed also is a mental/emotional state that is likely to derail dissertation writing. Perspective is the tool that is often needed in this case. At a certain point in the journey, when you feel as though you’ve been doing it a long time, and the daily grind of it is wearing you down, you may feel your motivation just grinding to a halt. Step back from your immediate situation and re-evaluate how this degree will allow you to contribute to your world.
You started your doctoral work for some definite reasons. Remember the things you wanted to add to your life. Focus on them again. Another tool to use to get past lack of motivation is to break the work down into smaller quantities. You may be thinking about it like, “Oh my goodness, this is a BIG project I have to finish!” That way of picturing the work is likely to make you feel tired. Try instead to look at what you have to do next, and coming up with three small steps that will help you progress along that specific task. By keeping the whole project out of your mind, and instead focusing on the small or finite tasks you will find it easier to continue. Getting things done is inherently motivating, so it is likely that you will find your internal desire to sit down and get more time increasing as you have sections you have recently finished to celebrate.
Finally, don’t forget the positive outcomes available from using reflection as a tool to get past lack of motivation. Consider for a moment on what you can do, think, or understand now that was outside of your scope a few years ago when you started this work. The doctoral journey, because it is a long one has lots of little curves and turns, some of which you may forget when you all are slogging up the last hill, getting your dissertation done. It should be motivating to think about those other challenges that you have faced and overcome. Also give yourself some time to celebrate how much more you now understand about your field, its intricacies, and what it takes to contribute at a high level. Research shows that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. That is roughly 3 hours a day seven days a week for three years. As a doctoral student you will have completed your 10,000 hours. In summary, there are several tools you can use to move lack of motivation whether you are bogged down because of other things in your life, or because the work has just gone on a long time. Probably both of these reasons for motivation slump will occur to most graduate students somewhere along the path of their doctoral dissertation writing. Consider these helpful hints part of your toolbox, and pull out the tools that seem to address the challenge you face, whenever you need them.