Motivation vs. Deciding to Change: How to Balance it All and Finish Your PhD

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Earning a graduate degree, working fulltime, being a fulltime parent, dealing with a family illness—how do you balance it all? How do you dig into your deeper psyche and find that superhero? Many of us seem to dwell on the idea of motivation as the fix-all cure to a stressful life. If we could just harness the motivation to conquer all of these equally important situations or tasks, then we could get ahead and get through them. However, as Mel Robbins explains in her research on self-motivation, we are only motivated to do the easy things in life because our brains automatically want to protect us from being uncomfortable or from experiencing pain. Too often, we allow fear and self-doubt to drive our decisions. Mel Robbins states, “Your life comes down to your decisions, and if you change your decisions, you will change everything” (Video Advice, 2017). Instead of waiting around for motivation to appear and energize us to confront difficult and uncomfortable situations, we need to decide to ignore the fear and decide to make the little changes that will help us accomplish our goals.

When working on my master’s thesis, there were times when I had no desire to sit in front of a computer, engage deeply in the theories and texts I was analyzing, and meet my page goal for the day. After a long day of work, I felt unmotivated and found myself easily distracted. I then came across a video on YouTube by Video Advice titled “The Secret to Self-Motivation | One of the Best Speeches Ever” (included at the end of this blog post). The advice that Mel Robbins shares, specifically regarding the 5 second rule, really helped me put my goals in perspective. If I wanted to stay on track, I had to make the decision to act, which included setting aside time in my schedule and removing distractions from my environment (e.g., hiding my cellphone). Robbins’s 5 second rule to taking action is very simple: Count backwards from five (5-4-3-2-1) and by the time you get to 1, start the action. Whether this action is merely getting out of bed or turning on your computer to write the next section of your dissertation, the process of counting backwards from five can allow you to interrupt habits of procrastination, reset your brain, and decide to change your behavior.

It is important to realize that we cannot rely on the concept of motivation to magically inspire and push us through the many tasks and daily obstacles that we confront. However, we do have the power within ourselves to decide to act. I strongly encourage you all to watch her speech and incorporate the 5-second rule into your lives, especially when feeling stuck or unmotivated with your dissertation. By employing the 5 second rule and deciding to act, you will find yourself feeling like a superhero and achieving your goals in no time.

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