Motivation and Discipline

Almost everyone will question themselves at some point during the undertaking of their PhD: am I good enough – I don’t know enough – I’m not intelligent enough – I can’t write that many words: all valid questions and all can haunt us when we’re not at our strongest (and some, even then!).

So here is a page of motivational phrases, some with wallpaper for your desktop/laptop/tablet/phone (handy because I often procrastinate if I’m struggling with self- belief, and this means playing about on one of the aforementioned devices!).

Over time I’ll add some apps that may help you study, focus or just avoid procrastinating. While looking into apps like these can feel like another time-sink, it can lead to gains further down the road.

Motivation and Discipline

I found it was helpful remembering the difference between ‘motivation’ and ‘discipline’. When you are motivated, life in general is easier – you’ve got energy, drive and ambition to get a task completed, you feel good and you feel capable. But when motivation is lacking, what happens? You feel crap, may it be due to ill health, stress, boredom, or myriad other ailments. But you spend time looking for it, searching for your motivation, to get it back and get that drive back.

What might be better is focusing on your discipline. Let’s take an example. I enjoy writing blogs: I feel they might be of use to other students; they help me with my own writing; they’re not generally under the same strict constraints as academic writing; nor do they attract the criticisms that academic writing can. These factors all help motivate me, and I get up and get on with it.

Writing for my thesis is much harder for me. I’m worried it’s not perfect (of course it doesn’t need to be/would only be perfect in my eyes); that I’ll say something so obvious it comes across as patronising; or that I’ve misunderstood something fundamentally and will write complete garbage. What’s my motivation here? Well, I want to become an academic, so that’s my main push. But, on the days I don’t know what I’ll do after I’m finished, that motivation is gone as well.

And that’s when we have a rely on discipline. Discipline means getting the job done regardless of whether we want to. It means sitting down and putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboards, voice to microphone no matter how crap you’re feeling. Getting it done. You’re honing your skillset, and “skill is only developed hours and hours and hours of hammering on your craft”. (thanks Will Smith!)

Motivational images

Sometimes though, we all need to see an encouraging piece of advice, to see someone else who hasn’t given up and succeeded, to see something inspiring. That’s what this section is for.

Art improvement

This, from Noah Bradley (@noahbradley), inspired me as it perfectly displays “hammering on your craft” and the very tangible rewards. It can be harder to see improvement in the Humanities, but check your papers from a few months ago, a few years ago – want to rewrite parts of it? Then you are improving. A fellow historian on my twitter feed recently said “Gah! Going back to something written a little while ago – awful – feel like I’m rewriting every line” – and they were a senior lecturer! We are constantly moving forward, constantly improving and honing our craft the more we read and write. I know I’ll always think my paper could be better, and I’ve had to learn to not beat myself up about it. It’s a sign not just of improvement, but an eagerness to improve.

Giving up on your goal

We all have setbacks. But we learn, and we move forward. Sometimes it may not feel there isn’t any learning to be done, perhaps after getting rejected for the nth time for a post or a paper. And, if you truly think you can’t learn, or that you gave your all, well… just dust yourself down at get up again. Sure, have a pity party – sit and consider why you didn’t get it, where it went wrong, what more you might have done, but then move on. Don’t be bitter, it’s not a healthy emotion and, in a small field, chances are you will have to deal with these people again. Allowing setbacks to negatively change yourself is failing you – don’t do that.

I’m a huge fan of sports films and used their motivational phrases, and spent an inordinate amount of time as a classroom History teacher paraphrasing them, trying to motivate children to break out of the cycle that can so often arise when born in economically and socially disadvantaged areas. This quote, from Rocky Balboa (2006), was and remains one of the most important quotes in my own development as a person, scholar and adult:

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth.

We all have moments of doubt, all but the very strong of us will consider what they’re doing with their PhD. If this is you, or you know someone who is going through that crisis in confidence, try writing down a list of why you’re doing the PhD. Love of the subject, good at writing, prestige of being a Dr, potential jobs, academia, circumstance? Figure out what you want from life, figure out if this is the thing you want to be doing for the next 3+ years, figure out if the sacrifices now are going to be worth it when you’re finished. I had to do this soul searching towards the middle of my second year: I was struggling to understand how I could have the same positive impact on the world as a PhD student, as I had teaching inner city kids. What kind of impact will you have on the world when you qualify, how will your career help others? All questions I encourage you to think about, and answer as you go through the PhD.

I will continue to add pictures and quotes on here as time goes on.




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