Thesis motivation tips for a pandemic

Lyn LaveryWriting a thesis is a challenging undertaking at the best of times, but keeping up your motivation when there’s a worldwide pandemic raging around us can be particularly difficult! If your motivation is at an all-time low, try not beat yourself up about it – as well as being kind to others at the moment, it’s important to be kind to yourself. It’s completely understandable that your motivation might have taken a hit – your carefully laid out plans for the year have possibly suffered from the extreme disruptions we’ve experienced in 2020, and you’re probably feeling pretty tapped out with the extra demands the year has placed on you. With that in mind, don’t feel like you need to be working flat out on your thesis right now – you may well have other priorities which need your attention. If you feel like you’d like to get some thesis work under your belt in the coming weeks though, try some or all of the following to help find your lost motivation.

Find your inspiration

Your reasons for enrolling in a thesis may be long forgotten after the events of the last six months. Did you enrol because you love learning new things, or do you have a deep passion for your research topic or a desire to help others with the findings of your research? Whatever the reason, now is definitely the time to remind yourself of this, and maybe even write it down somewhere so that you don’t forget it in the coming months.

Alternatively, your inspiration might come from other areas. When I was enrolled in my PhD, there was a particular book chapter that inspired me to engage in my research – I kept this handy and would read it whenever I found my inspiration flagging. Towards the end of my thesis when I was writing up, I kept a document with positive feedback from my research participants to remind myself that my research had made a difference, and that I owed it to those who took part to finish what I started.

Finding inspiration is very individual, so if the ideas above don’t resonate with you, have a think about where you can find your own inspiration.

Envisage the finish line

With data collection plans possibly in the air for many, and others experiencing severe interruptions to their plans, it may be unclear as to exactly when you’ll finish. Remind yourself that you will finish though, but it might not be within the original timeframe you had hoped. Think about how you’ll feel when you finally do submit, and just how much of an achievement this will be, to have completed something as challenging as a thesis in the midst of a pandemic.

Hopefully by the time you graduate, in-person graduation ceremonies will be happening again, so picture yourself walking across the stage getting capped. Alternatively, try picturing your printed and bound thesis sitting on your bookshelf, or make plans for the party that you’ll throw to celebrate.

Connect with others

We might be physically distanced at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with other researchers or get support if you need to. Find out what your university is offering their graduate students – many have drop-in sessions, shut up and write groups, or other ways of virtually connecting. Talking to someone else about your research, or even sharing some of the issues you’re facing, can be a great way to boost motivation and you might also get some useful ideas for moving forward.

One small step

Sometimes the issue we have with motivation is just getting started. If you wake up in the morning and tell yourself you’re going to work on your thesis, you’re highly unlikely to do so! As a thesis is such a large project, it can at times seem overwhelming and this can negatively impact your motivation. Pick a small task instead, ideally something that will only take 10–15 minutes to complete. If that’s all you manage to do that day, that’s absolutely fine – 10–15 minutes is much better than nothing, and it might just inspire you to do another short block of time the following day.

Having said that, often once we’ve started a task we keep going, so you may just find yourself working for longer than you anticipated.

Take a break

This tip may seem counterintuitive – surely you should be working harder to get motivated? I think we can all agree that the year so far has been rather taxing, and sometimes lack of motivation can be a sign that you’re exhausted. Clearly an overseas holiday in a sunny location isn’t on the cards at the moment, but what about planning a mini holiday for yourself? Aim to take a few days off and make a list of things that you’d normally do on holiday – pick a mix of activities that are relaxing and energising, and make sure there are some that you can do regardless of the alert level and physical distancing requirements. Assess your motivation levels when you return to your thesis and if this strategy has worked well, make sure you schedule another mini holiday for yourself sometime soon.

Look after yourself

If you don’t feel like you can spare the time for a mini-break, what about just focusing on some of the basics – exercise, diet, stress management – all those things that you’ve probably been neglecting in amongst the craziness of the last few months. Once again, this might seem counterintuitive as it’s not directly related to your thesis. If you think about it though, you are the main driving force behind your research, and if you’re not functioning at full capacity, summoning up the brain power and energy to get any work completed will be incredibly challenging. Both physical and mental health play a really important role in motivation, so sometimes it’s best to take a step back and assess where you’re at with these all-important aspects of our wellbeing.