Why Doing a PhD is a Lot Like Losing Weight
Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a couple of times where I’ve really had to drag myself all but kicking and screaming to the gym. I know it’s what I ought to do, and I know I won’t regret it once I’m there – but sitting on the sofa doing all of diddly squat just seems so much more appealing. I have to really talk myself into it – putting my very best stern face on and glaring at myself until I’m guilted into getting off my ass.
This is for various reasons – some of them legitimate (the lumbar puncture, for instance, seemed a pretty reasonable excuse), some of them…uhhh…
Okay, I admit it. Some of the reasons I have offered myself for not hitting the gym have been pretty flimsy. “I’m still tired from Global Gathering,” ten days after the event really is pushing it, and “I ought to be writing, not exercising” when I know full well I’ve got designs on watching another episode of House… Nah.
Fortunately, I know myself well enough to determine when I’m telling porkies – partly because I’m all too familiar with this feeling.
There’s a residual guilt that seems to come with doing a PhD (especially if you’re part-time, like me) which tends to lead to a sort of paralysis. I’m all too familiar with that – I know I have to get x-amount done, by x-date, and I know if I put my mind to it I’m totally capable of doing it, but for some reason, I have THE FEAR. As a result, I can lose days at a time to sitting in front of my laptop, tying myself in knots trying to achieve something…on Facebook. Suddenly every piece of celebrity gossip seems more exciting, every tweet demands an immediate response, and I get the I’d-definitely-be-a-better-PhD-student-if-I-just-have-one-biscuit/cigarette/giant-cup-of-coffee feeling. It’s procrastination brought on by pressure – and it’s dangerous, especially if it becomes a habit.
If you’re on a weight-loss journey – doesn’t that sound familiar? Because if you’ve not experienced that feeling at some time or another, you’re my hero. That, or you have no soul. Either or.
Because let’s face it, sometimes it really is difficult to get moving, even when you’re already on the right track. I’ve got 25,000 words of a PhD written, but sometimes, opening Microsoft Word and starting to type seems completely impossible. Same with the weight loss – 114lbs down, and I still have to talk myself into going to the gym.
So why is that? Why, even when experience has taught us that there’ll be a positive outcome, is it so hard to stay motivated? Because the thing is, the buzz I get from writing, and the thrill I get from working out – these things rock. I’m rarely happier than when I’m doing one of those things – so you’d assume that actually doing them really wouldn’t be an issue. Especially when the other option is either boredom, or guilt.
I think this is a great myth surrounding weight loss that needs nipping in the bud. You can just wake up, one day, and suddenly be motivated to lose weight – that’s true. And that’s an important moment. But the idea that it’s easy after that? Nope. I disagree. And the same applies to the PhD. You can have the epiphany that gives you your research topic – but that’s only a very small part of the battle. The rest is pure blood, sweat, and tears.
Making anything like this work in the long-term is a matter of keeping going, even when every bone in your body would rather curl up on the sofa and shout abuse at whoever came up with the idea of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (even though they can’t hear you). It’s about reminding yourself that there’ll be a payoff, even though you won’t see your results straight away. And it’s about realising that you’re doing something good, something that will go a long way towards improving your career, self-image, happiness – whatever it is that you’re seeking, either through study or through weight loss.
Above all this, doing a PhD and losing weight – both of these are things that will change you, and the way you live your life. And the only person that can make it happen is you.
So… Get off my blog and get on with it!