I believe that almost every one, if not every postgraduate candidates, encounters this at some point of their lifes. Losing momentum may not sound as scary as it is, as it eventually leads to procrastination.
Before I continue, I have to admit that I’m not the best postgraduate candidate in town. I, too, face problems like this. I realised this issue and have a conversation with a fellow senior of mine, which helped me understand the situation and identifying the way forward.
Let’s get back to this. Try to picture this situation:
Today I have published the journal, the one my supervisor has been pushing me to do so for the past 2 months. I FINALLY did it! What a relief! Okay, I think I deserve a great rest and an awesome dinner as celebration.
So I had a feastful meal and had fun all night long. Waking up the next day, I tell myself: I think I should have another day off. This goes on for days. The moment when I want to get back to my work, I realised that the work has been piling up since the day I took my off, I don’t know where to start. This is where procrastination comes into the picture.
OK enough of the story. So, what actually makes us lose our momentum? It is the false sense of achievement. We often tell ourselves that we have done so much for one particular project and we have that screw-it-I-am-done mentality. However, we did not realise that the particular project we completed is not our end goal; the end goal is something even bigger, and have we achieved it? NO.
Then who told you that you deserve your rest?
Overcoming this takes not only discipline but also a good understand of how our brains work. I believe that our brains are designed in a way that it’s similar to how a machine works. If you use it continually, it’s always easier to get back on track; however if you try to use the machine again after a long time, it would probably be rusted and will be difficult to let it work as efficiently as it used to.
My fellow senior (whom I had the conversation with) often use this analogy: Imagine you’re driving a car and after reaching a milestone, you tell yourself: Ah I’ve done enough! and lifted your foot off the acceleration pedal. No doubt, your progress slows down significantly and when you try to start again, you gotta press the pedal harder than you do to keep cruise. In order words, you need to work even harder to get yourself started again. If you’re not doing that, the next thing you realise, you’re procrastinating.
A Chinese scholar from the Qing Dynasty once compared learning to boating against the flow: if you’re not progressing, you’re regressing. I think it pretty much describes this whole post.
But please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you should not take a break from your work. My point being, take short breaks to refresh your mind but never too long that you start losing momentum!