The Feel Good Manual: Finding back your motivation after the Holidays
by Tamar Lazar & Julie Escurignan
ICA Student Board Members
The Holidays are over. This is a simple statement, but in the midst of winter, it can be a harsh one. The Holidays usually mean for most of us family, food and a well-deserved break. Their end often goes along a feeling of sadness and sometimes hopelessness, especially for those of us who live in the Northern hemisphere, where the cold and lack of light make it even harder to get back to work.
How, then, can we find back our motivation and drive after the Holidays? We have asked the question to our Student and Early Career Scholar members on our Facebook page and here are their answers.
1. It is OK to take a break
We might not say it enough, although we are trying to, but really, it is OK to take a break. More than OK, whereas you are a MA or PhD Student, or an Early-Career Scholar, taking a break is a necessity. You need your brain so switch off once in a while and to allow it to process quietly the enormous quantity of data and information that you go through all the time. You need to spend time with your family and friends, and make happy memories that will re-energize you and help you get back to work more rested. Along some of us, Rosie takes a real break during the Holidays. She writes: “I take at least a full week off during the holidays. Given the prevalence of mental health struggles among grad students, I hope everyone finds time to leave work behind, relax and connect with loved ones.”
You should do what works best for you and on your terms, whereas you work or not during the Winter Break. In any case, you should not feel guilty to have taken a break during the Holidays, nor let anyone make you feel guilty. The Holidays are for rest, food, family, friends and partying, and being a Graduate Student or an Early-Career Scholar does not disqualify you from living. It doesn’t do your dissertation, thesis, or research any good if you are burned out, so prevent it by taking some time off.
2. It is OK to find it hard to come back to work
If you have taken a break, gone on vacation, enjoyed yourself during the Holidays, it is totally fine to have a hard time going back to the office (or the library). You should be aware of it and realize that it works the same for everyone, so go easy on yourself. For Rosie, “it is key to have some patience and compassion for yourself and remember that taking a break is healthy and it’s perfectly find if getting back to work is a little difficult.”
3. Go to a place you like, rest and make your plan for the semester
You can go to a place you like to rest and think there about your semester. For Regina, this place is a park. She told us: “there is a park I love to go and take a rest. I go there and think about the plan I have for new semester (or other task I should complete)”. Prepping your semester in a place that makes you feel good will help you reduce stress and come back to work from a place of comfort and safety.
4. Have a “Transition Day”
Rosie begins the semester by what she calls a “transition day”. She explains: “To get back into the swing of things, I have a transition day, where I catch up on email and do some smaller tasks, work that typically does not involve research writing. Starting small helps me feel less overwhelmed about the workload ahead of me, and allows me to begin breaking down larger projects into actionable steps. Plus, that sense of accomplishment you get from crossing off small to-do list items can go a long way toward powering you through the big items.”
So you can start off the semester by doing simpler tasks, like sorting out the generally outrageous number of emails that have been waiting for you, listing the more pressing tasks to do or organizing your agenda for the semester. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start off, while allowing you to cross items off your to-do list.
5. Reward yourself
A good incentive to come back to work is to reward yourself. Each time you complete a task, give yourself a little something to make you feel good. This is what Regina does and it seems to be working great for her: “A thing I like to do is writing down tasks I should do and reward I can take after each task! That motivates me to go further!”
6. Talk about it
If starting the semester is harder than usual or you do not feel good, do not hesitate to talk about it. You have not only your loved ones and friends, but an entire community of likeminded people across the world ready to help, share their experience and cheer you up. ICA’s Graduate Students and Early Career Scholars’ Facebook group is here for you to share and exchange but also support each other and be a constant reminder that you are not alone.
7. Don’t forget to watch, cuddle or pet puppies!
Videos and photos of cute puppies will make you feel good so don’t stop yourself from watching them! Animal shelters, communities and sometimes universities organize cuddling parties with puppies, so if you are not allergic, don’t miss this opportunity to share some furry love and add more cuteness to your life. It’ll make you feel good, we swear!
Finally, on behalf of ICA and of the Divisions and Interest Groups’ Student and Early Career Representatives, Tamar Lazar and I wish you a Very Happy New Year 2018. May we continue growing together in a global, respectful and tolerant community of researchers.
We want to thank the members who contributed to this article, especially Rosie Clark-Parsons (U of Pennsylvania, USA), Regina Ahn (U of Illinois, USA), Cecilia Zhou (U of Hong Kong) and Francois Allard (U of Lorraine, France).