How to write a PhD speedily & (almost) painlessly. Strategy 2: Stop doubting yourself

I am writing a series of blog posts condensing the PhD-writing strategies that helped me finish my PhD. I went from being a not-always-effective researcher to finishing my PhD in a couple of hours a day. Read my story here.

Strategy 2. Stop Doubting Yourself

Self-doubt. It’s the devil.

It comes creeping in, seducing you into thinking your work is lousy, you are not moving ahead fast enough, and you will never get anything worth reading written.

It comes at times expected (after having your work criticised by a supervisor, after that presentation that left you deflated, or in the run-up to a deadline) and unfortunately also at times unexpected (as in: when in the shower washing your hair, panic strikes: I know NOTHING about what I am supposed to be an expert in. NOTHING!).

The real problem is not the devil as such.

The problem is we believe its whispers.

And then obsess about it.

And maybe even obsess about being obsessed about it.

We know we shouldn’t feel this way, because we know we are capable, yes?

So why then do I feel this way? Why? There must be something wrong with me.

And so it goes.

In short: We pay it far more attention than we should.

And it stops us right in out tracks, feeding the loop, sucking us dry.

Perpetuating the ridiculous cycle of self-criticism and self-doubt.

Shoulders droop, productivity drops.

We stall.

The solution?

Stop believing the beast.

And, stop feeding the beast.

When it talks to you say: thanks, but no thanks.

I am giving you ZERO of my energy.

Because I have much better things to do.

Such as working on my PhD.

When I was writing my PhD I didn’t even realise I was engaging in negative self-talk a lot. It was a background hum. Only once I hit my knees and went down with a mystery illness that sapped all my strength, did I realise how much of my precious energy the devil called self-doubt had been consuming.

My low energy levels once again became my teacher: I realised that if I wanted to get anything done at all the incessant negativity, even if only low-scale, had got to go. I had all the odds stacked against me as it was, and I simply couldn’t deal with another obstacle. And why deal with obstacles that are self-inflicted? Why the masochism? Why?

So I decided to get out of my own way.
It was a profound decision.

From then on, when I felt insecure about some element of my work or if I felt I could have done things ‘better’, I would not make matters worse by criticising or doubting myself.

Instead I’d simply let it be.

It’s rather amazing how much control we have over such patterns.

Not that they don’t continue to pop up, because pop up they will, again, and again, and again, and again.

But the feeding into it is an activity.

It is something we DO.

Something we participate in.

We are the perpetrator AND the victim, and once you see that it loses its power over you.

The devil is not on the outside: it isn’t the criticism that is the problem. It is that we CHOOSE to take it all so seriously and personally.

Instead we can acknowledge the feelings and thoughts – say hi to the devil – and then tell it to shut up because we have work to do.

We need to move forward.

If you sometimes feel low, panicky or depressed about your work or capability I suggest you start a meditation practice. It is the absolute best way to start working with your unwanted thoughts and feelings. You will learn to recognise negative thought patterns when they arise, and you will be learn to not engage with them. They will dissipate and lose your hold on you as a result. I would specifically suggest mindfulness meditation. There are courses everywhere, as it’s getting popular. Have a google to find a meditation course where you live. Or, you can join me online with the HappyPhD course. I will teach you how to meditate, and break these cycles, starting slowly with 10 minutes of meditation a day, and gradually building up to half an hour. (We also have the wonderful meditation teacher Bodhipaksa on board, who has kindly allowed me to use some of his guided meditations).

The second important thing to do, is to make a conscious decision to not let self-doubt slow you down. Show up for your work. Show up! The world needs your contribution. Take charge, move ahead, keep going. You can do it, and we can’t wait to see what you have in store for us.

The third important thing to do is get out of your head and have some fun. Your poor head needs a break. Indulge in your favourite indulgences. Indulge! What makes you feel alive? What makes you laugh? What makes you feel good? Do those things. Talk to the people that make you light up. Avoid the ones that sap your energy. Dance a little. Play a little. Enjoy a lot.

Naturally, I didn’t always succeed in keeping self-doubt at bay, and I didn’t become a glowing confident scholar overnight. But in the end, when I defended, I was that glowing confident scholar. More so than I could have imagined. And I had earned every bit of it.

I had made a continuous commitment to keep moving ahead, while using my energy to move my work forward and uplift me, instead of keeping me stuck in doubt.

Are you stuck in self-doubt? Can I help? Let me know in the comments.

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