My biggest struggle ever with forming a habit? You’d think it’s writing my thesis, but it isn’t! It’s waking up earlier than I needed to in order to write my thesis.
I desperately needed that extra time in the day. I needed it when I was not feeling tired, stressed, sad, wanting to hang out with family and friends, watching a movie, reading a book or simply scrolling on social media. Which was clearly in the morning, before work, when my will power was strong.
I needed at least two hours each morning.
The situation was like this: I needed to be at work at 8. I needed an hour to get to work. I needed an hour to eat and get dressed. I needed two hours to write. So I needed to wake up at 4 in the morning. 4 am. I remember making this decision. Oh, the poor naive child that I used to be…
I was on the treadmill at gym on an 8th of January (back in 2017) when I said that I can finished my thesis if I run for twenty minutes without stopping. Now, I don’t really like running indoors, I find it different than running outside and my bones hurt so I don’t usually do this kind of exercise at the gym. But I did manage to run for 20 minutes. Feeling empowered by my success, I’ve decided: the next day, I was going to wake up at 4 to work on my thesis. There was nothing going to stop me. I was very confident that I can do it!
The body wants what the body wants. And my wants during the evening [when I am a [semi-]rational decision maker] and my wants before getting out of bed in the morning [when I am a spoiled child] are two different facets of the same person.
Then the next day came and I woke up at 6:30 so I arrived late at work.
However, I didn’t give my plan up. I tried to wake up early every single day. I set the alarm to go off at 4 am [4:30, 5:00, I wasn’t every day as ambitious as when the year started] and then it did and I stopped it and I continued to sleep.
I really, really wanted to get up. I went to bed earlier, at around 20:30-21:00. I laid everything out for myself at the desk, so when I got there I would just start. I had concrete actionable steps written down so that I knew what I needed to do. But I just couldn’t make it. Somehow, though, I didn’t quit. I kept trying and trying and then one day, I did it.
It was 8th of March in 2017.
Oh, yeah, I counted my words. I mean, Microsoft Word did, but I tracked my progress. It was quite painful at the end, when I edited and had to cut words down, but I consoled myself saying it’s better to have what to remove than to get stuck by trying to have the perfect sentence.
Because this is something essential: I got stuck by the hugeness I thought it all was. I believed it was too important [I still do and it was] and that I need some sort of perfect context [more reads, more time, more knowledge, more brain] in order to get it done. But in fact, what I needed to do was to wake up, sit in my chair, open my computer, gather my notes and start typing.
The hard part: keep sited, keep typing. Don’t start cleaning the house. Don’t start your make-up routine. Don’t start making the tea. Don’t start doing your nails. Don’t reply that text. Don’t listen to “just this/one song”. Just sit nicely and do the thing. When the clock hits 6:15 am it’s time to stop writing, get ready for the day and get going.
On some days, I was productive and kept writing past the planned time, thus delaying my arrival at work [but I put in the hours so it was fine]. On other days, I literally had a party in my head when it was time to wrap things up and get going, as my progress was slow, if any.
I managed to keep this schedule up for three weeks. Field work was part of my job and when it happened, it completely changed my routine. After being back, I struggled for another two weeks to get back to the pre-field visit routine and wake up at 4am.
However, it was May when I finally came to terms with the fact that I needed time off to focus solely on the thesis and asked for a three months unpaid leave. Which was granted to me and writing & research could happen. It wasn’t without it’s obstacles, because, you see, life happens whether you like it or not.
Despite my excitement for and trust in my New Year goal from 8th of January 2017 [finish my thesis by September 2017], I managed to finish in March 2019. But, hey, better late than never.
Three essential takeaways are in this story:
- Keep trying. When something is important to you don’t give up on pursuing it. You will fail. You will break your own trust. But keep trying and keep trying. You will succeed. If not, you will fail, but at least you gave it a serious try. And you will succeed, at least partially, the more you try. Failing one time is not a good enough reason to stop it completely. Yes, you missed a day. So? Keep doing it the next day.
- Experiment with doing the work while doing the work. Oh, I don’t even know if I can count all the loopholes I used to get out of doing the work. I need to read more. I need more time to write. I need to get to the library in order to find the article I must read. I need to read more before contacting the institution I wanted to contact. I need to wait for spring/summer/autumn/this holiday to be over before I start. But then I realized that time went by and my progress was invisible. Unless I wanted to work for the rest of my life on an unfinished project, I needed to take action. Life will happen. If only things were different…But they are not. So deal with what you have. Realize that some reasons are just excuses for the real reason [basically, you are afraid of failing] and find ways to deal with this. People will criticize you. Yes, you will not write your masterpiece at 30 [and you don’t want to do this, because if you peak now, there is just too much unhappiness down the road]. Your thesis will most probably be mediocre. But it will be done. You will have finished something important and you will prove to yourself that you can do it. And it’s where life begins again. Unless you do the work, you will be unhappy.
- Make it simple. My perspective on my thesis was overwhelming to me. Somehow, I didn’t know this was the problem, but because I was willing to do it, I read various online articles on productivity and found the practice of monitoring for helping me stick to my habits. All of the sudden, my aim for the day wasn’t to write my thesis, but to write 500 words. Doesn’t the latter sound more doable than the former?
Make today count!