How do get your PhD closer to the finish line? How can you push past barriers? Why is it so easy for some people and hard for you? What are successful people doing that make it easier for you to succeed?
The hardest thing is to get started. Do you wait until everything is perfect to start a task? Don’t wait, just get started. It is better to get going than to wait. You don’t have get it perfect. Get started and along the way you will learn things and from experience things will get better. The key is get started now. Action is when the tyre hits the ground. A car can’t move until the tyres touch the road and mechanical forces are activated.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows that it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows that it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up you had better be running.” African parable
Once you get moving and start gaining success you will gain momentum. This have enormous benefits for you. Building momentum is your goal during your PhD.
Here is an interesting episode from my experience.
When I was doing my PhD it took 15 months before I got my first result. I was so excited about 1 graph. This was a memorable moment. I spent the first year ordering parts for my reactor and assembling everything together. Another 3 months went on testing and optimising the system. As soon as the system was working my supervisor dropped a bombshell. It hit me like a ton of bricks. We were all moving to Glasgow. My supervisor had got a chair in chemical technology.
I was proud of his achievements and very happy for him. When I thought of my studies I was devastated and did not see any way I could get a PhD. It would take at least 6 months to get things installed when we got to Glasgow plus the time it would take to get things dismantle and shipped. How could I get enough results in 6 months at the end and be successful? I had never even been outside Manchester all my life. I told my supervisor, “Sir, I am not going to Glasgow because I have seen in the news that it is a violent city. It has the highest crime rate in the UK”. He was shocked at my resistance. I was always very polite and shy. He asked, “What are you going to do in Salford, all of the equipment is moving to Glasgow. It is better for you to come. I will have more time to help you.” I replied; “No Sir, I am going to sell potatoes in my dad’s shop. I will make more money in business.” My supervisor was disappointed with my attitude. I was simply scared of moving to another city where I knew no one.
For several weeks, everyone was planning for the move looking forward to it. I was the only one who did not agree to move. I walked around like a dead person. During Friday prayer I made a decision. I was going to get all my practical results finished before I dismantled my equipment. I thought I could delay dismantling my equipment for 3 months. I thought of creative excuses. I did not tell anyone about my plan. In the months that followed I worked like a madman. I spent almost 24 hours in the lab doing deposition runs. In between runs, I did characterisation studies and slept in between tests. I started to find creative ways to get results. I was extremely shy but built up the courage to ask people to help me with analysing my samples. I carried my samples everywhere I went. I started getting more and more results. I was building momentum. My energy and enthusiasm were so powerful almost everyone wanted to help me. I was like a different person, I was irresistible.
After few months my supervisor Professor Hitchman told me that we were getting a visitor for MIT, Professor Klavs Jensen. We are collaborating with him. He told me, “Bring all you results”. I replied “OK Sir.” I was worried that I did not have enough results and would let my supervisor down. When I arrived in the room, I pulled out 3 files full of results. My supervisor and collaborator’s eyes lit up as bright as Blackpool illuminations. Professor Jensen told me I had enough results for 3 PhD thesis. I felt great and relieved. I was being complemented by the world’s top authority. From that point on I knew I would get my PhD and my confidence soured. Moving to Glasgow did not seem like a big deal anymore. I moved and spent a year there. I loved the city and people. It was the best time of my life. My field was brand new and there was only one previous paper published. I managed to get all results within the 6 month period and went to work for General Electric Company in London as a Research Scientist.
I had discovered for myself the secret to unstoppable progress — momentum. Imagine a small snowball rolling down a large mountain. As it travels it gathers more snow and gets bigger. When it is small it is easily deflected from its path. Any large obstacle will stop it in its tracks. However, the longer it carries on the bigger its gets. Eventually it gets so big that nothing can stop it until it reaches the bottom of the mountain. It will destroy any object in its way. The momentum of the snowball increases as it travels down.
Just like the snowball you need to build momentum in your studies.
What are the 5 most important things that builds momentum?
1. Focus on a goal
When I was doing my PhD I had only one goal. Get enough results in 6 months to get a PhD. Everything else I did revolved around that goal. Getting a PhD is going to be difficult. However, it is very worthwhile and will be highly satisfying. Focusing on a goal is the number 1 factor in achieving it. If you can’t focus you won’t achieve it. The greater the focus the more momentum you will build. Make you PhD a priority and fit everything else around it. When you get momentum it will get easier.
2. Get started now
There is never the perfect time or place to get started. You will never have all the information. Do the best you can with what you have. Don’t wait; start now. Procrastination is the number enemy of success.
“What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Do something, do anything but get started. Immediate action on your goal will build unstoppable momentum.
2. Establish good habits
Good habits will ensure you stay on course. They will push you towards your goal. Habits should be the minimum you must do regularly.
“Be in the habit of getting up bright and early on the weekends. Why waste such precious time in bed?” Marilyn Voss Savant
Start on the easy habits and build towards harder ones. Do it just one at a time. For example, read one paper a day; write every detail down in your lab manual as you are doing the experiments; write up every experiment as soon as you’ve completed it; attend every research seminar in the school. The habits must be aligned to your main goal.
3. Focus on the present
Focus on what you are doing. This relieves stress. Don’t worry about the future or past mistakes. Your future will depend on what you are doing now. The past is gone and you can’t change it. Learn from your mistakes and make yourself better. Whatever you are doing, focus on it. If you are in the lab focus on what you are doing. Don’t get distracted by emails, phone calls, news or anything else. If you are reading a paper, allocate an hour and just read and enjoy it.
4. Focus on the task
When you completely lose yourself in a worthy task the you will reach a state known as “flow”. In athletics or sports they call it the “zone”. Being in the flow or zone is a beautiful experience. It only comes when you focus on one thing. Flow is an important ingredient in being happy with your work. Clear all distractions and focus on what you are doing.
5. Be positive
It is very easy to be critical. It creates negative feelings. Be aware of your negative thoughts and think the opposite.
“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe.” Dalal Lama
Replace any negative thoughts with positive empowering ones. Instead of thinking; What if I fail? Start thinking; What will it feel like being on stage and getting my PhD from the Vice Chancellor with parents and friends in the audience cheering? What kind of job will I get when I finish my PhD? What car will I drive? How will I feel when everyone respects me wherever I go? Be positive about everything that happens. Replace negative thoughts with positive happy ones.
Top 5 Benefits of having momentum?
1. Momentum will make you more successful
Momentum will amplify your success. It gives you leverage. You will be able to achieve much greater things with less effort with momentum behind you.
“Give me a lever big enough and I will move the world” Archimedes
In sports, you can see momentum clearly. When the team is on a winning streak, they win even when they have played badly. Miraculously the team score in the last minute or injury time to win the trophy. Managers try to control it. You can see the momentum swinging from one team to another. When a team is playing badly the manager brings on a substitute and the game changes before your very eyes. In your studies if you have momentum then keep going. If lose it then find ways to get back on track. Speak with people who are doing better. Talk to your supervisor for support to build momentum.
2. Momentum will enhance your skills
Momentum will make you look better than you are. With little effort you will achieve great results. When you are successful people think you are better than you are and they only see your victories. Mistakes tend to be ignored. If you are getting good results from your experiments then get poor results every now and then will tend to be overlooked. Momentum amplifies your success.
3. Momentum will get people to help you
People want to be associated with successful people. When you need something it is hard to get, however when you don’t need it any more it keeps knocking on your door. Success breeds more success. When you have momentum and you ask someone to do something for you they will generally do it. This will make you even more successful and build greater momentum.
4. Momentum will make it easier to change
If something is not working, change it. Momentum makes change easier. Just like the snowball racing down a mountain it is easy to steer it. Starting is hard, but once you get going it is easy to keep moving and change course along the way.
5. Momentum begins inside you
You must take responsibility for building momentum. You are the centre of your universe. You can’t light a fire without a spark. The ambition come you to move others to get into action and support you. Your supervisors and colleagues will move with you when you have momentum. You can’t ignite a desire in another person’s heart until it is burning inside you. Create momentum with your research project is your best friend.
“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” Confucius
Get started now, build good research habits, focus on your goals, think about the present and take massive action. I will see you on stage accepting your PhD, feeling proud and wonderful.