I have talked about the importance of having well defined goals for your research. Like a darts player aim for the bulls eye, aim at your goal and take action to achieve it.
Your long term goal is to get a PhD. Split the goal into medium term goals such as: do laboratory work on the project to solve a problem, write your transfer report, write a peer reviewed research paper, give a research presentation at an international conference, write thesis and prepare for oral examination. You have broken down your goal into smaller components. Do you have a daily to-do-list of tasks related to your research project?
Many people have goals and they have even broken them down into components but still struggle with reaching them. Why is that? When I look at these people I see that they are talented, intelligent, sensible and hard working. So why don’t they succeed?
When you look at their approach one component is missing. They lack consistency.
If you want to be physically fit you don’t go to the gym once in a while. Are you then fit for life after one or two visits? Even if you have the finest trainer and the best equipment without consistency you will not succeed. You need to go to the gym regularly over a period of time. Exercise needs to become a regular habit.
To become a great researcher you need to establish regular habits that push you towards your goals.
When I was doing my PhD I spent long hours in the laboratory, often from 8:00am to 2am in the morning. This was tiring so to relax I used to go to the library every lunch time after mid day prayer. I spent minimum of 1 hour reading latest journals related to my subject and developments in science in the New Scientist. I did this everyday between about 1:30-2:30pm for 3 years. My habit broke my day into 2 parts. I read for fun and relaxation rather than to learn. I was amazed at my development because I could quote names of authors, dates, journals and details of numerous research discoveries. Without realising what I was doing I had established a habit which increased knowledge and insight. To this day I still remember many of the things I read. I felt great when I could discuss these things will other researchers and supervisors. I thought I was only an average research student, however people thought I was intelligent and talented because I was up to date.
What habits do you need to develop to be a great researcher? Could you establish a habit of reading a research paper everyday? Could you develop a habit of summarising a paper at 9:00pm every day?
Even though I have talked about developing good research routines and habits in previous posts I did not go into details on how to establish a habit.
What essential steps do you need to follow to establish a habit?
1. Write down your goal in a positive and well defined manner. State it as if it has already been achieved in present tense. You should be able to visualise it, feel it and know for sure that you have achieved it. There is no room for being vague and unsure here.
2. Write down the start date and projected end date for your goal.
3. Write down why this goal is important to you. Make it thrilling and emotionally charged. The greater your desire and commitment the faster you will achieve your goal.
4. Describe in detail what your goal will look like once you have successfully achieved it. Write the goal on a single sheet of paper. Look at it daily. What will it feel like when you have achieved it?
5. Identify the key milestones along your journey towards your destination. When you go from Manchester to London you need get to Stoke, then Birmingham to Milton Keynes, Watford and finally London. Every time you reach a milestone you are closer to London. If reach all of them surely you will get to London. Your research goals should have key milestone such as registration; approval of research project; transfer report; review of literature; thesis; oral examination and the graduation.
6. Set up core habits that relate to your goal.
For example, one of my goals is to become a great writer. My core habits to achieve this goal are: write 2000 words daily and read one hour a day books of my favourite authors.
7. Establish a minimum criteria for success in practicing your habits.
My minimum is for writing is 200o words and read for 1 hour. I can also watch you tubes videos to get ideas to improve, attend writing workshops, meet successful authors personally, attend their public events etc.
8. Describe why each habit is important. Why must you practice this habit? How does it relate to your goal?
9. Identify target days of the week you will perform the habit.
It may be 4 days are week or weekdays only, weekend only, etc. If you want to get fit you may decide to go to the gym on monday, wednesday, friday and sunday. If this is done over a period and you perform the exercises and have a good diet then you will be healthy and fit.
10. You need a good measure of how successful you are with your habits. Track your habits daily. By tracking daily you will know if you are on target or not. You can take remedial action if you are off track.