When I first started in research I was petrified about going into the lab to do experiments because I did not want to make mistakes or get negative results. I felt I was going to let myself, my supervisors and peers down. So initially I hated going to the lab and avoided it for a while pretending that I was reading and doing my literature review. I took the easy route.
Even though I was terrified about going to the lab I knew I had to go and the effort was going to be worth it in the long run. I faced the same problems when it came to writing my literature review, first year report and doing presentations. So how did things turn around for me?
Here are 4 steps to facing your fears of going to the lab, writing your literature review or doing a presentation.
1. Make sure you turn up and obey your quotas
When I decided that I would be in the lab at the latest by 9am things started to improve. I found other people had the same fears and dreams as I had. By showing up I had won half the battle and the other half was doing something productive. At the beginning it was was cleaning my glassware, organising bench space, learning how to use various equipment and reading the instruction manuals.
Eventually as time passed I still showed up but then I would always have a plan ready for an experiment. After a while I got addicted to going to the lab and would stay there well after midnight and often till 4am because what I was doing was so exciting and irresistible. I got such a buzz doing experiments that my Rihana would say that the laboratory was my first wife and she was my second wife. I built up such a momentum in doing lab work a world leading professor now at MIT commented after just a year of this routine that I had enough results for 3 PhDs. This gave enormous self satisfaction.
I had similar experiences with writing my first paper. I kept putting it off even though I had good results. I then decide that I would wake up early at 4am and then get pen and paper and just sit there. At first what I wrote was rubbish but siting at a fixed time was a massive start. I was half way there. I then started planning and eventually writing. Initially I did not write a lot often writing only a paragraph in 3 hours. Eventually I progressed to writing 5 or more pages and my writing efficiency improved to a point I could write a whole paper draft in an evening. As my papers got published my confidence sky rocketed and I felt I could write a book or thesis in 3 months.
By showing up and facing your fear you have won half the battle. Make sure you show up on time, with a plan and stay there as long as you can. When you have momentum then keep going, don’t stop. You will get great satisfaction from your efforts and in the long term you will have fantastic success.
2. Get the first task done as quickly as possible.
If you’re doing an experiment break it down into simple tasks and then get the first part done. Focus all your attention on completing this task. When you do this your confidence and self esteem will sour. You will build momentum to move onto the next task. Put in your very best effort and really concentrate.
The same rule applies if you are doing a computational modelling project or wring a report and mastering any skill.
You don’t have to get it perfect, you just have to get it going. Perfection will come later once you get into the habit of doing it. For me the hardest task of all is getting started but once I start something that I am passionate about then I don’t feel like stopping until I have finished.
3. Help someone else
As a researcher it is lonely, your project is most important and it’s easy to focus on your needs and ignore everyone else. In research it is important to share and help someone else. In sharing your knowledge and experiences you will develop your potential a lot quicker. Normally your peers and supervisors will accelerate your development so give your knowledge and experience to others frequently and you will receive a lot more in return.
I like to share my knowledge and experience with others from different fields. The top people in a field usually do the same things plus or minus 10% however if you really want to find new ways of doing something then learn from the top people in different field and then apply whatever you can to your sphere of expertise. You’ll get a quantum leap in your thinking and results you can achieve.
4. Focus on the possibilities
When you focus on how your work wll be viewed or judged you will naturally be worried. This feeling will prevent you from starting and giving your best effort. You must focus on the possibilities and benefits of your work. This will give you impetus to start. Once in flow all your worries will subside. This is the reason that researchers are the happiest when they are in the lab, writers are happiest when they are writing and artist are happiest when they are creating or painting. It is the same with sports people, footballers are happiest when they are on the field playing.
So get on the playing field of your life and you’ll experience real joy and happiness. You’ll find that afterwards what stands out in your life is not the fears but the joy of doing something worthwhile and making a contribution. Just go for it and get doing it.
What are you’re experiences? Join the discussion in the comments below. Have fun.
Do you come up with elaborate plans to accomplish things? Do you have plan to write a research paper?
For the past 20 years I have sat down with dozens of research students and made plans to help them achieve the goals. I took into account their abilities, time commitments, personal life and worked with students to develop excellent plans. Plans if executed well could have achieved spectacular results. Less than 5% of the students followed their plan.
Why did the plans fail most of the time?
Most of the people were convinced that they had a killer plan guaranteed to work. I found that the most important thing was not the plan but the daily habits.
Many incredibly talented students achieved rather average results because they had poor habits. However, I have had below average students who achieved outstanding results.
If you have 10 great plans but don’t follow them then they are useless. The problem is not that people don’t know what to do rather people don’t do what they know. It’s the doing that makes all the difference. Knowing is not enough one must do.
How do you get students to do something rather than just sit and reflect until the cows come home? It’s not that people are not motivated. You can get people to do something for a few days. That is not hard, however to follow through consistently is the trick. How can you get them to stick to it?
When I started reading papers early on in my career, I knew I could do it for a few days but found it hard to stick to it. I decided to go to library straight to library after lunch to relax and read. I started to enjoy and look forward to my daily trip to the library. I read articles to enjoy them. Soon I got addicted and then kept going everyday. I hated weekends because I couldn’t go to the library. I couldn’t wait for monday to come. As my knowledge increased people’s started commented on my breadth of knowledge and I enjoyed the compliments. This made it even more enjoyable to go to the library. This became a daily habit during my PhD and many years after.
I have also recently had dozens of plans and exercise routines and do it for a week or so and then become a coach potato again. Sticking to it long enough to make a difference to my fitness and weight.
You need to find a way of creating a habit of reading papers or exercising to make it a habit you can stick to. Forming a habit that can be a part of your lifestyle then you’ll stick to it and then achievements and success will follow you wherever you go.
Here are the 7 steps to creating a habit.
1. Start small
2. Do it everyday
3. Never go more than two consecutive days without doing the habit
4. Reward yourself straight after doing the habit
5. Be accountable to someone whose opinion you care about.
6. Set incremental goals
7. Enjoy the habit