7 Super Simple PhD Student Motivation Hacks

Losing motivation during your PhD is very, after all, you are trying to work towards a single problem for many years. When things are not going your way, or you are just fed up of thinking about the same thing over and over again, you can very quickly lose motivation.

Keeping your motivation up during your PhD means understanding you need to focus on discipline and not necessarily motivation. However, remembering your “why”, eating healthily, and finding an energising hobby can help keep you motivated.

In this article, we will go over all of the things you need to know about keeping up your motivation as a PhD student and all of the things I learned throughout my 15 years in academia.

I was always surprised at how easy it was to get myself back on track if I found myself in a slump.

Check out my YouTube video if you want to know more about how to get your PhD motivation back. I summarised all of the most important and effective tricks:

Here are all of the little tricks you need to know.

It’s about discipline NOT motivation

It’s common to feel demotivated and lose your motivation during your PhD or when writing up your thesis, but there’s a simple fact that every successful person learns.

It’s not about motivation, it’s about discipline.

That’s what successful PhD students and academics understand.

They don’t wait to feel like doing something, they just do it. And they keep doing it, even when they don’t feel like it, because they know it’s important.

Successful PhD students are disciplined. They have the self-control to do what they need to do, even when they don’t want to do it. They know that if they’re not disciplined, they won’t achieve their goals.

Unfortunately, we often wait for too long for motivation to strike. In my experience, a lot of the time, this simply does not happen.

If you want to be successful during your PhD, you need to be disciplined. You need to have the self-control to do what’s necessary, even when you don’t feel like it. You need to keep going, even when you feel like giving up.

Discipline is the key to success in academia.

Sometimes, discipline is not enough on its own. If you are experiencing any of the low motivation symptoms, you can combat them relatively easily.

How to spot low motivation?

There are several ways to spot low motivation.

One way is to ask yourself how much pleasure you get from the activities you’re engaged in. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, it’s likely that your motivation is low.

Another way to tell if your motivation is low is to look at how much effort you’re putting into your studies.

If you find yourself procrastinating or not putting forth your best effort, it’s a sign that your motivation may be low.

Finally, take a look at your results. If you’re not seeing the progress you want, or if you’re seeing setbacks, it could be a sign that your motivation is lacking.

There are also some very specific PhD related symptoms that you should look for.

Not wanting to communicate with your supervisor

One of the first warning signs I look for in any of my students is any hesitation in communicating with their supervisors.

Students often avoid speaking with their supervisors if they are not producing results. This can happen when the PhD student feels like there is a massive hurdle in front of them that they cannot overcome.

Your supervisor should be able to help you find a simple experiment or study to do to start the ball rolling.

Never avoid or delay a supervisor meeting. The meetings will keep you accountable and help you on the path to completion.

Procrastination on thesis/writing

Writing is a massive pain in the bum.

I know that I would always procrastinate a lot when it came to writing up my thesis or peer-reviewed papers.

A lot of people find the academic writing process very tedious and painful. Finding the motivation to do just a few hundred words a day can also be very difficult.

Loss of enthusiasm

Burnout During your PhD, it is likely that you will feel overwhelmed and stressed at some point.

Your supervisor may not be able to help either, as they are usually busy with their own research and things.

Research is a notoriously competitive field, which means that there is a lot of pressure to succeed. This can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress, which can eventually lead to burnout.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or burnt out, it is important to take a step back and assess your situation. Talk to your supervisor about your concerns and see if there is anything they can do to help you.

It may also be helpful to talk to other PhD students or academics who have been through the same thing. They will be able to offer advice and support.

In the end, it is up to you to manage your own stress levels and make sure you don’t end up burning out.

If you want to know more about combating burnout during your PhD check out my YouTube video below.

How do PhD students stay motivated?

There is no one answer to this question as different students have different motivators.

However, some ways that PhD students stay motivated include setting goals, breaking up their work into manageable tasks, staying organized, and seeking support from their peers and mentors.

Additionally, many students find it helpful to celebrate their small accomplishments along the way. This will help create a sense of momentum that can breed more motivation.

Here are the basic motivational tips including some simple actionable advice that you can use if you are feeling unmotivated.

Motivational Tips

1. The basics

First, try setting smaller goals that are more achievable. This will help you see progress and feel more successful, which can increase your motivation.

Second, make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep and exercise; both things can boost your energy and mood, which can in turn increase your motivation.

Finally, try speaking kindly to yourself and focusing on positive self-talk; this can help increase your confidence and self-belief, making it easier to stay motivated.

2. Remember your WHY

Throughout PhD it can be hard to remember why you actually started one in the first place. There is so much more you end up doing is a PhD student. You can actually forget your true purpose whilst busy with the admin, politics, and busywork that a PhD often presents.

Getting familiar with your motivations to do your PhD will certainly ground you, hopefully, help you remember why you decided to go down this path in the first place.

3. Focus on the bigger picture

Focusing on the bigger picture also helps me a lot.

Quite often we can get bogged down in the details of our research. However, connecting with the bigger picture and zooming out really helps boost motivation.

Remember questions such as:

  • who you’re doing this research for
  • why you did this in the first place
  • what the true benefits of your work are

can really help provide that small amount of inspiration when it is low.

4. Find an energizing hobby

Hobbies have been something that has provided a welcome distraction from my PhD and academic work.

They have allowed me to get away from work and take a break from the daily grind.

However, not all hobbies are made the same.

I would recommend finding a hobby in which you feel energised. Watching TV, reading a book, are great but often leave me feeling tired. Hobbies that include hanging out with other people and being active are often much better for keeping up my motivation and helping me feel energised and ready to tackle the issues by PhD threw up.

5. Eat well

It goes without saying that eating well throughout your PhD will help you feel better in many aspects of your life.

If you’re feeling unmotivated remember to go back to unprocessed and healthy food to kickstart your healthy eating habits again.

Stay away from highly processed foods and junk food – doing so has provided me with a huge boost in energy and therefore motivation.

6. Take time to step away from your work

Step away from your PhD every so often.

Take a moment to reconnect with friends, family and old acquaintances. It is actually okay to take some time for you.

Some PhD students need to step away from their work for much longer. Stepping away from your PhD for six months to a year can also help you regain the motivation you need to finish.

7. Focus on your achievements

In the daily grind of a PhD can be hard to focus on your achievements when all you can see are your failures or challenges.

Nothing motivates me more in my academic career than seeing what I have already achieved and what I can improve on.

Taking a moment to stop and reflect on your achievements will help you fine-tune your next step and will give you the energy to want to reproduce that successful experiment or study.

I like to keep a little list of my achievements nearby so that I can look at them whenever I am feeling flat.

Why Losing Motivation In Grad School Is Normal

Losing motivation in grad school is normal for a number of reasons.

First, the academic pressure can be intense and overwhelming at times.

Second, the process of getting a PhD or postdoc often takes much longer than students expect, which can lead to frustration and disappointment.

Third, many students are juggling multiple responsibilities (e.g., teaching, research, family) and simply don’t have the time or energy to devote to their studies.

Finally, it’s easy to become discouraged when you compare yourself to your peers and feel like you’re not making as much progress as they are.

If you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s important to remember that it’s normal and that you’re not alone.

Talk to your advisor or other trusted faculty member about how you’re feeling and see if they have any advice on how to get back on track.

Take some time for yourself outside of school and do things that make you happy. And finally, remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place. Grad school is hard work, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to learn and grow as a person.

Wrapping up

This article is covered everything you need to know about keeping up your motivation as a PhD student.

The PhD is long, arduous, and can test even the most motivated of individuals. Focusing on discipline and execution every day will be the number one way you can build up momentum and keep moving forward.

When your willpower is depleted, make sure you are eating well, you take time to reconnect with friends and family and do an energising hobby.

Small steps every single day is what finishes a PhD. Take small steps and the rest of your PhD will follow.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.