Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Workshop - Reflections on Self and Well Being

Jan 29 - First meeting for Spring 2013

The focus of our discussions was well-being and self-awareness.

We all agree that writing a dissertation or MA thesis is a crazy process.
We all experience that swing from the euphoria of exciting ideas and insights to the weariness of a seemingly endless, road-block-ridden, plodding loneliness of writing.
We all know that finding a more stable process is the key to sustainable writing that allows us to enjoy our scholarship and writing AND get to the finish at a good clip and in good spirits.

It's no wonder then that our concerns about working on our projects and being effective in moving work forward ended up being centered in questions about how well we do in being healthy and happy. Sounds cliched, but really, our physical and emotional health are keys to success.

TAKE AWAYS AND THINGS TO DO between this workshop and the next
Observe ourselves:
  • what, where, and when are our productive mind-wandering spaces?
  • what energizes us and brings us joy? What blocks us from accessing this?

Some reflections and realizations that emerged from this meeting:
Mind-Wandering, Brain Food, and Energy.
Working intensively all the time is not productive. Do we give our minds space to wander and make connections that yield the insights we're searching for? Many of us have experienced this phenomenon of having worked at something, and then taking a walk, cooking, or having a shower and in that sort of mid-space between thinking and not-thinking - that wandering space - the best ideas and insights turn up. There is now quite a bit of research that shows how mind wandering is actually a productive process. Check out this article about the research so far on this.

What feeds our brain and gives us energy? Are we taking time to have fun and look after ourselves. For some of us this means playing with our children, for others it's taking time to bake from scratch, or hiking on the weekend, or playing with the cat. Whatever you do where you are fully engaged and feeling good about yourself and the world around you is brain food and a rich source of energy. It might sound counter-productive, but taking time to feed your brain and tap into your energy sources will help you move faster through your writing.

It's the Food You Eat
Energy to write comes from the amazing interactions between our emotional, physical, and cognitive well-being. How do we nourish these energy centers?

Latoya has been reading It Starts With Food that shows how our relationship to food and how we eat affects how we feel and the energy we have to do what we want to do. It's not just about losing weight (although that might be a side effect); it's about finding a more even keel with mood and emotions, finding yourself more energized and positive in how you approach everything.

Click here for a quick slide show on energy boosting foods.

Internal or External Structure
Freedom is not all that it's made out to be.

Suddenly there is no more coursework. No class times, deadlines, nor a professor to whom you must be accountable. Whether you write anything at all, whether you read one article, or twenty, or none is no longer anyone's business but yours. If you have a job, then the structure of the job can become all powerful and the dissertation or thesis becomes less and less prominent ...

 ........ getting sidelined...
........................and eventually
............................................................moving off stage into the darkness.

So structure that moves your project forward must come from inside. It's all up to YOU!
Some ideas for getting structure into our scholarly lives:

WRITE FIRST. The principle is to begin your day with a little time devoted entirely to you and your writing/reading/scholarship. Start small - spend the first 15 minutes of your day on your scholarship. Then stop. You'll find very quickly that you move from being relieved the 15 minutes is up and you can get into your day, to being frustrated when the 15 minute timer (yes, set a timer) goes off and you really want to keep writing/reading. When you get to this point, add another 15 minutes. Eventually, you might find that you are spending the first hour or two of your day on your work.
What does that do?
  • "Vantage number one"(with apologies to the Bi-Coloured Python Rock Snake) - You feel calmer, less guilt ridden about not doing your work and you enter your day with greater equanimity, less stress, and more openess to what the day will bring. Chances are therefore that you will actually find time and opportunity to do your work. 
  • "Vantage number two" - Your work will occupy mind space rather than be forgotten, and having worked on something at the top of your day, it will keep simmering in your mind while you go through your day doing what else needs to be done. And when you return to your work, you'll find yourself more productive.
RITUALS AND ROUTINES. The more our day is full of different demands and tasks, the more we need a ritual or routine of some sort to transition us from the booming-buzzing-everything-else to our dissertation/thesis work. It's hard to just stop what we're doing and just sit down and engage. Some ideas:
  • Dedicate one space to your dissertationt/thesis work. In this space do nothing else. In this way you associate this with your project and when you sit here, the inclination is to do your work.
  • Find a "setting up" routine  - I know someone whose routine is to make a cup of tea, light a scented candle, and change into "writing socks". For someone else the routine is going to his favourite Starbucks, buying a vanilla latte, setting up the computer, taking out his journal and noting day, time, and place. Whatever your routine or ritual is, a series of concrete events to get you into your space to write can help transition from the hurly-burly of life to your project. 

You're Not Alone - Here are some of the members of our group!