Tapping into the Magic Within

Despite Lisa’s love for research, she has been feeling demotivated about her PhD program. During a meet-up with her friend Sarah, she opens up about her struggles. Sarah asks a single question – one which changes her outlook on life completely. The end of semester is a stressful time for all of us. So if you’re looking for motivation or even just a brief escape, read on!

by Polykum Redaktion

by Nikita Janakarajan

It was 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Lisa opened her eyes, still in bed, groggily picking up her phone to see ten new WhatsApp messages. She put her phone down and stared at the ceiling. Deep breath in, deep breath out. A feeling of dread washing over her. “Lab meeting tomorrow at 9 am, and I have nothing to show”, she thought to herself. It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when she had the energy, the passion, the drive, the motivation, whatever you call it, to do things. Lately, not so much. She begrudgingly got out of bed when her phone dinged – a message from Sarah “Let’s meet at Zeughauskeller at 1 pm. Excited to see you!”. Sarah and Lisa had known each other for five years. They were in the same master’s programme together, and both were now doing their PhD. “Fuck”, muttered Lisa. Anxiety was slowly kicking in about how she’s going to end up wasting more than a couple of hours, coming back home tired, having little time to get results for the group meeting the next day, consequently staying up late and losing out on quality sleep, as a result of which the entire week is now ruined because she’s going to be tired every single day – the domino effect of today’s lunch. But Lisa was looking forward to seeing Sarah, it was the list of to-dos in the back of her mind bothering her. As she went on about her morning routine, she was flooded with thoughts such as “Why am I like this?”, “If only I’d managed my time better the previous week, I wouldn’t have to worry about showing results tomorrow”, “My professor is going to think I’m lazy and incompetent”, “I deserve this, I made my bed, now lie in it”, “Why can’t I be like Amelie, she’s so focused, it’s crazy. And she does sport every other day. And she has results to show every week!” Lisa was no longer enjoying the cup of coffee that she looks forward to every morning. Deep breath in, deep breath out. “It’s going to be ok. I’ll make it a quick lunch.”

* * *

The cool autumn breeze blew past Lisa as she hurriedly walked towards the tram stop. Tardiness is almost a characteristic trait of Lisa. All her friends know about Lisa Standard Time – 1 pm is a window between 1:15 pm and 1:30 pm. Not today though. The SBB app said she would arrive at 1:08 pm. A new record? As she sat in the tram, she scrolled through her unread messages with the intention of replying to them. Thanks to often having a low mental bandwidth, some messages just never receive a reply. But not today. Today was one of those days, where replying to messages felt like a task, she could accomplish to feel like she wasn’t having a totally unproductive day. “Let’s start with mum”, she thought. Her mother religiously sent her two messages every morning – one a motivational quote for the day, and the second a “God bless you” or “Good morning, darling”. Today’s motivational quote read “A river cuts through a rock not because of its power but because of its persistence.” Lisa thought about the quote for a minute. “Well, scientifically, it’s true. Can’t fact check mum on this one. So consistently keep acting on your goals and you will accomplish them one day? Like the river, the current may be strong on some days, and weak on others. But the important thing here is to keep flowing, and for me that implies to keep going even if that means I get only one small thing done on a given day due to low energy and motivational levels. But how do I keep going when I feel like I’m not good enough and feel mentally exhausted all the time?”

* * *

“Wow you’re early!” said Sarah as they greeted each other with a hug. “Yeah, my existential dread ended early, and I managed to catch the tram on time! No table?” “The reservation is for 1:15 pm,
I took LST into account”, said Sarah cheekily. The pair were soon led to their table, and as they settled down post their initial pleasantries, Sarah asked Lisa worriedly, “What was it you said about the existential dread. What’s happening? Is everything okay?” Lisa sighed “I don’t want to be a Debby Downer.” “Oh come on, we’re here to catch up on our lives and this is life!” “Okay well, I’ve been feeling like I’m not cut out for a PhD lately. I started it because I did really enjoy research. It gave me a sense of purpose, like I was contributing to the knowledge graph of the world, and I truly did find it exciting. But lately, it feels like a burden, like a series of tasks I need to complete. I have so many things going on at the same time, it’s overwhelming. On top of that, I’ve been feeling quite demotivated because I’m not progressing at the rate I’d like to. I can’t seem to manage my time well and my passion for research seems to have dissipated”, lamented Lisa. Sarah took a moment to think about what Lisa said and instead of offering the generic response of “Yeah but that’s how a PhD is, you’re learning, I’m sure you’ll manage” or “Yeah same, its hard but chill you got this. You’re smart that’s why you’re even here”, she responded with a question – “What does magic mean to you?” Lisa looked confused, and wondered if her rant was in her mind voice. “You heard what I said, right?” Lisa clarified just to make sure. “Yes, I heard you. Now tell me, what does magic mean to you?” “Okay? Uhm well, by definition, something that creates an illusion of an event by tricking your senses.” “Right! And right now, you’re tricking yourself into believing you’re not good enough and what you’re going through right now is an outcome of that. What you need is an inverse function – instead of tricking yourself into thinking you’re not cut out for a PhD, why not go the other way? Trick yourself into believing you are! Even when you don’t feel like the best, trick yourself into believing it. Trick yourself into believing you are good at managing your time. As you do this, you will also want to feel it to believe it and you will begin to take actions in this direction. And when it gets hard to take this action, remind yourself why you started your PhD in the first place. Forget about trying to impress your professor and focus on how you can make an impression on the knowledge graph you want to expand. I’m not saying it’s easy. Like any magic trick, this requires consistent practice.” Lisa slowly began to calm down as she listened to Sarah. She made a valid point. She thought about how difficult it was for her to get out of this rut because of the way she had been feeling about herself. “And you know, there will always be enough forces working against you and your dreams”, continued Sarah, “You don’t have to join them. Be your own hype girl. The magic is within, let it trick you into doing great things. Trick yourself into doing great things!” Lisa was fully calm now, feeling a sense of renewed energy. Deep breath in, deep breath out. “Thank you. I needed to hear this. It’s …” Lisa was promptly cut off by a cheery voice “Are you ladies ready to order?” “Oh yes! I’ll have the venison escalope please”, Lisa answered, now turning to Sarah “I always get that when I come here. It’s simply magical.”

We can consciously change our perception – almost a magic trick!
Nikita Janakarajan, 27,
PhD, D-INFK, loves food and listens to
music for at least ten hours a day.

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