Prioritizing You

This past week I (and my better half) have been down for the count battling the pesky cold virus that’s going around this time of year. There’s nothing quite like being sick to remind you that you are human (not an invincible god/goddess you might like to always think you are) and need to take proper care of yourself! Additionally, my husband and I are currently expecting our first addition to our family. Pregnancy and having a cold have made it very obvious how little attention I used to pay to my health during graduate school. Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to generalize that many graduate students often neglect their health and well-being over other factors they may feel are more important during the moment. This week, I’d like to take a moment to remind you, and emphasize, the importance of prioritizing yourself and your well-being.

During graduate school, you’ll likely begin to feel that the whole process of achieving a PhD is really quite ambiguous and incomplete. You will always feel like there is one more experiment that you need to do. Furthermore, during the early years of grad school when your project is just getting off the ground and you are busy learning relevant techniques or theories, you may face an overwhelming sensation that you should always be working. This work, work, work, one-more-experiment-then-I’m-done mentality takes a toll on your physical and mental health. It is really easy to over-work yourself during the early days of grad school and become more susceptible to burnout and feel more jaded as time goes on. However, this experience presents an opportunity to learn when to say “enough is enough” or when to put things on pause (at least for the day).

Learning when “enough is enough” takes time and is better realized with the more self-awareness you have. For me, I began to create this self-awareness through mindfulness meditation. My practice of mindfulness helped me better sense when my mind was fatigued at the end of the day or week and when it was actually going to be more productive to stop for the day and switch to something else. As someone who loved to sit down and do things (assignments, writing, etc) in one go, this was a really difficult change to adopt because my underlying drive says “finish” despite my brain no longer having the capacity necessary to complete the task (or perhaps my work has become more nuanced than something that can be done in one day). The insight I have gleaned through mindfulness has allowed me to take better care of myself, physically and mentally. When you are not toiling away fruitlessly trying to “finish” something that isn’t realistic at the moment, you create more time for yourself to do things that rejuvenate you while not being stressed out by overworking yourself. I think we can all agree on how much better we perform when we feel well (first trimester fatigue and morning sickness was a very apparent eye-opener for me on the connection of how well I feel and how well I work). This coming week, I encourage you to do one thing a day for each day of the week that “prioritizes you” and see how you feel at the end of it. I hope you find yourself feeling more invigorated and inspired. As always, thanks for stopping by this week’s Mindful Path to PhD!

Knowing oneself

Hi there! Thanks for stopping by a new Mindful Path to PhD post! I’ve had many topics come to mind recently, but have been busy adjusting to a new aspect of my daily life, one that has certainly changed my daily routine. However, today’s freezing rain and snow mixture has made it a perfect opportunity for staying indoors and writing! (Thanks, Mother Nature!) Despite the gloominess outside of the window, I want to share my thoughts on how I feel mindfulness has impacted me the most, and that is actually beginning to know myself on a deeper level. I know, sounds cheesy, right? But please hear me out!

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, I may have alluded to my key characteristics as a perfectionist and a workaholic. I have known about these self traits for a very long time. However, it wasn’t until my third year of graduate school, around age 25, and after beginning my practice of mindfulness meditation that I realized I had been using my work-centric focus in life to bury my head in the sand and not face my feelings or emotions when times were difficult. I’m sure I’ve discussed this topic before, at least briefly, but it has recently been at the forefront of my mind. As I face new changes in my daily life and get closer and closer to needing to be thinking about what I want my next steps to be in life after PhD, I embrace my new self-insight.

Mindfulness has taught me how to listen to myself, even when I’m most reluctant to hear anything at all. Mindfulness has cultivated a deeper sense of self-awareness that I had previously and subconsciously buried to avoid any pain from life’s difficulties. Has mindfulness miraculously shown me what I want to do with my future career like a magic 8-ball, nope. However, mindfulness has equipped me with the toolset that I need to recognize what my inner passion will lead me to and the courage to take action when that time comes. Perhaps most importantly to me, mindfulness has provided me with serenity in the face of the unknown. I used to always have to have a plan, and don’t get me wrong, I still prefer to have a plan even knowing that life will likely deviate from said plan. But now, I accept that there are many things in life still waiting to happen that will help direct me to my next steps. As long as I continue working hard and towards a forward direction with mindfulness guiding me along the way, I’m certain I will find a place and option that makes me, and my little growing family, happy. Until next time, everyone!

May peace accompany your winding path

One of the biggest benefits I’ve obtained along my mindfulness journey so far has been an increased sense of self-awareness. I’ve always been a perfectionist, and I have always said it is both my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. However, I never realized how much my perfectionism is tied to my struggles: how upset I am when things don’t go as planned, how much pressure I put on myself to get every little thing just right, and how draining a “failure” can be. Mindfulness has gently lifted the veil off my face, allowing me to see the puzzle pieces that are my personality and is guiding me to assemble the pieces together.

One of the many challenges for me in grad school is learning how to roll with the punches and how to remain proactive when plans go awry. When I was growing up, my motto in life was always, “it happens,” and as I got older it too got older and became, “s#*t happens”. ¬†Somehow I’ve forgotten that little mantra during my early years of graduate school. Now I feel like I’m planning and planning, and working and working; trying so hard to find some sense of accomplishment and being easily frustrated when things don’t go quite as I had planned. And of course things hardly ever go as planned (especially in science, and especially for graduate students). Often times, the things that don’t go as planned are beyond my control. Maybe you are waiting for a reagent to be shipped in which unexpectedly is on back order, maybe the freezer crashed or a vital instrument breaks and you are left waiting for manufacturers to come and fix things on their timeline. These crappy things are generally beyond a person’s control. This is where my old saying, “it happens” really comes in handy. I’ve definitely lost sight of that attitude during my PhD training. I’m so emotionally and physically invested in my PhD, that I allow these little life things to add stress to an already stressful environment.

As a perfectionist, I want to have a plan, but I need to gently remind myself that it’s OK to allow that plan to change. When¬†“life” happens, it’s important to take a breath. Ask yourself if there’s anything in your power that you can do to “fix” the situation. If the situation is beyond your control, just remember that this is life. In order to know perfection, we know imperfection; everything is balanced. Allow yourself to bring peace to yourself, to your loved ones, and to the world around you. Remind yourself that it’s OK to follow a curving path. May peace accompany you and guide you along the winding path that is life.