I'm a grad student. I like the subject(s) I'm studying, I like research, and I know I'm capable of doing the work... except when I sit down to actually do it, I choke. I know I'm not the only one suffering from both
and perfectionism - how do you manage to get your brain to stop spinning its wheels and get to work?
My department is in the top 5 for its specialty, and I'm surrounded by very smart people. By all accounts, I am also a very smart person, but I'm having trouble believing in my own ability to comprehend and complete the work. Part of the problem is that my background is different from that of most people in my program. I haven't had some of the background classes that they have, so I have to work harder to make up for this. I'm not used to working hard - this article
basically describes me, except that I didn't need to expend any effort until I got to grad school. I know that if I could just get myself to work through it I would be able to figure things out, but when I sit down to work, my mind crashes. Everything seems overwhelming and incomprehensible, I get anxious, and I don't even know what questions I could be asking to better understand the material. I end up procrastinating, which only makes things worse. Even things that I do get right away end up getting put off since my mind wanders whenever I start reading or writing.
On top of this, I have much higher standards for my work than I do for anyone else's. In my head, my work has to be brilliant. Anything less will reveal me to be as incompetent as my twisted mental image thinks I am. Unsurprisingly, I also have trouble asking questions or making comments in seminars/classes/meetings as I'm afraid of looking stupid. I can't count the number of times I've kicked myself for not saying anything when my unspoken comment or "guess" is vindicated by someone else actually willing to speak up.
I've been working on these (and other issues) with a therapist. I've also been consulting with a psychiatrist to see if medication might improve my concentration, but I'm increasingly of the belief that it's primarily psychological and that drugs won't help. I'm sick of feeling this way, and I can't keep going on like this if I expect to finish my degree. How can I get myself to push away my feelings of incompetence and fear so that I can just get to work? I know this is a common problem among graduate students, so there has to be a way to cope with it.
Things I've tried with little to no success: working on my time management skills (having a clean desk and set times to study don't help when your brain can't stop flagellating itself long enough to get anything done), breaking things into smaller pieces (see above - also, I sometimes don't even know where to make the first break), working with other students, working in different places, "fake it 'til you make it" confidence (pretending to believe in myself might help a bit socially, but I can't pretend to get work done). Questions and comments can be sent to: AnonMefiGrad@gmail.com