We frame the consistency aspect of the February writing challenge as giving your scholarship some love every day or touching your scholarship every day. But why bother? Why does it matter whether you think of your scholarship every day?
We know that saying “give your scholarship some love every day” sounds both lalala and woo-woo. Put less onomatopoeically, it sounds fluffy and empty, and possibly advocates magical thinking.
And, okay, I confess that I do use that phrase to provoke ever so slightly. I used to teach yoga, and I think most of us could stand to inject a little heart into our headiness. But that’s not the main thing.
The main thing is that the ability to just hold your scholarship in your mind is worth cultivating.
There are a lot of people out there who think that everyone should write every day. I absolutely agree that there’s wisdom (not to mention research) backing that approach. And I do advocate carving out daily time to write.
However, that’s just not possible for everyone. And that’s okay. This probably doesn’t need to be said, but just in case: plenty of people get an awful lot of writing accomplished without doing it every day.
If you can write every day, one reward is that your research stays on your mental front burner much more powerfully.
I’ve been trying to figure out what people can do to achieve that benefit if they can’t write every day. And what I’ve come up with does not actually achieve that benefit … but it does achieve a different benefit.
So here’s the challenge. If you don’t have time to actually work on your research every day, find some still moment to just think about your research in pleasant ways.
What do we want that to look like?
- You can take a more affective approach. (For maximum benefit, ahem, just to be clear, we mean a positive affect). Consider things like
- how jazzed you are about your topic,
- the ways in which its particular puzzles light up parts of your brain
- how important it is to you that the work addresses problems that you care about
- or just mentally make eyes at your research, like “dang! That is some good lookin’ research!”
- You can take a more pragmatic approach:
- chew on a problem you’re trying to work your way through,
- develop a pitch for a conference abstract you’re working on,
- daydream about how you’ll frame your book proposal … that you won’t actually have time to work on until next week.
Here’s what does not count:
- Berating yourself for not being farther along in your project
- Berating yourself for not being able to write all day the last time you had a whole day free. (Bonus tip: unless you’re in the final throes of manuscript prep, it’s pretty impossible to write for whole days, so don’t even try to write for whole days, or if you must, at least give yourself a big break in the middle.)
- Berating yourself for not getting to the writing, for not writing better or faster, for squandering the last big chunk of time you had set aside for your research.
- Stewing about or replaying what has gone wrong or why you haven’t gotten to your writing. (Problem-solving solutions does count, though.)
Presumably you see the pattern by now. No berating or fixating!
But just to drive home what I’m talking about: it’s really common for people to expend what little mental space they have during non-research days basically feeling shitty about their research. In addition to just being unproductive negativity, this has two main effects. First, it carves what I call the “karma groove”—when you do something repeatedly, you carve a path that makes it that much easier to do the same thing again next time. Negative thinking begets negative thinking. On social media they say “don’t feed the trolls.” Don’t feed your internal trolls, either. Second, to the extent that negative thinking is unpleasant, it can encourage you to stop thinking about your scholarship altogether on days when you’re not actively doing it. Why would you want to think about something that just makes you feel shamey?
Now, ask yourself: when you think about your scholarship, how often do those thoughts reflect some version of feeling bad about it? Or how often is thinking about your scholarship a vehicle for feeling bad about yourself?
What would happen if you told yourself No. I like my scholarship.—and then promised yourself that you would try to cleanse it of all the parasitic bad feelings that come up when you think of it?
What we want to do is open up other possibilities, and then practice them.
So instead of thinking of yourself as having “research days” and “non-research days,” tell yourself you will touch your scholarship every day. For the next 4 weeks, tell yourself that on those “non-research days” you’ll take a moment to touch your scholarship. You can find that moment to mentally touch your research every day. You can set a one-minute timer between parking the car and getting out, or think about it as you walk to your office, or during the time you’re making coffee, or in the shower.
When you have that moment, use it to practice giving your scholarship some love. Imagine a friend you don’t get to see often enough. Maybe you’d use a similar kind of moment to send them a text. Research projects tend not to reply in satisfying ways to texts, so I don’t recommend that, but picturing your work as a friend you miss isn’t a bad mental orientation.
Giving your scholarship some love every day means sloughing off the emotional baggage that can get attached to it and letting it just be its own thing, not a mirror or projection or weight that you carry around. It can improve your relationship to your work in radical ways, and in doing so it can improve your sense of your identity as a scholar. It can also improve your mindfulness skills in ways that transcend your academic research. Giving your scholarship some love every day can change you.
Try adding “give my scholarship some love” or “mentally touch my scholarship” to your to-dos and see what happens.