Linking Back to Meaning and Goals

In section 1 – we talked about the importance of finding meaning both in your subject and in the process of your research.

It can be helpful to return to this concept throughout your research degree, particularly in moments when you may be feeling lost. As we have already discussed on other pages, the feeling of being lost with your research is a common experience – in fact, it is part of the development of your work. Feeling lost is a message that it is time to stop driving forward, check where you are and map out where you need to go next. Otherwise you may just keep going faster and faster in the wrong direction.

The exercise below has been designed to help you use what is meaningful, in order to take back control of your research. You can use it when you feel lost but it may be even more helpful to do it regularly, so you avoid feeling quite so lost in the first place.

Consider the Following Questions

Why are you researching this subject?

Go back to your original motivations for choosing this research area and question (if you were responsible for both). What was it that attracted you to this topic? What about this topic do you care about or feel passionate about? What was the contribution you hoped your research might make?

Take some time to think about this question – it may help to do it away from your desk and the things you’ve been working on recently. Going for a walk or just getting outside may help.

What has changed?

Has the research become detached from your original motivations and passions? It is ok if it has – in fact, this is very common. Can you identify where this happened? Have you been side tracked by a new thought or someone else’s research or by your supervisor’s interests? 

Where has your focus been recently?

In section 1 we also spoke about the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Generally our wellbeing and quality of work is better when we are intrinsically motivated. What’s the balance of your motivation been recently? 

What can you change now to help you regain control?

You may not be able to take your project and make it perfectly fit with the passion you initially had. But nor do you need to. Focus instead on what you can change to bring it closer to your passions and so that you can spend more time on things that are intrinsically motivating. It may also be worth trying to find reasons to internally care about those things you have to do but aren’t excited by. Can you find a way to make them more meaningful?

Write down a plan

This will help you turn your thoughts into positive actions and provide you with a solid map for the next stage in your journey.

Video Resources

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Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar (Harvard University) Discusses Setting Meaningful Goals and Finding Meaning