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Bundle 2: Managing your worries

Candidates often worry about problems and complications in their research in particular and life more generally.  These worries are inevitable, and usually even helpful, inspiring people to solve their problems and to improve their lives.  But sometimes, one worry may elicit anxiety, and this anxiety may elicit another worry—and this sequence of events might persist until the person feels inundated with a flood of fears.  This bundle of activities is designed to

  • prevent this cycle of rumination 
  • enhance your capacity to solve problems as creatively and effectively as possible
  • improves your ability to reach suitable decisions

Exercise

1.1 Occasionally, you will experience some worries about your research or life.  In the Working Document, under the section labeled problems to solve, briefly outline this concern.  For example, you might write

  • I am not sure my research is important enough
  • I will not be able to collect enough data
  • I cannot write scientifically enough
  • My research skills are inadequate
  • I feel uncomfortable with my supervisor
  • I feel isolated from other people here
  • I feel inundated with responsibilities at home and at work
  • I am not earning the income I need to survive
  • I feel uneasy in this city
  • I am feeling distraught after my relationship has dissolved
  • I am experiencing anxiety at work
  • I am concerned about my health.

Exercise

1.2 If you are too busy now, you can skip this exercise.  However, if you can spare a few minutes, in the Working document, answer some of the questions about your problem.  The following table presents these questions as well as some illustrative answers.

QuestionSample answers
Transcribe your first three thoughts about this problem
  • Other projects seem to be solving a more practical issue
  • I feel the project is too similar to past studies
  • I am not sure what I am studying
Attempt to reduce these details into one sentence—a sentence that describes your problem as precisely as you can, sometimes called the problem statement
  • Other research projects seem more practical, important, unique, and precise than my research project
Describe the feelings and sensations you experience in your body when you contemplate this problem
  • I feel a tightness in the chest
Describe the feelings you would experience if you could solve this problem
  • I would feel so relieved and proud
Consider when, where, and what circumstances this problem transpires and dissipates
  • When: This problem transpired only after I attended a confirmation of candidature
  • Where: I do not experience this problem when interacting with humanities candidates
  • What: This problem only revolves around my research question but not the research methods
What are the possible causes of this problem?
  • I had not examined the literature carefully enough
  • I was too ambitious
  • I had not discussed the issue enough with industry
What are some potential solutions to this problem, even if unfeasible or unlikely?
  • I could formulate a different project
  • I could read and extend some of the latest studies on this topic
  • I could seek another supervisor

Did you know: After people label the feelings and sensations in their body, the intensity of these emotions tends to subside--called affect labeling.

Did you know: After people consider how their feelings would change after they solved a problem, they feel more inspired to overcome the obstacles that might impede this change—a tendency called mental contrasting.

Exercise

1.3 After a few minutes, attempt to defer this worry or concern to another time.  That is, you should decide to contemplate this problem—and indeed all your problems—during a specific time each week, such as Thursdays at 3.00 pm, rather than now.

Did you know:  After people defer a worry to a specific time, their worries are not as likely to escalate—a technique called stimulus control of worry.


During the time you dedicated to contemplating your worries, you should now consider the following exercises.

Exercise

1.4  If you have recorded, but not resolved, several worries or concerns in your Working Document, you could assign these problems into clusters—clusters that seem to overlap in some way.  You might even be able to combine two or more problems into one broader problem

Did you know:  After people attempt to assign problems to clusters, and thus orient their attention to underlying patterns rather than specific details, the intensity of unpleasant emotions will tend to dissipate. 

Exercise

1.5  Expand your answers to the previous questions about each problem.  For each problem, attempt to record between 15 and 20 separate answers, including the causes and solutions.  But do not worry about whether these answers are correct or feasible.

Did you know:  Brainstorming is more effective when individuals are assigned a target.  And people tend to overestimate the benefits of brainstorming in groups rather than alone.     

Exercise

1.6  As you extend the possible causes and solutions of your problem, apply one of the practices that appear in the following list.  These practices have been shown to improve creativity

  • Consider someone in your life who you know is very bold and creative.  How would this person answer the questions?
  • Consider a person in your life who is usually supportive rather than judgment.  Either contact this person to seek advice or imagine the advice they might offer to answer these questions
  • Attempt to integrate multiple answers—especially multiple solutions—into one answer
  • Imagine your life 10 years from now, explaining to someone how you addressed this problem. 

Exercise

1.7 Determine which cause or causes are the most likely.  To achieve this goal, you could

  • on a scale from 1 to 5, rate the degree to which each cause might explain why the problem unfolds in some circumstances but not other circumstances

Exercise

1.8 Determine which two to four solutions could most effectively address the likely causes of this problem.  Then utilise your intuition to decide which solution to initiate.  To utilise your intuition effectively"

  • defer the problem for at least an hour and preferably a day or longer
  • reminisce about a time in which you felt calm and confident
  • you might then experience a strong hunch or intuition on how to proceed.  Trust this hunch or intuition. 

Did you know: When people trust their intuition, they are not as likely to regret their decisions, provided they feel calm and content and the options differ on many unpredictable attributes.