Writing a PhD can be tough. It can be grueling. And frustration and negativity can mount over time.

While of course there are numerous causes of growing frustration, anxiety and negativity among PhD students, in my experience one of the most common is constantly comparing yourself to others. This can lead to feeling inadequate. It can also lead to developing the impostor syndrome.

So what’s the solution?

How to feel happier and more positive

Do NOT compare yourself with others. Compare your current self with yourself from the past.

Think about it: if you’re constantly comparing your own writing to someone who has 10+ years of experience and has published numerous papers, of course your writing will look like garbage.

And what effect will this have for you? You will feel even worse. You will start questioning your abilities. You might even stop writing all together.

Now instead of comparing yourself to others who are way better than you are, compare your current self with that from a week/month/year ago. Notice the progress you’ve made. Notice how much better your writing actually is.

Perhaps a week ago you had just one paragraph, now you have a whole page. Sure, there’s a long way to go still, but you’ve got 5 times as much as you did a week ago!

It’s a simple technique, but quite powerful if you force yourself to apply it daily.

On the other hand, constantly looking at the future is likely to stress you out. Of course, we need goals and plans, because without them you don’t even know where you’re going or whether you’ve actually arrived.

However, you also want to look at the past and be grateful for what you’ve achieved. So next time you’re feeling like your writing is utter nonsense, take out something you wrote a month or a year ago. Look at it and notice how much better your current writing is.

And praise yourself for it. Give yourself a genuine pat on the back. Maybe tell your spouse, family or friends about it. This will help you verbalise your feeling of achievement and pride.

So remember:

Don’t compare yourself with others. Compare your current self with yourself from the past.

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